- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2011


Voters must be feeling whiplash. This summer, the president and Congress rushed to reduce spending to tame the federal budget deficit. President Obama also pushed to increase taxes.

This autumn, the president will be pushing spending increases and both parties want tax cuts.

What? How can official Washington propose policies 180 degrees different than those it advanced a month earlier? Welcome to the pre-election silly season. Consistency has never been any politician’s strength, but complete reversals are unusual.

The nation’s long-running economic woes, however, have transformed silliness into absurdity. Decision-makers want two things they can’t have at the same time. They want to rein in annual deficits because the size of the debt has gotten out of hand. Like almost every industrialized nation, the United States has borrowed more than it can handle and its finances have reached a precarious state.

At the same time, political leaders want to stimulate the economy in order to create more jobs. Unemployment is a nagging problem that must be dealt with or else social unrest - and political upheaval - could result.

But the policy prescriptions for stimulating the economy are exactly the opposite of what would be needed to stanch the red ink. Job creation requires more federal spending and less taxing. Deficit reduction requires less spending and more taxing. How can we do both?

We can’t.

But that never stopped the people in our nation’s capital. Get ready, America, to be bamboozled again.

Politicians of both parties are about to have things both ways. And in the end, the hypocrisy will only make things worse. Much of the long-overdue progress on trimming the deficit will be undercut. Tax cuts and infrastructure banks will make the debt problem worse. But fiscal limits still remain, so there’s not much the politicos can do to get the economy growing robustly again.

The likely result: voter dissatisfaction and major electoral change. The public is as angry at Washington as it has ever been. Approval ratings of Congress and the president are approaching historic lows. Unless economic conditions improve, the polls are likely to go even lower.

That means the United States is probably headed for yet another throw-the-bums-out election. The president, the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate could be unceremoniously replaced.

It’s also true that desperate times sometimes produce credulous voters. Their frustrations can overwhelm their common sense. That opens the way for superficially attractive politicians to take inconsistent positions and manage to attract a following. This might be one of those times. So, some people might buy the having-it-both-ways approach.

Then again, the American people are tired of hearing the same blather from insiders. The “experts” have not come up with solutions.

As a result, the election of 2012 is up for grabs. Odds at the moment favor a GOP victory. The rush of Republicans into the presidential contest is proof that a growing number of wannabes thinks voter discontent is high enough to make Mr. Obama a one-termer.

Whoever gets the nomination is going to have to move further to the edge than usual. Voters want new ideas and new leaders. Outlier thinking not only will be valued but also will be required.

Most of all, whatever is tried will have to produce real results. Talk is no longer adequate. The powers that be will have to pick a goal and make tangible progress getting there.

The successful candidates for president will draw the line at know-nothing solutions and reject glib rhetoric that does nothing but stir up the mob. They also will have to choose. They can either to stick to their guns on deficit reduction or go in a big way for government-expanding economic stimulation. Going just halfway in either direction is a good way to be shown to the door.

Jeffrey Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.

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