Friday, April 8, 2011
Nobody is going to be thrilled about this deal. Personally, I think it's a mistake to cut federal spending so much while we're still trying to recover from a recession. If we're worried about the deficit, which we probably are more worried about than we should be right now, my preferred solution would have been to hike some taxes on people who can afford it, rather than cut services for people who can't. But other people are going to think these spending cuts are much too small. Still others, on both the left and right, would just as soon have seen the government shut down to make whatever point they would like to make. What we all have to realize is that this is not about our personal policy preferences. This is about dealing with a situation where at least two competing visions for this year's budget are pulling in completely opposite directions, and neither side has the power to impose its view on the other. This is about trying to reconcile competing ideas--the idea government is a force for good vs. the idea that government is a force for evil--that are completely irreconcilable.
A lot of people are going to complain about the style of leadership of someone who calmly brings such diametrically opposed parties into a room and just keeps working on them until they make an agreement, an agreement that most people won't like much, and who does this just so he can stand up and say that we succeeded in keeping the doors of the government open. It is still going to take more time for people to appreciate that kind of performance. Grandstanding and confrontation might make people feel better for the time being, but they don't usually get the job done.
I'm sure there will be plenty of second guessing. Some of this post-game analysis of the parties' negotiating strategies could actually be interesting: did the Democrats agree too quickly to the Republicans' numbers, thus inviting the Republicans to come back with even bigger demands? Did the Republicans fall into a trap when people started to realize that the sticking points were not primarily budget issues, but rather were all about women's health? Should the president have been more of a cheerleader for the Democrats' positions, rather than try to be a mediator? The fact is that no one can say that different negotiating strategies or a more confrontational leadership style would have achieved a better deal. That might have only resulted in no deal at all. Instead, we have to learn to live with a president who just insists on getting the job done. And as a result of that, instead of the horrible government shut-downs we experienced in the 1990's, this time the doors will stay open, the crisis is averted, and we maybe end up with a bit more hope that we can keep moving forward without always trying to destroy those who disagree with us.