One Nation, Under Compromise?

In my column this week for Hoover’s Defining Ideas, I argue that, in spite of the outcome of the election, our political and financial realities will force both Democrats and Republicans to work toward smaller government.

My last Defining Ideas column on the Libertarian’s Dilemma started with the simple but critical observation that voting for any candidate is like buying a bundle of goods. To get the goods (or policy issues) you want, you have to accept the goods you don’t. So, the winning candidate may receive at most minority support for many of the most controversial items in their bundle of policies. We know that Obama won the 2012 election  because voters, by a margin of 81 to 18, think that he “cares for people like me.” But that warm and fuzzy feeling will soon give way to the issue-by-issue trench warfare on which the president is likely to prove far more vulnerable.

Consider health care. 

The president and his party run the risk of real blowback if they treat their slight electoral victory as a political mandate for the health care program. It is impossible to think that the president will just abandon the centerpiece of his first administration. But in politics, discretion is often the better part of valor, which makes it likely that the two sides will negotiate a truce that calls, at the very least, for delayed implementation of the law.

Another area of potential compromise is over the “fiscal cliff.” I elaborate on this and other issues in my full column.  

  1. Garrett Petersen

    Obama won’t compromise so long as he can plausibly blame the bad effects of his policies on something or someone else.  The question is, how long will people keep believing that “Bush did it”?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but people were blaming Herbert Hoover for all the bad effects of the New Deal right through FDR’s third term.

  2. Albert Arthur

    Didn’t exit polls show that like 60% of voters last week thought Bush was to blame for the state of the economy?

  3. KarlUB

    What does one do when neither of the most easily available bundles of goods contain things that you want? Or, for that matter, things that a plurality of Americans want?

  4. Hang On

    Compromise on health care? Are you kidding? Delay implementation? The problem with the health care bill is that it was not implemented quickly enough with the bite actually felt rather than theoretical. Obama wanted revenge. He’ll certainly have it through the health care law.

  5. Paul Wilson

    At certain point what the majority wants bumps up against the rights of the minority to earn a living, contract freely, etc, etc. Increasingly it’s the Dems that have increasingly little regard for minority rights, whether it be speech, religion or property. If a sizable majority wants to live in a government cocoon, the rest of us are along for the ride, like it or not. It seems that my desire to practice my chosen profession relatively free of government interference is being steadily eroded. I cannot contract freely for things like health insurance, or a mortgage. I cannot hire, retain or terminate employees without encountering formidable red tape. One of the features of the American federal republic (checks and balances, the Senate and its cumbersome rules, the electoral college, supermajorities to override vetoes and approve treaties) is that gave deference to minority rights and made it harder “to get things done.” We’re seriously going to throw that away over the swing of 2 senate seats and 50.6% of the “popular vote”?

  6. Eeyore

    “…the administration’s stubborn line that tax reductions and deregulation can do nothing to improve the faltering economic position of this nation, with its feeble growth rate and declining standard of living.

    I don’t believe that most people in this country would take so dismissive an attitude to these fundamental reforms.”

    A recent survey indicated (I believe it was) 63% of Americans believe that “the rich do not pay their fair share of taxes.” That’s just a few shy of a “supermajority.” I think there is enough correlation here which makes me think it is a minority of people who would not be dismissive of the smaller government argument, even piece-by-piece. 

    “Obama Doubles Down” is one of the most frequent headlines I’ve seen, and a convincing chorus of (think James Carville) “Republicans wanna kill all yo mamas and bebbies!”  makes me unconvinced of your thesis on many important fronts.

  7. BrentB67

    The Federal Reserve monetizing our debt ensures there is no such check or balance to induce either political party to move toward smaller government.

    When inflation catches fire in this high liquidity environment and bread costs $900 we will probably have less government or no government, but unless the market for US Treasuries completely dries up outside of the Fed there is no incentive to shrink the federal government.

    There is a saying that markets can remain irrational longer than a trader can remain in the game when a position goes against him or her. 

    I also think the Fed can keep juggling the chainsaws longer than any of us imagine, but every day they keep juggling is another day the blow up will be epic.

  8. TeamAmerica

    I’m forced to agree that Prof. Epstein is wildly optimistic about Obama’s willingness to compromise and do the right thing. He is an ideologue with a mostly lapdog media.

    In 2008,when a liberal journalist from ABC News pointed out to Obama that cutting capital gains taxes always gave the gov’t more revenue (which Obama’s spending agenda would require) Obama said ‘fairness’ required raising them anyway.

    I see an ugly couple of years ahead and my only question is how bad will hyper-inflation have to get before voters wise up and hold him responsible?

  9. Frank Soto
    C
    I argue that, in spite of the outcome of the election, our political and financial realities will force both Democrats and Republicans to work toward smaller government.

    This is wildly optimistic.  Someone check on Richard!  I fear he may not be getting enough oxygen.

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