Before we consign Mitt Romney and the whole of his failed program to the trash, it is worth recycling one of his proposals that has considerable merit: the privatization of Amtrak. Passenger railroads have rarely if ever made money. Even at the peak of the Railroad Age, the ferrying of humans rather than freight was a money-losing enterprise designed to add allure to the more mundane but profitable business of hauling goods. Amid the failure of private enterprise, however, a clear need was exposed for an environmentally friendly passenger service that linked city center to city center.
When political parties lose after a bitterly fought electoral battle, they prefer to lick their wounds in private. The glare of publicity is not helpful in exploring what went wrong and charting a fresh course. The Republicans, however, find their election postmortem taking place in the full public gaze. When it comes to the most urgent issue confronting the nation, the fiscal cliff, they face an invidious choice. They must decide by Dec. 31 whether to persist in the stance they adopted at the election, saving the ultra-rich from higher taxation, or to raise taxes on all Americans. If they hold firm, they will be blamed for levying $1,200 a year on every middle-class family. That is not good news for the party of low taxation.
It is a cruel irony of fate that 2012, the year that celebrates the centennial of Milton Friedman’s birth, is the year that marks the end of his preeminence as an influence over economic policy. Since the emergence in the early 1970s of stagflation – a corrosive combination of lack of growth matched by inflation in double figures – Friedman’s dictums on the causes and cures of rising prices have been the mood music behind management of many leading economies. Since the Great Recession took hold, however, the priorities of government economists have evolved, and once more growth and employment are emerging as the prime goals of public policy.
We may never come to understand exactly what was on the crazed mind of Adam Lanza, the man identified as the Connecticut gunman who set out from his home with murder in his heart. All we know, based on reports, is that this troubled young man had an issue with his mother, a schoolteacher in Newtown, Connecticut, that so enraged him he drove with a .223-caliber assault rifle and at least two other guns to attack in cold blood an elementary school where she taught.
There was so much cacophony at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer that some unscripted remarks were not given the prominence they deserved. One of the most prescient, in light of Mitt Romney’s defeat, was this from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Graham’s bleak demographic assessment of the conservative future was confirmed by David Bositis, of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, whose harsh verdict was that the “Republican Party base is white, aging and dying off.”
Then last month the political party he supports and largely owns lost the election. When you have Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, John Bolton, Liz Cheney, William Kristol, Dick Morris, Oliver North, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich on the books and have all your media properties conduct a virulent, ad hominem campaign against the president, then watch the Republicans lose so convincingly, it must be hard to know where you went wrong.
The “fiscal cliff” talks offer a chance to rebalance the American economy so that the long years of living beyond our means — spending too much and raising too little, paid for by borrowing from the Chinese – will be brought to an end in an orderly fashion. As we have seen from the pitched battle between the White House and the Republican House leadership, finding the right balance between tax increases and spending cuts is not easy.