So, too, is the notion that larger movements in politics — the slide to the right of the Republicans and to the left of the Democrats, for example, and the tug-of-war between those who want to expand government and those who want to constrain it — do not respect the changing of the calendar. They are the mainstreams of history and they flow on.
This year’s budget negotiations and the series of short-term agreements underlined both the tensions in our current politics and the limits of our political system.
On the surface these discussions were about this program and that, about this tax and that entitlement, and also about the level of military spending. These issues come and go (though the tax and entitlement questions will come and go with increasing frequency as the decade wears on and demographic factors bear down), but they are proxies for a far bigger issue.
They are part of a classic confrontation between those who have an expansive view of the virtue and value of state spending and those who believe a vigorous, activist state is an intrusion on the natural order and a departure from our national character.
We have had these debates before. This very conversation raged near the start of the last century, and the Progressives won. It raged after the onset of the Great Depression, and the New Dealers won. It raged after the end of the Eisenhower years, and the New Frontier-Great Society visionaries and dreamers won. It raged again during the Jimmy Carter administration, and the Reaganites won.
These acolytes of Ronald Reagan held sway for about a generation, for in another example of how events conspire to defy the usual borders, it is quite possible to argue that Reaganite views controlled Washington, even the Carter White House, in the last two years of the Georgian’s presidency, seeped into the Bill Clinton years and prevailed through the first six years of the George W. Bush years.