Today’s version of self-government is leading to the fiscal cliff

by Ryan Streeter on October 20, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Citing AEI’s Michael Greve, George Will writes about what concerns me most about our country’s fiscal problems:

Even granting Mitt Romney’s embrace of something like his running mate’s reforms, this year’s politics are terribly ordinary. Although consensus is supposedly elusive, it actually is the problem. “Our operative consensus,” says Greve, “is to have a big transfer state, and not pay for it.”

Democracy is representative government, which is the problem. Democracy represents the public’s preferences, which are mutable, but also represents human nature, which is constant. People flinch from confronting difficult problems until driven to by necessity’s lash. The Claremont Institute’s William Voegeli, commenting on Greve and the dubious postulate of continuous 5 percent growth [advocated by some conservatives], says: “There’s good reason to fear that if the economy builds a 5 percent levee the polity will just come up with a 6 percent flood.”

Will is right that it hasn’t mattered much whether Republicans or Democrats are in control when it comes to voting ourselves more government spending than we can pay for. Democrats habitually, and ridiculously, equate more spending with results, and with the growing decimation of the Blue Dog caucus within the party, there is virtually no built-in fiscal brake on the Democratic penchant for spending far in advance of revenues. And Republicans can’t ever seem to match their love of tax cuts with the kinds of serious budget-cutting that lower taxes requires. They tend to look back to the Reagan years and expect the same type of growth boost even though there’s no way they’ll ever bring marginal rates down by the same percentage that Reagan did…so they continue to live within a kind of fantasyland on cuts without facing the facts.

The implication, then, of what Will says but which he doesn’t really say is that the only way we’ll turn this around is with a new kind of moral commitment by a rising generation that decides to recover a limited government along the lines of what our Founders envisioned. The scariest thing about the times in which we live is how rarely one sees traces of this kind of moral revolution.