Conservative optimists (yes, there still are some!) seem to be mouthing the phrase “Nixon goes to China” a lot these days. Their point is that only a man with our new president’s liberal pedigree will possess the sort of political capital required to tackle our nation’s most pressing and foreseeable challenges. The premise, ironically enough, is that after eight years of mostly unified Republican rule the liberal experiment has run its course and the only escape hatches will lead in a, more or less, conservative direction.
Because no overtly conservative president would be able to break through the entrenched liberal special interests to advance these solutions (recall President Bush’s good faith effort to address the fiscal imbalance of Social Security and how it was greeted by our friends on the Left), only President Obama can “go to China.”
Two cases in point:
First, the Congressional Budget Office projected that we face a $1.2 trillion budget deficit, not counting the additional $800 billion-plus “stimulus” that sits idling ready for take-off on the congressional tarmac. We also learned that we should get used to these previously unfathomable annual deficits for the foreseeable future. This prompted much talk in Washington of the need for Congress and the new Administration to launch a bipartisan process to bring future government spending into some sort of alignment with future tax revenues. Obama even predicted during his inaugural address that he will put some failed federal programs out of their misery.
Optimistic conservatives, not surprisingly, perceive in all this an opportunity to launch a process that solicits real input from ordinary Americans who, when offered an accurate assessment of our situation, will acknowledge that it is long past time to do the right thing. This means revamping the big three entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) in ways that will require our politicians to trip some of those political third rails that induce night sweats and angry missives from their local Gray Panthers.
Fears that such a process will result in unfathomable tax increases to staunch those unfathomable deficits will prove unfounded, conservative optimists believe. Why? Once the American people are brought into the process in a meaningful way, their innate distrust of government will take hold and constrain our political class. The government cannot be trusted, they will say, to devote more of their earnings solely to these budget problems. The fruits of future tax increases, they believe, surely will be squandered on more inane and wasteful government schemes. Plus, our overall tax burden is already at a near historical high and projected to enter uncharted territory on its own in the next few years. Hence, the playing field, they argue, precludes massive tax increases and favors instead a solution that realigns all that promised spending with future reality.
Second, upon receiving the full range of classified intelligence briefings, the new president may view the world situation differently than he did from the campaign trail. With intelligence briefings comes maturity. He may come to regard some of his predecessor’s tough calls in an entirely new and more forgiving light. Think Gitmo, surveillance of suspected terrorists, subjecting U.S. citizens to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, ceding U.S. sovereignty in other ways to unaccountable international bodies, the overriding need to replenish our increasingly hollowed out military, etc. He may even quietly embrace a few of these heretofore derided decisions. If and when he does, the mainstream media will revisit these issues in a more understanding way and begin to explain the tough trade-offs that are required to defend America’s interests. Jon Stewart will find new targets for his humor. The broad American middle will give its assent and things won’t change that much.
Or so the conservative optimists among us hope. If we are wrong, God help our great and special nation.