Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Liberal Heresies, Part II
Last week I suggested that Democrats should back off their to-the-death defense of Roe v. Wade and come out strongly for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Then I ran away for a few days.

I'm ready to defend my points now. On the abortion issue, I think the Democrats are well past the point of diminishing returns--and I'm not at all certain that they need to push to defend a (badly written) law that, if overturned, could fracture the Republican electoral coalition and undo everything Karl Rove has worked toward in his long years of Satanic servitude. (Hey, I'm just trying to stay in tune with the times.) Check out this Boston Globe piece on the possible ramifications of overturning Roe.

This is not to say that Democrats should speak out against the law--just that it shouldn't be a bright-line issue for judicial appointments or other political prizes. It's a matter of practicality: if Bush wants to overturn Roe, he'll probably be able to do it. So the question is whether this is the right fight to keep waging, given the lack of effective weaponry.

On the Balanced Budget Amendment, I don't think we have anything left to lose here either. The deficit will only get worse in Bush's second term: as Robert Reich points out in this piece, the pork-driven Republican Congress won't discipline itself, and Bush won't act to restrain them.

At some point, this excessive spending will be felt in the economy, and we might tip back into recession or worse. But there's a "values" question in here too, and that's what the Democrats should focus on: Deficit spending is essentially a means by which to defer tough choices. Without any structural constraints, Congress can appropriate funds for bread, circuses, missile defense, corporate welfare, "faith-based" whatever, and other New Deal/Great Society-era programs like Head Start that remain too popular to be directly attacked. Let our grandchildren pay for it, they seem to be saying, unless the Rapture comes first.

Democrats have long bemoaned the seeming contradiction that majorities agree with us in terms of "priorities," but don't vote for our folks. The key to resolving the contradiction might be to bring those choices into much sharper context: a BBA would force the choice between missile defense and job training, subsidizing ADM or investing in schools.

Would such an amendment have any chance of passing? Hard to say. The Republicans proposed it in 1995 and it failed by one vote in the Senate--but that was when they had a Democratic president to face down, and the balance between idealism and power wasn't quite as tilted toward the latter. (To see what I mean, just consider that they're about to rescind the "Rostenkowski rule" to allow Tom DeLay to continue his pillaging despite a pending indictment.)

Still, it would be fun to point out the hypocrisy of the one-time revolutionaries becoming addicted to fiscal irresponsibility--and it would play well with another idea I have, the "Generational Compact." The way this one would work is that a group, preferably non-partisan but left-leaning if necessary, would present all candidates with a pledge not to cast votes that would increase the national debt between when they take office and when they leave. The anti-tax absolutists within the Republican Party have used a similar "pledge" to get their candidates on record; the Compact would merely exert a counterveiling force, and hopefully help reduce the spiking per-capita share of national fiscal obligation.

What do you think?

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