Tonight, all over Iowa, Republicans will be debating with one another not just who can win (we’ve all read loads of stories about the “can he win” factors). Electability will be balanced with a second question, not necessarily one that produces a different answer, but a different question nonetheless. Who as president would do best at getting the job done?
Some years, the nature of “the job” is all over the map. Not this year.
This year, we have a national government that has indulged in the greatest peacetime run up in spending and the greatest peacetime explosion of debt in our history. Government has expanded to a point that, in the sweep and depth of its ever-more-intrusive regulations, reflects a conviction that it operates with no bounds. Forget about the Constitution.
We were told that this big time burgeoning of the Federal state was needed to restore the faltering economy. When the predicted revival failed to materialize, we were told that an even greater government was needed. Despite solid evidence in the failure of the economy to respond to repeated rounds of stimulation, we were told the administration had the right prescriptions. Perhaps because it had lost its edge and got a little lazy, the patient just irrationally insisted on not recovering.
Those who said that the answer was less government, not more, were brushed aside. The administration dismissed calls for policies more like those that produced the largest peacetime expansion in our history beginning in the 1980s and doubled down on policies like those that produced the nation’s longest contraction in the 1930s.
Harvard economist Robert Barro has demonstrated that while more spending may give a short burst of economic growth, after a first flush of excitement, the thrill goes away and all that government spending ends up retarding economic growth. It makes our economy weaker, not stronger.
It weakens us in other ways too. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that our explosively expanding national debt is our greatest national security threat. That observation applies not just to our formal debt but to our informal one, the unfunded liabilities of our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the other programs of our entitlement state. Defending the nation is a big expensive job, and continuing in the direction the administration is leading us, a job too expensive for our government to afford.
Meanwhile, our economy’s health depends on new business creation and expansion. Entrepreneurship is highly sensitive to personal tax rates, including the capital gain tax rate. All capital is sensitive to the corporate tax rate and to the weight and predictability of regulation. Essential to renewed growth is the ability of individuals and businesses big and small to shift resources quickly and easily into promising concepts and then pursue those ideas as rapidly as they can.
Instead, go from industry to industry. The administration has all but banned energy industry exploration and development in the United States and is resisting buying energy from Canada. It has introduced paralyzing regulation, taxes and uncertainty into our massive health care industry. It has begun a war on manufacturing and agriculture through its Environmental Protection Agency. And the financial industry legislation and regulations it has sponsored have left every business large and small across the nation questioning whether capital could be got when needed.
The point is, when Iowa voters gather tonight, they will be asking who can fix this mess?
Who has the clarity about what is wrong to know what to do? Who displays the steadiness under fire to keep to the course? Who has the capacity to explain what his or her administration is doing and to bring along the American people? Who knows how to give leadership to Congress, keeping in mind that leadership also means negotiation? It means showing respect to members of both parties – and occasionally it means asking the people of particular states and Congressional districts to put in a good word for your program with their senator or member of Congress.
Watching this year’s many GOP presidential debates, listening to reports from Iowa and around the country, you can’t help being impressed. Republicans in the Hawkeye state and everywhere are approaching the challenge of national restoration with deep seriousness. More than in most years, you get the feeling of deliberation, of extended private as well as public debate, of a determination to get it right… to put up the right candidate for “the job” — and a broad consensus on what “the job” actually is.
This is why democracy is the best of all the forms of government ever tried. This is why American democracy is the best of all.