WASHINGTON, D.C. — Owing to the promotion tour for my new book, “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery,” I have been meeting with what the intelligentsia once called “the masses.” They read books. They pay taxes. They attend lectures. Oh, and by the way, they are now a lot more prosperous and even more civilized than the intelligentsia, today’s version of which are actually anti-intellectual and occasionally only semi-literate.
The reason that “the masses” are a lot more prosperous and even civilized is that they have been participating in our free-market economy for years. It has made their lives easier, and they recognize it.
As Arthur Brooks, the urbane president of the American Enterprise Institute, demonstrates in his new book, “The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future,” 70 percent of Americans favor free enterprise, with only a glum 30 percent turning their tremulous palms up to the nanny state.
At any rate, after talking with thousands of ordinary Americans on talk radio and at book receptions, I have come to the conclusion that America has arrived at a historic turning point. It is not just that tea partiers are revolting against big government. It is something more.
Usually a revolt against big government has meant that restive Americans wanted their taxes lowered — but as for cutting government back, they were vague. They favored economies but certainly no cutbacks in their entitlements — a loaded word, that, entitled to whom from what? — or government subsidies. What makes this a historic moment is that growing numbers of Americans now accept that they, too, are going to have to forego at least some of their so-called entitlements. They recognize that the budget crisis is that grave.
For well over a decade, simple demographics suggested that a budget crisis loomed for such programs as Social Security. Yet our politicians — as the phrase had it — merely kicked the can down the road. We have now arrived at the end of the road.
What hastened our arrival at this dead end was the profligacy of the most inexperienced and left-wing president in American history. Budgetary overhang was ominous when the Prophet Obama arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Then he confected the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a $787 billion stimulus package, a hugely imbalanced budget and his trillion-dollar health care monstrosity that he lyrically promised would save a trillion dollars. All told, it has been the largest increase in federal spending since World War II.
During times of growth, federal spending is usually in the neighborhood of 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It is now rising from 21 percent of GDP to 25 percent.
As a percentage of GDP, the national debt will double within a decade unless the citizenry gets control of the budget. From my travels among the citizenry, I have come to the conclusion that Americans are ready to do so. This fall, they will elect representatives who will cut their entitlements. That will be a new day in American politics.
As Michael Barone points out in the Washington Examiner, “It has long been a maxim of political scientists that American voters are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal.” That has changed. In a pungent line he observes, “pork is not kosher,” and he goes on to observe that “the political scientists’ maxim seems out of date.” From my recent experience on the book tour, he is right.
If the Republicans take the House of Representatives this autumn, as I think they will, the Republican leadership had best arrive with plans to undo President Obama’s folly. Equally important, they had best have plans to cut entitlements and other spending in such a way as to avert our present rendezvous with bankruptcy.
I am confident they can. In “After the Hangover,” I outline a plan for fiscal solvency. Before you accuse me of boasting, let me hasten to ad that I lifted much of that plan from Rep. Paul Ryan‘s “Roadmap for America’s Future.” It is posted on his website and ready to be implemented. If I did not believe that, I would not have pilfered it. This might have been an act of grand larceny, but it was the grand larceny of a patriot.