March 15, 2013 – There is something stirring in America according to MLI’s Brian Lee Crowley. In his latest Postmedia column, he writes, “Americans are hungry for a new political leadership that will break the impasse in Washington.”
His latest column appears in the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Saskatoon’s StarPhoenix, Regina’s Leader-Post, Windsor Star, The Province, and Canada.com.
By Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 2013
Something is stirring in America.
Because I spend a lot of time in the States talking to Americans about how Canada enjoyed such success wrestling with its fiscal problems in the 1990s, I get frequent opportunities to test the political temperature there. I spent spring break week on such a cross-border trek and have come back encouraged.
That is a welcome change.
Having spent most of my life as an admirer of America and its sense of destiny, of being an exceptional nation put on the Earth to accomplish extraordinary things, I have always taken our neighbours’ can-do spirit as a given. No problem appears insoluble or insurmountable to Americans, or at least so it had always seemed to me.
Then I began to notice something disturbing. Each time I would travel south of the border to bring Americans a message of hope and optimism that their fiscal decline into a maelstrom of debt and out-of-control spending was neither insurmountable nor inevitable, my audience would respond with shrugs and downcast eyes.
They were not reassured by the idea that if Canadians could balance their budget in the 1990s and then spend a decade running surpluses and paying down debt, then surely Americans could do so as well. On the contrary, every explanation of how Canada achieved its turnaround was met with a sad shake of the head and the firm conviction that none of the things that Canada had done could be accomplished in the U.S.
This was not the America I had been used to, and it seemed to me to presage a worrying deterioration in the character of the country and of individual Americans.
My recent visit, however, has given me hope that things are turning around, and not just because of the growing signs of new economic momentum taking root in the republic.
After years of deadlock, things have started to move in Washington. I don’t say this to suggest that major steps are being taken that will put the country on the road to fiscal recovery. Instead, what is happening is that little things are being tried that, in due course, will help Americans see that the comfortable political nostrums of recent years are insubstantial illusions.
Take President Barack Obama’s success in putting up taxes. This is part of the American left’s deep belief that if only all Americans could be made to pay their “fair share” then no government spending would ever have to be cut.
My prediction is that these tax increases, and any further ones yet to come, will produce only a fraction of the revenue predicted. If they ever existed, the days when governments could simply put up taxes and raise a lot of money are over. I met a senior official in Britain’s equivalent of the finance department recently and he confirmed what I have been hearing from governments everywhere: raising taxes produces little new revenue. It is simply too easy for people to choose to spend their money in ways that the taxman cannot capture. Soon Americans too will see that tax increases are of declining relevance in fixing America’s fiscal problems.
And just as tax rises will lose their appeal, spending cuts are losing their ability to frighten and motivate voters. After years of threats of dire sounding fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns and sequesters, people are becoming inured to the doomsday outcomes that are always threatened but never come to pass. Like the boy who cried wolf, those who stoke fears of the collapse of civilization if even small reductions in spending are enacted are steadily losing credibility as life continues regardless of their histrionics.
Beyond all this, I was heartened by the number of Americans who told me that they are hungry for a new political leadership that will break the impasse in Washington. Just as Roosevelt and Reagan both represented a decisive break with a discredited past and the forging of a new consensus that transcended the partisan divide, the conditions are being created for the emergence of a new leader who will break the current logjam by convincing moderates in both parties to isolate their extremists by banding together on spending, taxes, immigration, entitlement reform and more.
We aren’t quite there yet, and the person who can take up the mantle of leadership has not yet made themselves known. But the old solutions, leaders and parties are increasingly threadbare and discredited. Americans are ready for a leader who can show them that they don’t have to be defeatist but have it in them to rise above their narrow self-interest and do something for the country and for posterity.
When that leader emerges, he or she will find millions of willing followers. How I wish they’d get a move on.
Brian Lee Crowley is managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.
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