This imperishable talk about a Grand Bargain between Democrats and Republicans is vintage, shovel-ready, Tom Friedman bunk. No possible such arrangement will even remotely address the full proportions of the problem of indefinitely continuing trillion dollar budget deficits and roughly $800 billion current account deficits. What economic school ever imagined that such open arteries could be left untreated for over a decade without the patient dying?
Glib columnists speak of the Grand Bargain as if it were merely a matter of agreeing to the top five items on each side's wish list, as if the agreed steps would not be mutually destructive. The administration will not accept the disposal of its mad health care reform and the Republicans will not accept an assault on the so-called millionaires and billionaires who make $250,000 per year (and, if they have three children in private schools, don't have $5,000 at the end of the year).
The president could ignore or tame his in-house left if he wanted to, but there is no Republican leader to kick the more wild and woolly members of the Tea Party into line. It is reassuring that the Perry phenomenon is melting, as the thought of a Republican candidate for president who jogs with a firearm and had his father-in-law perform a vasectomy on him, is disconcerting. The fate of Romney's tormented dog Seamus, rendered so incontinent by being transported on the roof of the family car from Boston to Montreal, that they had to stop for a car wash en route, may be less of a deterrent to the voters, but if Seamus still survives, he would probably run ahead of his owner in a fair poll.
One thing even someone like Tom Friedman, who can rarely take his mind off the global warming that must be the result of a tight yachting cap, since it isn't happening to the rest of us; or from the need to equip all new-born children in the world with iPods before they become accustomed to the taste of pablum, does recognize is that much of what has to be done is fairly obvious. Domestic and off-shore oil drilling and crossover where practical to natural gas, and preferably a significant increase in taxes on discretionary gasoline, (and luxury goods) purchases, and on so-called 'Cadillacs' (when Cadillac was a well-built luxury car), health care plans, and on discretionary financial transactions; New Deal or Interstate Highway-like infrastructure spending to absorb the able-bodied unemployed; serious spending cuts, starting with eliminating the 500,000 federal government jobs created during the life of the mad stimulus plan; legislated lower drug prices, and lower personal and corporate income tax rates; all of this should happen.
So should draconian measures in public education, starting with decertifying the teachers' unions, and the need to curb lawless American prosecutors, reform the plea bargain, resurrect the grand jury as an assurance against capricious prosecution, and restore the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment guarantees against uncompensated property seizure, absence of due process, a stacked jury, prevention of access to counsel, overlong prosecutions, and unreasonable bail; and amend the book of practice to end the clogging of the civil courts with frivolous and vexatious litigation; all this must be done also. But this isn't a Grand Bargain; it's a new New Deal or Great Society, but it will have to be more than just the catastrophe avoidance of the first or the stark, staring mad assault on the family of the second.
Higher consumption taxes would shrink the deficit, lower income taxes would generate economic recovery, and workfare would reduce unemployment and start to fix up the crumbling core of the country. Attacking drug prices while promoting health care competition and making it, in effect, a two-payer system where individuals can afford it, will start to reduce the country's $7,000 per person medical costs, opposite about $3,000 for other advanced countries.
The Tea Party has livened things up and many of its standard bearers are not such kooks as the leftish media claims. But when Michele Bachmann can't go further than say that reducing entitlements may have to be considered, while grousing about obligatory sex protection for girls in public schools and still raving about TARP, a program that began clumsily but wasn't misguided and will make the taxpayers money, it is time for the Republicans to get a serious leader. Of the ones that are visible now, I suspect Huntsman's the best. Of those being courted or tempted, I like Jeb Bush better than Christie, since no American prosecutor can be trusted to do anything, at least until their party chairmen have verified that they don't have SS Gauleiters' uniforms in their cupboards. Ryan and Rubio are more interesting, but they are very young for the presidency, but could be fine vice presidents.
The last time the Democrats inflicted an utterly hopeless regime on the country, Ronald Reagan could be seen approaching and was able to move the Republicans to the right without losing his compass and falling off the edge of the flat Earth. There is no presumptive leader now and listening to these Republican candidates' debates is a nerve-wracking experience. The United States has never in its history endured a decline like that of the last 20 years, though it had some sharper but shorter declines, as between Polk and Lincoln and Coolidge and Roosevelt, or from Watergate to Reagan. This time the office has to seek someone serious, and whoever that person is, has to come out of the closet soon. It's a good time for a power dive, given the shambles in Europe and Japan, but it's time to pull up.