Cut or Tax? Are You an Adult or a Child?
If, like the hero of Rafael Sabatini's wonderful adventure novel Scaramouche, you were "born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad," you no doubt guffawed as I did at the CBS News show 60 Minutes' reaction to the failure of the mis-named super-committee. Those twelve stout-hearted congressional heroes were assigned the task of cutting 1.2 trillion dollars out of a 44 trillion dollar deficit over the course of ten years — so minuscule a drop in so vast a bucket that it wouldn't even have gone plink when it hit the bottom. And they couldn't do it — couldn't do even so little as that.
In the wake of such abject failure, 60 Minutes might have noted that President Obama — who has increased the debt more rapidly than any other president — showed precisely zero leadership during the committee negotiations. He demagogued the issue in public while leaving committee members without support or guidance behind the scenes. The news show might also have pointed out that committee Democrats rejected offers from Republicans that would have given them some of the increased tax revenue they so desperately crave.
But no, of course not. Instead 60 Minutes rushed into the fray with a profile of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, whom "many" (translation: the Democrats at CBS News) blame for scuttling the process. Well, for uproarious predictability and silliness, it was good for a spit-take anyway. As for the truth of the matter, the mighty Krauthammer has it here.
And look, I like to have fun as much as the next fellow, but our journalism can't be all frivolity and games, ever delighting us anew with fresh examples of clownish buffoonery. Along with the delightful hijinks, there are some serious questions that ought to be asked.
For instance, given that the debt represents an existential threat to the last best hope of earth, how should we save ourselves? Is our best course to bring government spending down or to bring government revenues up?
Now the truth is that the situation is so dire that both entitlement and tax reform are sure to come either before our collapse or directly after it. Still, it's helpful to know what target we're ultimately trying to hit. Are we aiming for smaller government through spending cuts or for more taxes to pay for bigger government?
And it seems to me that in order to know where you stand on that question, you need to answer another question first: Are you an adult or a child?
No, really. If you are a child, then the government might seem to you like a parent. It needs to be big and strong in order to take care of you and pay for all your needs and emergencies. If you are an adult, you might view the government more like one of your offspring: someone who has a limited number of chores to do and should be given a small allowance by way of payment for those chores.
If you are an adult, you know freedom entails responsibility. You expect to be able to make whatever choices you deem proper, as long as they don't directly injure anyone else, but if you choose poorly, you understand you have to suffer the consequences. Even if you find yourself in need, you want others to help you in freely chosen charity, not by force.
A child, on the other hand, wants total freedom — and then comes crying to Mommy when it gets him in trouble. He wants to drive the car, but wants Daddy to pay for the body work. He wants to have whatever sort of sex tickles him, but expects the 'rents to pick up the bill for his diseases and abortions. A child is always either strutting about demanding his rights, or sobbing pitifully for help and comfort. (See, for example, the folks at the Occupy rallies, boldly breaking the law and then shrieking about being arrested.)
An adult can make do with courage, family, friends and neighbors. A child requires an all-powerful caretaker.
So... should we cut spending or raise taxes? Well, are we adults or children? Figure out the answer to the second question, and you'll know the answer to the first.
NOTE: If you'd like to see my nominee for best political essay of the year, check out this one ("On Tyranny and Liberty") by the incomparable Myron Magnet at City Journal. So succinct, eloquent and erudite, it's like mainlining a 400 page book in fifteen minutes. You'll be a lot smarter when you finish it than you were when you began it.