Walter Russell Mead | The Real Problem Is the Policy Deficit

After a lot of sturm und drang, the fiscal cliff has been put off for a couple of months. Some modest tax increases, no real spending cuts, and the US lurches forward for another 60 days.

It’s not a horrible result, and it seems broadly in line with what the voters said in November: they are worried about the deficit, but don’t want whacking cuts (or even modest trims) to the entitlement programs that benefit the middle class, and they also don’t want whacking cuts to the military budget in what they still perceive as a dangerous world.

At VM, we haven’t spent a lot of time covering the fiscal cliff. It looked to us like one of those stories that the entire press corps chases to exhaustion—a mechanical rabbit that gets all the greyhounds in hot pursuit. We didn’t think our readers needed a lot of help from us to follow the twists and turns and it also seemed clear that nobody would ever reread the titanic surge of breathless reports on every rumor from every congressional aide. There are a few people who have such definite stakes in a story like this that they need to follow every devious twist in the plot, but for most serious news followers, it’s a smarter strategy to skim this kind of coverage. Most of it is wrong, and almost all of it will be irrelevant once the much-speculated on event actually takes place.

The whole fiscal cliff performance reinforced our view that neither party is ready to tackle the country’s real problems. Ultimately, the deficit is a consequence rather than a cause of America’s troubles; the politicians have been behaving like doctors quarreling over how to alleviate a symptom with neither group thinking clearly about curing the actual disease.


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