Surprise - Sequestration Works!

Something got cut and Republicans didn't get blamed!

We've often talked about how the President and the mainstream media can talk the economy up or down when it suits their purposes to do so.  Ronald Reagan's sunny optimism made Americans feel confident enough to go out and spend, helping the economy to revive.  Jimmy Carter's talk of malaise made everybody depressed and unwilling to spend anything, so his prophecies of doom and gloom became self-fulfilling.  Modern economies run mainly on faith, and when faith is weak, so is the economy.

It's understandable why the media would talk down the economy when a Republican president is up for re-election: they want him out, and George H.W. Bush's sad experience proves that that tactic works.  Even though the economy was recovering in 1992, the media's insistence on reporting everything bad swept Bill Clinton into office, who was able to take advantage of the recovery already in progress.

It's equally plain why sitting politicians generally want to talk the economy up: obviously, they want the electorate to think they've done a good job while in office and that their opponent would mess up a good thing.

Crying Wolf!

By this standard, Mr. Obama's heated hyperbole surrounding the sequestration was more than a bit unusual.  You don't ordinarily hear a sitting politician say that the economy will die based on cuts that were a) their own idea in the first place and b) are a few percentage points on the massive total budget, so small that the "economy killing" sequester budget of 2013 is slightly larger than 2012's spending.

Yet Mr. Obama decided to go nuclear with his threats.  While the Republicans for once didn't knuckle under, the economic statistics would appear to indicate that everyone else did: first quarter 2013 growth was only slightly better than fourth quarter 2012.  This can be spun any way you please as being either better or worse than it would have been without the sequester, but at the very least it's fair to say we are not in a robust Reagan-style recovery.  Mr. Obama said the lights were going out, and plenty of CEOs seem to have taken him at his word.

What actually happened?  Executing the infamous "Washington Monument" strategy of doing cuts at the most publicly visible and painful place so as to force voters to stump for tax hikes, Mr. Obama ordered the FAA to furlough air traffic controllers causing hours-long delays to the traveling public.  At first, it looked like this was working brilliantly: gate agents were reportedly blaming the delays specifically on "the sequester cuts," which played right into Mr. Obama's warning of what would happen.

Then, miracle of miracles: Congress got off its backside and did something!  No, it didn't raise taxes or spend more money; it authorized Mr. Obama to move money around and lay off bureaucrats instead of traffic controllers, despite the sequester having given him some of that authority in the first place.

Even the Washington Post couldn't find a justification to side with the Obama administration, instead preferring to wait for more information that wasn't available yet.  Their "journalist" didn't seem to notice that the necessary information was required by law to have been prepared last October, despite their own citation specifically saying so.  If the administration is hiding something, one imagines that it's something that makes the administration look bad.

...And by this time, everyone no doubt is asleep.  As soon as a narrative veers off into letters, data, statistical and technical arguments, chain-of-custody and FOIA responsibility, 99.99% of the audience is long gone.  Americans will never make up their mind who is at fault; indeed, recent polls show that Mr. Obama and Congress are blamed equally.

Equal Blame Equals Success

Which, if you think about it, is a resounding victory for... Republicans.

Is it not Republicans who are supposed to want to cut government spending?  Never mind that they hardly ever do, that's the reputation that has been created for them by the media and elected Democrats.

Why don't Republicans usually ever go through with the spending cuts they're always being talked about and blamed for?  Precisely because they're afraid they'll be blamed for starving the widows and orphans, or in this case for delaying flights all across the U.S. due to spending "cuts" that weren't even real.

Except that we now have proof positive of two points.  First, Americans blamed both sides because both sides were screaming loudly enough to cancel out each other.  If even a symbolic cut took place, and Republicans didn't get any more blame than Democrats despite the best efforts of the media, how is that not a tremendous win?

What's more, the sequester covers a whole lot more than FAA towers; air traffic controllers were just the tiniest slice.  That's what the American public hollered about, and Congress fixed it licketly split.  The rest of the sequester is still in place, and Americans have decided to blame everyone equally!

Yes, media lefties are huffing and puffing about how Congress thinks air travel is more important than, say, cancer patients or meals-on-wheels.  So?  Nobody cares and they know it.

The sequester is an awkward, inefficient, and ultimately only marginally effective way to cut our government down to size.  But in the unlikely event that any Republican leaders are awake and paying attention, the way things played out have showed exactly how to do cuts:

1. By hook or by crook, enact the most enormous cuts you can possibly imagine, ideally as a threat of "nobody would ever allow this so we'll have to do something better before it kicks in."

2. Sit back and wait - don't actually do anything better, just wait for the doomsday cuts.  Blame the other side for not coming to an agreement.  Don't worry, they'll be saying the same thing and voters won't be able to accurately allocate blame.

3. Some part of those cuts will really tick off the American public.  There's no way to know in advance what specifically it might be, but watch carefully to find out promptly.

4. Immediately and with great fanfare fix just that one thing, leaving all the rest of the cuts in place.  By then, voters will be sick of the mess and will blame both sides equally, which means there's no blame at all.  And you've still got 99% of the cuts!

5. Wait a few months, then do the same thing again.

By accident or by design, we've successfully executed steps 1-4.  How about Step 5, John Boehner?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
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