Former Senator Bob Graham has an essay in today’s Washington Post detailing “how to end the gridlock” in Washington, as if that’s a wise goal. It’s not, because bipartisanship is a four-letter word that involves more expenditures on bad ideas. (e.g. economic stimulus packages) Among other reasons, partisan gridlock gave us a balanced budget in the ’90s. If sole partisan control of the government in the ’00s can’t maintain that, I’m hard-pressed to understand how some bipartisan consensus will improve the situation. Anger can be good.
In the essay Graham offers more than I care to challenge here. I’d like to focus on one problem and one solution he identifies. First, the example:
Gas prices remain high, but we still have no real energy policy.
We have an energy policy. It’s part of our farm subsidies. Sure, gas prices remain “high” (a subjective term), but our food prices are now rising as a result of our current attempt at an energy policy. Aside from generic constitutional concerns over what our government involves itself in, the appearances of unintended, though certainly not unpredictable, consequences should give us pause before we add more grease to the government engine in an effort to get more done. I prefer reality-based analysis using evidence.
Next, one of his solutions:
The media must insist that future presidential debates each focus on a single issue. Candidates can hide behind sound bites when a debate covers every and all subjects. But when candidates must spend a full 90 minutes discussing health care or national defense, voters will learn who is for real and who isn’t.
It’s nice to think this might improve our situation, but it won’t. First, politicians are liars. Second, the electorate isn’t interested in calling politicians on their lies. See yesterday’s post. The majority of voters in America aren’t interested in details. They’re interested in the sales pitch. Whoever promises to make the United States government a larger vending machine for the voter’s chosen goods, while adding in a little bit of organized hatred for the voter’s preferred target of derision, wins that voter’s heart. It does not matter if the plan is wise or even feasible. It only matters that it’s promised.
Look at the adulation Sen. Obama is now getting. What was the last policy proposal he discussed in any detail approaching 90 seconds? When he spent his campaign offering proposals, his campaign was in the toilet. When he started relying more on concepts like hope and change, absent any details, his campaign soared¹. If he gets the nomination, then, maybe, voters will start kicking the tires on his proposals. If voters genuinely cared for specifics, they’d engage in their fact-finding when the field is larger. But they don’t. The only rational response is to limit what they can do with the government, not require them to be more detailed about the extensive list of what they’d like to do.
¹ I’m putting a simplistic touch on this for effect. It’s more complicated than my statement, but not materially, I think.