If you need a graphic illustration of the degraded and delusional state of American politics, you only need to observe the fact that the issue that has dominated the political headlines in the past weeks is contraception. Really.
Yes, the administration presents a fantastical budget, one which acknowledges that the nation’s fiscal situation is unsustainable. The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in years. Many states-including most of the largest ones-are on the fiscal precipice, and the nation as a whole is not far behind. Entitlement spending is metastasizing. As for growing our way out-please. Despite all the Happy Days Are Here Again rhetoric emanating from the White House-duly echoed and amplified in the media-growth is anemic, and far below what is needed to right the fiscal ship. The unemployment rate is falling-but the employment rate is at multi-decade lows, as many are dropping out of the labor force. And it’s not due to an aging population. The employment rate among those in their 20s has fallen most, which is a catastrophe, as that is the period when people should be building the experience and human capital that can only be obtained by working-learning by doing-and that generates returns for a lifetime. And it’s not like we’re lacking for examples of what can happen when fiscal problems fully ripen. We see the consequences of fiscal profligacy playing out in Greece and Europe generally playing out right before our very eyes.
But we’re hung up on contraception.
Why? I can think of several reasons. One is that when faced by an overwhelming problem, people deny and avoid, and concentrate their efforts on something smaller-trivial often-and more easily managed. The fiscal situation is daunting, so the impulse to avoid and deny is particularly strong. Another reason is that it is very convenient for Obama to distract attention from his Achilles’ heels, of which the looming fiscal crisis is the most vulnerable. Of course, the media is quite willing to play along, and the Republicans are living up to their reputation as the Stupid Party by falling right into the trap.
The only reason that the contraception issue should matter at all is that it provides a very clearcut demonstration of a progressive administration’s willingness to run roughshod over the Constitution and and private property (by compelling private companies to provide a good or service for free). But this isn’t news. By word and deed, Obama has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a committed progressive, with all that entails. Since the Progressive Era at the beginning of the 20th century progressives have heaped disdain on the Constitution and the constraints it imposes on the ability of the government to order us all about. Do we really need another example to make the point?
The candidates of even A Slightly Less Stupid Party would focus on the impending fiscal train wreck and put Obama on the defensive. Little chance of that.
(And for those who are about to fire off a comment saying-“See-you should support Ron Paul because he’s the only one who cares about government spending and the Constitution”: spare me. Paul punts completely on the most pressing medium- and long-term spending issue: entitlements. Moreover, his proposals to cut a trillion dollars tomorrow are, like most Paulian ideas, political fantasies.)
Right now it looks like that the main obstacle to a second Obama term is $5 or $6 gasoline over the summer. Which would be wickedly ironic, because he and his policies have little effect on the price of energy in the short run (though his policies are a complete cluster**** in the medium-to-long run).
But it’s truly come to that. Due to a complete lack of seriousness and courage in the political class, a transformational election hinges on something completely unrelated to the transformational issues, and completely out of control of any of those participating in it.
* SeekingAlpha often changes the titles of my posts. I wonder if they’ll change this one?