There’s a lot of talk about Republicans taking a “let it burn” approach to America’s fiscal crisis. The voters wanted Barack Obama again; give them what they voted for, until they choke on it! Let the President and his party take complete ownership of Washington’s financial collapse and the new recession. Wait quietly in the wings until the dust settles, then rebuild America from the ruins.
The impulse is understandable, particularly given how the media generally tends to blame Republicans for everything, no matter what they actually say or do, or even what they could have done. When the Democrats had full control of Congress after 2006, everything was the Republican president’s fault. When a Democrat took the White House, everything was still the previous Republican president’s fault. As soon as Republicans took the House of Representatives, everything became House Republicans’ fault. The media doesn’t want to talk about the decaying stack of excellent pro-growth bills from the House sitting on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s desk. Reid gets to be the assassin of all future hope, without consequence; it’s easy for him to hide in the shadows, because no reporter is going to shine a light on him. And frankly, even if those bills were getting past the Senate and Obama was vetoing him, there’s still a good chance the Republicans would somehow be blamed for “obstructionism.”
But all of those woeful conditions are a strong argument against the “let it burn” philosophy. If the Republicans quietly walk away, they’ll still get blamed for everything. We just watched a President get re-elected despite one of the most appalling records in modern history, largely because he was able to get voters buzzing about small, divisive social issues. He won’t be on the ballot in 2016, but he can do the same thing to assist his successor. A significant portion of Obama’s base will still be willing to blame all of his failures on George Bush, even after eight years of the Obama presidency. (“How’s Obama going to run for re-election by still blaming Bush in 2012?” we all wondered incredulously in 2009.)
Congressional Republicans will be held responsible for the fantastic imagined benefits of every bill they didn’t pass. If Obama takes America over the fiscal cliff, he’ll spend the next two years yelling that Republicans are the ones responsible. And making concessions to Obama’s tax-hike demands, at least without bargaining very hard for real and powerful spending discipline, would only make it worse.
You fellows in the GOP leadership sincerely believe in your conservative economic theories, don’t you? Then you know perfectly well that $60 or $100 billion per year from tax hikes isn’t going to “fix” a trillion-dollar deficit, or even stave off the coming round of credit downgrades that will blow our debt financing costs through the roof. You also know that symbolic tax increases are the exact opposite of what America really needs right now: pro-growth tax relief, at both the corporate and individual levels.
There’s a good reason Obama supporters and surrogates are yelling at Republicans to shut up because they lost the election. They know that this is the time for you to speak up! This is the hour to remind America of what we should be doing, instead of wasting our time with Obama’s phony “fiscal cliff” theatrics. We’ve got high unemployment, a business-hostile regulatory environment, crushing corporate tax rates, and a job-killing health-care malfunction. This is precisely the right time for articulate conservative spokesmen to step forward and clearly lay out what needs to be done, in order to keep America from burning.
“But we just lost an election!” some Republicans will say. “Elections have consequences! We don’t have the votes to get anything through the Senate, never mind override a White House veto!”
Elections are chapters in long-running arguments, not their ineffable conclusion. No one, from American voters to their elected representatives, on either Left or Right, ever needs to be intimidated into silence by the results of an election. No one, on either Left or Right, should spend a single moment pretending otherwise. Let Republicans in the House discuss, and legislate, what America really needs… and make the Democrats shoot it down. When the full results of Democrat governance are felt, tell the voters that we must now follow the principles Republicans never compromised, because they never stopped believing in those principles, no matter how any particular election turned out.
That’s how you make the Democrats “own” whatever happens next, not by capitulation or petulant indifference. If you know your ideas are valuable, you do the American people no favors by burying them in a treasure chest, for retrieval after some future success at the ballot box.
Moderate and indifferent voters must be energized to win them over. That process must begin now, not the day after the end of the next Republican presidential primary. Do you know what will really turn those swing voters off? A demoralized, dispirited Republican base that still can’t believe its leadership caved on tax increases, nursing its rage by talking of third-party secession.
This is a time for heroic efforts and commanding leadership, not white flags and bargains meant to hold off ruin for another year or two. This is a time to think beyond what the host will say on next Sunday’s talk shows. It is a time to think about the American people, whose liberty and wisdom we conservatives revere. If you think the voters are bumbling nitwits who deserve what’s coming to them under Obama, then what was the point of all that talk about freedom and opportunity? Freedom for hapless children? Opportunity for serfs? Liberty for those who cannot shoulder responsibility?
We owe them more than contempt and indifference. Yes, that includes those who voted against the last round of Republican candidates, even for the most venal and trivial of reasons. “Let it burn?” America never stopped burning, my friends, in every good and bad sense of the word. I worry more about letting it be extinguished.