An Analogy for the Debt Mess Resolution

August 4th, 2011

By Dan Miller

It’s time to look for the good that can be accomplished and to make it happen. Complaining about past deficiencies will retard rather than advance that process.

Robert E. LeeLet me offer a military analogy. The first battle in the war has been fought, with mixed results. The good guys had fewer resources and the bad guys had more, one (the House of Representatives) to two (the Senate and the presidency). Both sides suffered casualties and the lines didn’t move much, with these important exceptions:

♦ The expectation that the good guys would turn their anticipated retreat into a rout was not met and no longer holds.

♦ The hope that the good guys would allow President Obama to declare a default on the national debt, cause a catastrophic market crash, not pay social security retirement benefits to the old folks, not even pay our troops and manage to put the blame on the good guys for everything bad even tenuously connected with the default was thwarted.

♦ President Obama got very little of what he demanded. He did not get a “clean” debt limit increase. Nor did he, at least thus far, get more taxes. He once again demonstrated his lack of leadership and the good guys finally took control of the debate — the issue now is principally which spending shall be cut, not whether any will be.

♦ New tools are available to make gains, if the good guys will only find and use them, diligently and methodically.

Now the second battle looms. The good guys have adequate ammunition and some competent shooters but their weapons remain imperfect. The good guys have better generals, despite grumbling from some of the troops that the generals didn’t magically rout the bad guys during the debt limit negotiations. The morale of the bad guys appears to be lower than that of the good guys because, although their expectations were higher and their resources greater, they didn’t win much and have no realistic hopes of doing better now. As noted here,

The pathetic performance of President Obama in the debt debate is showing the left how incompetent and weak a leader it selected. Many are wishing they had Hillary Clinton in the White House instead! Once the man has to move beyond a set teleprompter speech, he is lost. During the BP disaster, he showed what a poor administrator he is. And now he has belied any pretensions to legislative skill. He is the un-Lyndon Johnson.

How do the good guys beat the bad now?  Their generals must convince them that they started from behind with fewer resources, got more than was expected and need to gain victory now by fighting more creatively, with more determination and far less divisiveness among themselves than there is among the bad guys; perhaps the divisiveness among the bad guys can be helped along a bit, and the best way to do that will be for the good guys to succeed and make the bad guys wonder how it happened.  To beat the bad guys, they need to look forward where it is possible to do something, rather than backward where it is not.

I cite General Robert E. Lee here reluctantly because the Confederacy lost the war. However, the good guys in the current battles have far more advantages than did the Confederacy.  Lacking comparable advantages, General Lee used the inadequate resources available to him as well as anyone could have. When possible, he drew the enemy to well defended positions and slaughtered them, with great effect then and also by demoralizing them and reducing their effectiveness in subsequent battles. The battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 is one example; there are many more. When necessary he retreated temporarily, to resume the fight later when the chances of victory were greater and the chances of losses of resources, principally able-bodied troops, were less.

Long-term goals controlled a strategy consistent with the best utilization of available resources and that strategy controlled tactics.  That worked better than having short-term tactics control strategy. The good guys here must do the same, with this addition: conservative principles must dictate the goals; those goals must control the strategy and the strategy must control the tactics.

General Lee had the abundant affection and respect of his troops and they were confident in his leadership.  Also, knowing or discovering the minds of his opponents, he generally out-maneuvered them and thereby won many battles against odds of two, three or more to one. Very rarely did he have the numerical troop or resource advantage.  For the battle of Fredericksburg, he had 72,497 troops and General Burnside of the Union army had 100,007; General Burnside dithered while General Lee used sound tactics predicated on his strategy and won hands down.  Few Union generals had advantages of the type or magnitude that General Lee had.  Generals Boehner, McConnell and West — yes, Colonel West — need to pull their troops together and remind them that a real fight has begun, that the terrain is different than it was before and that they have some very important advantages — among them the generals on the other side, Generals Reid, Pelosi and Obama.  According to this report, on July 23 during negotiations at the White House, Generals Reid, Pelosi, Boehner and McConnell asked General Obama to leave the room; he left the room. And, when “his” deal was put to a vote in the House on August 1, “Seventy-three percent of House Republicans voted yes as 50 percent of House Democrats voted against their president.”

♦ The good guys also need to put away fantasies and concentrate on the good, the probable, and the possible. A balanced budget amendment has not yet been written and agreed upon by both houses of the Congress; no matter what an agreed upon text might eventually say, it is unlikely to be effective. Were it likely to be effective, it would not be passed by the required 2/3 vote of both houses of the Congress and hence would be defeated there.  Even were an effective amendment to pass in the present Senate, it almost certainly would not be ratified by 3/4 of the states (38 of them). Without ratification it would remain a pipe-dream.  Senator Cornyn to the contrary notwithstanding, it will not be the country’s salvation.  It’s an extraordinarily long shot at best that an effective balanced budget amendment might eventually be passed by the Congress and ratified by the states;  there is no way that could happen in the near future, certainly not before 2013. It is a slim Reid reed and merits no reliance.

♦ President Obama continues to insist that tax increases are necessary for a shared sacrifice, probably even while dancing at his ostentatious shared sacrifice birthday fundraiser where his union friends are said to be outraged that the work crews are non-union. He said, in a Rose Garden speech on August 2, “Since you can’t close the deficit with just spending cuts, we’ll need a balanced approach where everything is on the table.” House Minority Leader Pelosi also insists on more taxes.

“Tax increases” are disdained by the good guys, even though some might actually help;  those should be identified and put on the table for consideration. Tax increases harmful to the economy should, of course, be rejected. That still leaves some for consideration.  Here are some tax credits worth at least considering for elimination or reduction. Some of them give tax “refunds” to those who pay no taxes and others distort the economy to benefit businesses deemed good by the current administration (green, union or controlled by administration supporters), at the expense of businesses deemed bad (un-green, non-union or controlled by administration opponents).  Others, along with domestic regulatory and other shackles on business, encourage foreign rather than domestic business activity. There are almost certainly others that distort the free market economy, limit choices and shower the undeserving “poor” with goodies; they should be explored and considered for change — over opposition from the bad guys.

♦ There may be significant long term defense cuts if the Super Committee and/or both houses can’t agree on something else.  However, as noted here,

Future Congresses will have their say, and it is hard to believe that they will accept a ten-year budget path set now. This bill will, however, establish the default settings for federal spending.

One of the principal goals, if not the principal goal, now must be to ensure that the good guys control both houses of the Congress as well as the presidency come 2013.   If they do, and that seems increasingly likely, any undesirable effects of the debt limit legislation can be overcome. President Obama has made this easier to do and the opinion polls (for whatever they may be worth) seem to show it.  According to the Gallup Poll for July 25 – 31, his nationwide overall approval rating at 42% is seven points below his disapproval rating of 49%,  Even in swing state Pennsylvania — where he won the 2008 election by ten points — he is tanking with an even lower approval score:

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday [August 2], 52 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters say the president does not deserve a second term while 42 percent support his re-election.

The president’s job approval ratings are also underwater in the Keystone State, 43 percent to 54 percent. The majority of independent voters disapprove of the job Obama is doing, 56 percent to 40 percent. By a nine-point margin, 51 percent of this important voting bloc don’t think the president deserves re-election.

It is argued here, persuasively in my view, that as his economy and his foreign policy (what there is of it) continue to fail, he cannot successfully reinvent himself. It took a long time for the country to get where President Obama’s stewardship dumped it, and fixing it satisfactorily won’t happen this year.  It’s a long term project and to the extent that the debt limit is a problem 2013 can’t come too soon.

The old Bill Buckley principle applies here: pick the best conservative candidate who strategy that can win. If the good guys concentrate on doing the best that is possible and cease to be distracted by pursuing the impossible and nearly impossible and griping about the failure to accomplish either, they can take full advantage of the debt limit legislation. Like it or hate it, it’s a done deal and griping won’t make it go away; continuing to gripe about it is a distraction from reality. Griping about Maureen Dowd et al is fun but similarly ineffective. Griping just wastes time and effort better devoted to picking up, examining and using to best advantage the tools the debt limit legislation provides. Leave the griping mindset to the bad guys; they have been doing lots of it. The more of it they do the less unified and less effective they will be, the less President Obama will be able to lead them and the less successful they will be.

The legislation provides some strategic as well as tactical advantages and permits as many real spending cuts as the good guys are prepared to fight for and garner the ability to win. It does nothing to prohibit spending “cuts” beyond those specified; we have not yet reached the stage where everything not expressly required is prohibitedMy article here suggests some of the tools it provides, their tactical utility and the disadvantages it imposes on the bad guys.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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One Response to “An Analogy for the Debt Mess Resolution”

  1. larry ennis |

    Mister Dan
    Congratulations on a well thought out and executed piece. I had not considered the analogy you have presented but I have to admit that it has a great deal of merit.

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