Here's the PBS Newshour's idea of a "fair and balanced" debate. Two Villagers telling the rest of us how wonderful the Catfood Commission's co-chairs preemptive strike with their recommendations they knew the majority of the full debt commission
November 13, 2010

Here's the PBS Newshour's idea of a "fair and balanced" debate. Two Villagers telling the rest of us how wonderful the Catfood Commission's co-chairs preemptive strike with their recommendations they knew the majority of the full debt commission would never approve are; and how the working class in America had better be ready to take their medicine and listen to the "serious people" who are ready to debate their findings.

David Brooks thinks that Bowles and Simpson didn't go far enough with the pain they want to inflict on the elderly, the middle class and the poor. And Mark Shields thinks we haven't had enough "shared sacrifice". Sorry Mark, but the ones who haven't sacrificed anything are the rich. Everyday Americans have seen their pay go down, their jobs outsourced and their homes go under water. The working class in this country have sacrificed enough already.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. All right, what do -- speaking of tension, what do you make of the debate -- the deficit commission chairmen's proposal for how to solve the deficit problem in the United States of America at the federal level?

DAVID BROOKS: First, I thought it was an excellent start to a discussion. It had a wide range of options, many of which are extremely painful. Those of us who own homes don't want to give up our mortgage interest deduction. I'm sure people in their 60s don't want to postpone the retirement age.

But the fact is, we're facing a national disaster, and we're going to have to do some really terrible things. In fact, they probably underestimated how many terrible things, because they have some rosy scenarios in there.

But they took the serious things that have to be done, and they threw them on the table. And so I think they did a great service to the country. I think the second thing they have done is, they have smoked out who is willing to have this conversation and who isn't.

You saw people on the right, like Grover Norquist, and people on the left, like some of the public sector unions, say: Hell, no. We are not talking about this. This is dead on arrival.

But then you had a lot of people, both Democrats and Republicans, saying: We hate this stuff, but we have got a real problem. We have got to talk about it.

And so I thought they have smoked out who is really serious about this thing. And then the final quick thing I will say, all these things are very painful. The idea that, politically, with this country where it is right now, could pass any of this stuff, it's fantasyland. The country has to change first.

JIM LEHRER: Fantasyland? Change the country first?

MARK SHIELDS: I hope it isn't fantasyland.

I mean, this is not an eat your spinach plan. This is an eat your spinach, eat your broccoli, and finish your brussels sprouts plan. And if the test for political courage is the ability to simultaneously alienate both the political left and the political right, then Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have passed that test with flying colors. The...

JIM LEHRER: Well, we had it on our program last night. I mean, they were...

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. No, they -- they -- and they had to do it, because the commission is not going to agree on anything. And they have forced the debate. David is absolutely right. By doing this, they have preempted the debate and forced others to address this.

There are two things about it I think that are crucial, Jim. First of all, people have been hiding about, saying we're going to settle -- balance this budget by hitting them, the, I don't know, rich people, taxes, or whatever, closing loopholes. Or we're going to hit by them taking away the benefits from these freeloaders.

He has basically said, it's us, OK? And they have...

JIM LEHRER: This isn't them. It's us.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And they have laid out the plan. And if you want to argue with parts of it, OK, fine. But you better come up with where you are going to come -- get the money. And I think that's crucial. The other thing they have done is, they have asked for shared sacrifice.

And, since Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter -- Jimmy Carter lost in 1980 running -- accused of running on a platform of cold showers and root canal work. Reagan came along and said, I'm going to double the defense budget, cut your taxes by a third, and balance the budget.

Boy, that sounded great. That was a real formula for success. Of course he didn't do it. But, ever since then, every president, with the minor exceptions of George Herbert Walker Bush in his term and Bill Clinton in his first term, have basically gone on ouchless, painless prosperity.

There has been no shared sacrifice this century at all. And what they are saying is, are you up to it? Are you in the American tradition? Are you willing to do it?

DAVID BROOKS: I think that's the test.

JIM LEHRER: That's it, huh?

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, you got Marines and soldiers in Afghanistan sacrificing for their country. And you're not willing to give up your mortgage interest deduction or see a little raise in your capital gains tax?

I mean, that is the country -- that's the question the country really has to ask. And I would say it's up -- it's not -- the change isn't going to happen in Washington. There has to be a change in the country of voters saying, yes, I hate this, but I'm willing to do it, or else the politicians will go nowhere near it.

And so there has to be some surge in the country first of people saying, yes, we're serious about this.

JIM LEHRER: But how can there be a surge without an election? It is not going to happen then before 2012.

DAVID BROOKS: No. Well, social movements arise. We had the Obama movement arose. The Tea Party movement arose. People got organized. Institutions formed.

JIM LEHRER: So, it could happen?

DAVID BROOKS: And they changed the political dynamic. We would have to have a significant change in the political dynamic before politicians of either party will touch this.


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