First off, major kudos to David Brooks for leading today’s column with an admission that the specific factual claim he made about the White House’s sequestration proposals was wrong and spelling out in more detail what his real complaint is. Second, I think Brooks’ basic policy points are dead-on:
My dream Obama would abandon the big government versus small government argument. He’d point out that in a mature, aging society, government isn’t going anywhere. The issue is not size but sclerosis. The future has no lobby, so there are inexorable pressures favoring present consumption over future investment. The crucial point is not whether a dollar is spent publicly or privately, it’s whether it is spent on the present or future. The task today is to reform institutions and rearrange spending so we look like a young nation and not a comfort-seeking, declining one.
My dream Obama would nurture investment in three ways. First, he would take spending that currently goes to the affluent elderly and redirect it to the young and the struggling.
Still, that leaves us with the question of why this is framed as a “dream Obama” rather than a “dream Boehner” or “dream Marco Rubio 2016 platform” or just “policy ideas that I think are good and wish someone would pass.” The cult of the presidency is strong in American life, but I also just think there’s an unfortunate journalistic tendency to encourage people to hang their policy ideas on politics-related news hooks so that these things end up getting phrased as specific criticisms of specific politicians rather than just ideas that are good ideas. David Leonhardt’s excellent e-book Here’s The Deal manages to espouse a similar policy agenda without wading into partisan politics in the same way, which may be a marketing error but I think frames the issue better.
But as long as we’re talking politicians here, I feel like this is yet another case of Affordable Care Act Denialism.
As Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska) put it, that law “cuts $716 billion from Medicare and uses that money to pay for new entitlement programs”—specifically health care for the young and struggling. Johanns did not mean this as praise! One does not have to like every detail of the Affordable Care Act (certainly I don’t) or even think it’s a good law all things considered (though I do) but people really ought to acknowledge that the law did pass and it does do thing. Among the things it does is shift fiscal priorities from the elderly to the working poor, and while Democrats weren’t eager to brag about this Republicans were savage in their criticism of it. Mitt Romney ran on a platform of increasing Medicare spending on everyone born before 1957 while drastically cutting spending on the health care and education of younger people, Obama’s platform was the opposite.