America's Real Crisis: The Leadership Deficit

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  1. Excellent analysis, as usual.
    Unfortunately, the candidate list for this election cycle is already fixed, and some of these Congresscritters (e.g. my current representative, Ms. Jackson-Lee) are pretty much assured re-election (though I will do my part to try and make her a FORMER representative. Believe me.). I think that, ultimately, we need to exercise far greater oversight of whoever gets elected – and make damned sure they know it.

  2. Hi Ed — here in my district, it’s Ron Paul — perhaps the only member of Congress who has demonstrated fiscal restraint. Yet I’ve grown pretty frustrated with him, too. He’s an ideologue — a purist — who has neither flexibility nor stroke. In his many many years in Washington, he’s managed to change nothing.
    OTOH, he’s running unopposed, and 2 years ago he won handily — against a Blue Dog, at that!
    Thus, this year, I’m planning to gather up my available campaign dollars and start sending them around to other races, where toppling the incumbent would help.

  3. You seem to be mixing the climate of fiscal irresponsibility of the last 8 years with the current crisis in the financial system, which is a big mistake.
    The financial markets are not a wreck now because the government spent too much.
    Both of these things are important issues. But when I read:
    “In terms of our current crisis, it doesn’t matter what policies were advocated, or special interests were placated…”
    my eyes just about popped out of my head.
    Yes, it does matter.
    In terms of the mounting national debt, it’s directly attributable to very specific policy choices. We have had choices, all along the way, about whether we should keep our national budget in line with tax revenue. We have had choices about how to use deficit spending (which is a valid, useful tool that can be a helpful part of fiscal policy). We have elected candidates who were crystal clear about their beliefs about these policy questions, and by and large they have done precisely what they said they’d do.
    Turning to the financial crisis, it is, once again, a fairly predictable result of very specific policy decisions about how we regulate our financial markets to ensure transparency for investors. We have chosen to give financial institutions unprecendented latitude in the kinds of financial instruments they create and simultaneously made it harder for anyone to accurate evaluate the risks associated with their assets, and – surprise! – they took ridiculous risks, hid them from the markets, and things went bad. These are policies that began decades ago, accelerated (particularly in terms of regulatory issues) in the last decade, and have been widely written about the entire time. There is no big surprise here.
    And these are precisely the kinds of policy issues that voters should be thinking about as they make their decisions.
    The bailout itself is a set of very specific fiscal policy questions.
    What you’re suggesting here – that this is somehow all beside the point – is madness, and a good prescription for more bad government, no matter who you candidate of choice is.
    To then go on a jeremiad about Congress is silly. We have the Congress we chose. If we made that choice based on things other than policy questions, what do we expect? In terms of the bailout – the debate about it has been so fatuous because voters have no tolerance for anything besides “Main Street vs Wall Street” platitudes that don’t begin to address how we got where we are, or whether it will keep us from coming right back to this point.
    In terms of the national budget, once again, voters have consciously chosen candidates whose platform was to drive up the national debt by running deficitts without any economically productive activity to show for it.
    Now, whose fault is it that we get what we’ve got now?
    I hear often that these issues are just too complex for voters, and that’s BS. No, most of us aren’t trained in the fine details of financial systems and fiscal policy. But honestly, the basic issues here are not so complicated that a reasonably informed person can’t spend a little time reading about them and making sense of them and reaching a reasonably informed opinion.
    It’s the fault of Congress that we choose our representatives based on the latest scandal, or who we can relate to in some emotional way, or who loves Jesus more, or who uses the right inclusive language, regardless of actual policy views?
    That’s a cop-out.

  4. John — I agree totally that the policies leading to the current economic crisis have been cumulative. However, I include the current problems in the larger condemnation of Congress because they’re symbiotic. Even without the mortgage market meltdown — even if rational regulations had been in place, Congress has been functioning like a teenager with a limitless Visa card.
    As a result, we don’t have the resources to slow — much less stop — the economic derailment.
    Furthermore, “we” didn’t choose an entire Congress. “We” each chose one, or two, or even three of them, individually. Collectively, they’ve slipped the leash.

  5. If they’ve slipped the leash, we’ve declined to put back in over and over again. And if you look at how voters make decisions, what information they consider, etc. you don’t see much in the way of regional differences. There’s no part of the country that’s all that different.
    I’m sorry, but your idea that we should only vote for them “if they agree to pay for their programs” is just not something that a voter faced with a specific choice can do much useful with. Even the most responsible legislators are faced with practical decisions: I hate this budget, but it’s the best we will get. We are running a deficit, but the alternative is to cut programs in ways that will have disastrous impacts on people – or will become fodder for my opponent, who will succeed because voters won’t bother to dig into the issues. And so on, and so on.
    I also think it’s pretty questionable to make “not running a deficit” the sole criterion. I think legislator’s ideas about what consitutes an appropriate regulatory environment, Constitutional principles, and so on are important too.
    Every road you follow comes to the same thing: voters who vote for people who do things they don’t want them to do. And your suggestion that we not worry about the details seems like a good way to get more of the same.

  6. You’re right on the mark. I have one question. Which of these two BUMS do you think will bring more fiscal responsibility back to Washington?

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