Thursday, November 11, 2010
Time for an Adult Conversation? I listened to CNN's Candy Crowley the other night as she interviewed the new Congresswoman-elect from South Dakota, Kristi Noem. Noem, who defeated the incumbent Democrat last week, was pressed repeatedly on how she intended to keep her promises to reduce spending and balance the out of control federal deficit. Her answer: We need an adult conversation, but no specifics. Crowley pressed her, but what about specifics? Noem was smiling when she said "we need an adult conversation" about these things. "I ran on the campaign that we needed smaller, more limited government," Noem said in another interview, "we needed to cut our spending, we needed to make some tough decisions to make sure small businesses could still survive and exist. And that resonated across South Dakota." It certainly did and it resonates all across America. It will now be a fascinating exercise in political jujitsu to see how the newly elected - and re-elected - deal with the you-know-what that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the leaders of the bi-partisan deficit commission, just put in their pockets. Bowles and Simpson offered an early sneak preview this week of some of the ideas that simply must be on the table if Congresswoman-to-be Noem and others are serious about their campaign promises. Predictably, the "dead on arrival" proclamations are already being issued, one by Nancy Pelosi who almost instantly declared her opposition. That's crazy. President Obama said the adult thing, "before anybody starts shooting down proposals, I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts." Adult conversations really need to begin with the facts. Here are a couple: we're not going to control the deficit by "symbolic" cuts in small discretionary spending, but nonetheless look for assaults on things like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowments as the sole answer. When you hear the would-be adults debate these issues, if the first thing you hear is that we need to go after the Peace Corps budget, you know you're listening to the kids squabble and not the adults converse. We are also not going to control the deficit without addressing three sacred cows: entitlements (like Social Security and Medicare), the defense budget and the tax structure. Simply can't happen. Adults, in conversation, know that and honest politicians in both parties need to start leveling with the American people. Just one more adult thought: the U.S. defense budget, thanks in large part to endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now nearly as large as the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined. Do you think there is some savings to be had there? "If people are, in fact, concerned about spending, debt, deficits and the future of our country," Obama said yesterday, "then they're going to need to be armed with the information about the kinds of choices that are going to be involved, and we can't just engage in political rhetoric." You can get elected in America on a theory of how government and the economy works, but the reality of governing is based on facts, pain, shared sacrifice, honesty and candor. Let the adult conversation begin.