The debt deal, if it sticks, is a triumph for the bipartisan, status quo-clinging Washington establishment.
Here is a prediction: Between now and January 2013, total actual spending cuts will be minimal. That will result from the following:
- The $900 billion deficit reduction is almost all backloaded to the years beyond 2012.
- The select committee created by the budget deal will fail to pass a "second tranche" deficit-cut package of an additional $1.5 trillion.
- The "trigger" will be pulled that will identify an additional $1.2 trillion.
- The pulled trigger won't require any more deficit reductions to go into effect until 2013, when a new Congress and either a new president or a re-elected President Obama will be able to redecide (or repeal) all these decisions. That president will also have to decide what to do with the expiring Bush tax cuts, which if extended would be scored to increase deficit by $3.5 trillion over 10 years.
- The debt ceiling will not need to be raised until 2013.
It is true that the tea party has "won" within the context of what constitutes a political win in Washington. But have they accomplished enough to change our future? No, by this deal, they have not.
To have a chance at actually changing our future, Washington would have to risk shocking and unpredictable change that might rock, temporarily, the financial prosperity of the nation. The establishment is not ready for that. To wit: Whether to risk radical change now or not is the measure of whether to support the deal.
Thus, Washington politicians and politically alert citizens across the country can be broadly divided into those who fear losing the status quo and those who fear losing the future. But it is less a matter of ideology (for both left and right) and more a matter of urgency.
It's not that pro-status quo Republicans, for instance, don't worry about the state and debt getting ever bigger and more intrusive — they do — just as left-wing Democratic establishment politicians worry about income disparities and insufficient social-welfare programs.
What divides the GOP establishment types from the tea party people on the right is that the GOP establishment types don't feel sufficiently urgent about intrusive statism and unbearable debt to risk action now that would radically change the status quo governing process, policies, and politics.
Similarly, the Democratic establishment is not prepared to fight now for a radical change to the left.
The establishment explains — rather condescendingly — to the "unsophisticated" tea party and similar people that political change under our constitutional system is incremental. Take what you can get and come back for a little more next season.
That is an argument about American political history that has usually been right, but not always.
When the insistent demands of the near future require more than incremental change, the American political process can become quite radical.
For example, the demands of the common man against the aristocratic federalist policies from the 1790s to the early 1800s forced radical change, ending federalists and bringing in first Jeffersonianism (in the revolution of 1800) and Jacksonianism in the 1830s.
The old order was overthrown by democratic radicalism. Most conspicuously, the urgent demands of abolition and secession brought on the shocking radical solution of the Civil War in 1861.
The vast immigration to post-Civil War America brought on radical progressivism, which caused the suppression of some of the democratic power of the new immigrants and closed the immigration door to non-Northern Europeans almost entirely in 1924.
Obviously, the shock of the Great Depression brought on radical statism in Washington — again overthrowing many status quo interests.
So, who's the fool: The tea party people, who say we must do much more now to avert the coming debt and statism disaster, or the status quo establishment who say don't rock the fiscal, debt-ceiling boat — we'll get to fixing the future in . . . the future?
I've been a Reagan conservative incrementalist all my political life. But the near and ominous debt and statism future is radicalizing me quickly. We must do much more, much faster than this deal offers if we are to save our future.
The establishment needs to start emotionally de-investing in a fast-dying status quo and prepare to embrace real change.
America will lose its triple-A Treasury rating not because a rating agency says so (and despite a debt deal) but because the anticipated federal debt to gross domestic product ratio — and the $60 trillion of unfunded entitlements that is driving that ratio — can be seen by every bond buyer on the planet.
Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington. E-mail him at TonyBlankley@gmail.com.