Eventually, the country will have to confront the deficit we have, rather than the deficit we imagine. The one we imagine is a deficit caused by waste, fraud, abuse, foreign aid, oil-industry subsidies and vague out-of-control spending. The one we have is caused by the world’s highest health costs (by far), the world’s largest military (by far), a Social Security program built when most people died by age 70— and, to pay for it all, the lowest tax rates in decades. The recent string of budget deadlines and crises may be manufactured. The problem is not.
-- David Leonhardt, Here’s the Deal. (Kindle Single).
Leonhardt’s interpretation may be too complex for the typically stupid sound bite that most audiences prefer. But let’s step outside of audience expectations and look at his proposal. Eventually we’ll have to analyze our situation anyway. We can’t kick the can forever--but let’s understand more about the argument.
What we have here is a case of competing claims. Claims are statements that persuaders want others to accept. There are two implicit claims here: we’re entitled to full health care and government funded security, and we’re also entitled to lower taxes. Intriguing conflict!
Sometimes the problem with competing claims is that they really do conflict. That’s certainly the case here. So why won’t both Democrats and Republicans work at resolving some of the conflict? There are a number of reasons.
Confrontation is often perceived as risk. When we are fully open with our views, there’s the possibility of our being proved wrong. Have you noticed that neither side is especially open to dialog, much less with the costs of their commitments? Of course, no one wants to be bothered looking at research.
A second possibility is that others may attack. When it comes to this conflict, we have a history of attack. The consequence is that sound bites are preferred to transparency.
The third possibility is that of being proven wrong. Obviously, both sides know that—so until the constituency forces the issue there’ll be no attempt to resolve the problem.
A person’s frame is the lens through which perceive the world, creating meaning and their claims. It’s complex. But it’s not surprising that conflict occurs when one person or organization uses their personal frame of reference to describe or assess something. Any sort of compromise or agreement will be based largely on the extent to which their frames overlap. If you looked closely at the claims by the two parties, there’s no overlapping. Which means they have to be reframed in ways amenable to both sides. It’ll take willingness as well as smarts and leadership to pull that off.
Candidly, I’m in no hurry for either party to get on with the obvious. Let the deficit run longer and don’t trim the healthcare or social security yet. Jobs are the problem. Cutting the deficit and fixing health care will inevitably impact jobs negatively. Maybe, close a few tax loopholes. So I suggest, a bit warily, that we should just let it drag on a few more years until the unemployment rate lowers significantly. Of course, we will need more revenue to add more employment. (Obviously, the family model of money management for our national economic situation is plain nuts. Ummm. Yeah. My inferences and conclusions will drive many crazy. Still, I prefer Leonhardt’s initial adverb: “Eventually. . . .” )
Flickr photo: Wrld Voygr