The New Austerity Campaign

I see that the New York Times is helpfully reframing the election away from jobs and the economy. Here’s the headline on the dead tree version:

“Romney chooses Ryan, pushing fiscal issues to the forefront”

Huzzah. As Tristero points out below, this would be a lot less scary if the debate wasn’t going to be between the moderate centrist plan for a “balanced approach” that slashes vital government programs in exchange for some ephemeral tip money from millionaires in the middle of an historic slump and a radical right wing plan that simply slashes vital government programs in the middle of an historic slump. In my view, that’s a losing debate no matter who wins.

The idea that this election will now be about deficit reduction is almost impossible for me to believe, but the Obama campaign believes they can win on this turf and I assume that’s correct. After all, Ryan is an extremist on these issues and it’s going to be impossible for Romney to disavow his extreme plan. The problem is that the Obama balanced approach is a terrible alternative.

We are in the midst of a long and painful economic downturn. It’s barely improving and the rest of the world is likely going to be a further drag on it as it goes back into recession, largely as a result of their idiotic austerity programs. Interest rates are at historic lows and the United States can borrow as much as it needs. It’s insane to be talking about deficit reduction at a time like this.

I just don’t know if we’re better off having a national discussion about it on the off chance that Democrats feel bound to publicly defend the government programs people depend upon or whether it was better to leave it up to the elites to do their backroom deals in the lame duck and spring it on the people as a fait accompli. The first would seem to be preferable, but I loathe the idea that the president will be able to rally the people behind his “balanced approach” as part of the electoral bandwagon to defeat something worse. The one thing we might have had going for us was the people’s unwillinginess to sacrifice their own futures on the rotting corpse of the confidence fairy. If the president gets a mandate, I fear the worst.

But the Peterson runaway train was gaining speed, so maybe there’s just no stopping it anyway. Which is also nuts. After all, we don’t actually have to pass a deficit reduction plan right now and even if we did it wouldn’t actually have to degrade the social safety net. So maybe it’s worth taking the chance that the Democrats will be forced into a corner by the demands of the election and defend the people’s interests.

But sheesh. When we look back this will be seen as a time when the everyone in the corridors of power fiddled while their countries burned.

Here’s Krugman with a reminder of how well all that’s worked so far:

A further thought on the observation that Britain’s slump has now gone on longer than the slump in the 1930s: it’s worth remembering the rapturous reception the Cameron austerity program received here, not just from the right, but from centrists. Here’s David Broder:

Cameron and his partners in the coalition have pushed ahead boldly, brushing aside the warnings of economists that the sudden, severe medicine could cut short Britain’s economic recovery and throw the nation back into recession.

Heh heh, silly economists. Broder went on to urge Obama, after his salutary midterm defeat, to “do a Cameron” and agree to sharp cuts in the welfare state.

And he did. It’s just that the Tea Partiers refused to take yes for an answer. Perhaps the defeat of the Romney-Ryan candidacy will make them even less inclined to do it after the election. But that’s a very thin reed to hang on to.