Thursday, August 26, 2010

Michael Gerson:
Republicans need to ask three questions of candidates rising on the tea party wave:

First, do you believe that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional? This seems to be the unguarded view of Colorado Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck and other tea party advocates of "constitutionalism." It reflects a conviction that the federal government only has powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution -- which doesn't mention retirement insurance or health care.

This view is logically consistent -- as well as historically uninformed, morally irresponsible and politically disastrous. The Constitution, in contrast to the Articles of Confederation, granted broad power to the federal government to impose taxes and spend funds to "provide for ... the general welfare" -- at least if Alexander Hamilton and a number of Supreme Court rulings are to be believed. In practice, Social Security abolition would push perhaps 13 million of the elderly into destitution, blurring the line between conservative idealism and Social Darwinism.. . .

[Second,] do you believe that American identity is undermined by immigration? . . .

Question three: Do you believe that gun rights are relevant to the health care debate? Nevada Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle raised this issue by asserting that, "If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies."
If Mr. Gerson is the voice of the Republican Party, I think he's one of the reasons it lost the last two elections. The Party has turned its back on conservatives, a major part of its base. The Tea Party movement, combined with the arrogant recklessness of the Democrats, has revived the Republicans' hopes, but he seems to want to undermine its success with cheap shots, deliberately misrepresenting the views of the main body of the movement.

Gerson's second and third questions aren't worthy of a serious answer. The first, is, however. Whether entitlement programs are Constitutional or not, we have been saddled with them. It seems quite clear at this point that defined benefit pension programs are political time bombs. I think that the framers of the Constitution would have been horrified had they been told that we would ever consider, let alone enact such a program. But the damage has been done, and the courts have been complicit.

The real issue is how to reform them and prevent them from overwhelming our government. The government has made us too many promises and contracted for more than it can pay. Unless we confront our fiscal problems and resolve them, future elections will merely be arguments over whether we hit the iceberg at full or half speed and our children will despise us, along with the generations who built and expanded this shaky edifice.

Update: The Public Pension Bomb. Gerson thinks it's bad politics to face up to these looming problems, and that may be true, but it is worse politics to just keep paying current bills with credit cards. Democrats have used scare tactics on old people for so long that Social Security and Medicare have become the Third Rail of Politics. We bailed on GM and Chrysler to pay off UAW retirees' unrealistic benefits. Add to that hordes of angry retirees on public pensions, when the issuing entities turn out to be broke. How long before nationalized health care is seen in the same light? It's broke before it even starts!


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