David Brooks Advises Obama to Drink the Austerity Kool-Aid
In case you were wondering what the Villagers have decreed is to be the agenda for the second term, David Brooks helpfully spells it out for you:
In December, a re-elected Obama would face three immediate challenges: the Bush tax cuts expire; there will be another debt-ceiling fight; mandatory spending cuts kick in. In addition, there will be an immediate need to cut federal deficits. During the recession, the government could borrow gigantic amounts without pushing up interest rates because there was so little private borrowing. But as the economy recovers and demand for private borrowing increases, then huge public deficits on top of that will push up interest rates, crowd out private investment and smother the recovery.
These big problems won’t be solved during the transition. They are too complicated. Congress will find a mechanism to delay, and the nation will embark on a major effort to do tax reform, entitlement reform and debt reduction. This grand project — reforming the basic institutions of government — will consume the first two years of the next president’s new term, no matter who is elected. It has to get done or a debt crisis will be imminent.
Leading the country through this will require the intelligence, balance and craftiness that Obama has demonstrated. But it will also require indomitable inner conviction and an aggressive drive to push change. It will require a fearless champion who will fight all the interests that love the tax code the way it is. It will require a fervent crusader to rally the country behind shared sacrifice. It will take an impervious leader willing to spread spending cuts everywhere and offend everybody all at once. There will have to be a clearly defined vision of what government will look like at the end.
Obama has talked vaguely about tax reform. He has acknowledged the need for entitlement reform and major deficit reduction. But he has never thrown himself All In. He has never displayed an inner passion, a sense that these projects are his life mission, or a willingness to bear the pain that taking on these challenges necessarily entails.
There you have it. Austerity: always good for what ails you, no matter what. Like tax cuts, a magical elixir for every circumstance.
Also, it's just possible that Obama's life mission isn't what David Brooks wants it to be. (I honestly don't know --- he's seemed plenty passionate about Grand Bargaining in the past.) But the assumption that this is the Only Path Forward is what's revealing. They aren't giving up.
I'll be very interested to see how far the president goes in the campaign toward promising to protect the safety net and other vital services and programs. If he hedges, it's a pretty good sign that he's leaning in the Bobo direction, which is, ironically, what Brooks fears he will do, hence the call for him to go "all-in." (He doesn't understand this administration very well, I'm afraid.)
Update: I should be clear here that Brooks' entire thesis rests on the fact that Obama is always trying to split the baby (be "cagey") and that it's served him well thus far. But Brooks holds that if he truly wants to enact the GOP agenda, he's going to have to totally alienate the people who re-elected him.