There were elements of President Obama’s budget speech that left us wanting more, but in one area he delivered. He was right to cast the coming battle over the deficit as a moral issue, since the main battleground will be entitlement programs like Medicaid and Medicare, which exist because at the time of their inception, this nation felt an obligation to fulfill a moral imperative.
The Republican Party, particularly its Tea Party wing, is making an amoral, purely financial argument. The argument is simplistic and cunning, yet does not stand up to the test of the American character.
One thing everyone agrees on is that the deficit must be reduced. How it is done will depend on who is able to make the most compelling case to the American people. Republicans, in their zeal not to raise taxes on anyone⎯particularly the wealthy⎯will continue to push the discredited notion that by removing any financial fetters from the well-off, we will stimulate an economy that will float all boats.
The only way the President can counter the nuts-and-bolts argument is to raise it to an existential plane, and contend that our very nature as a people⎯our goodness, our generosity, our exceptionalism⎯compels us to provide for our poor and elderly. Only when he can get us to see the problem through this prism will we demand that higher taxes on the wealthy, cuts to the defense budget, and subsidies to agribusiness and the oil industry be put on the bargaining table where they belong.
If he succeeds in communicating this line of reasoning effectively (and communication is Obama’s strong suit), the essential nature of the argument will shift. Americans will begin to realize what the Republicans are asking them to do to their own people in the name of greater prosperity for the already prosperous.
The Republicans will be exposed for what they are, and they will either alter their modus operandi, or they will be shamed and cast into the wilderness.
Of course, that’s if we’re still capable of thinking of ourselves as a nation based on principles.