David Frum

12.14.12

Blame Voters for the Fiscal Cliff

Our friend Jeb Golinkin reviews the fiscal crisis and blames … the voters.

[T]wo polls — one from McClatchy, the other from the The Christian Science Monitor — show that while Americans want the country to go down a more sustainable fiscal path, majorities oppose every meaningful proposition to cut the deficit. Every proposition, that is, except taxing the rich.

The numbers relating to Medicare in particular tell a startling tale of a nation that demands policy outcomes but is utterly unprepared to make the sacrifices necessary to reach them. Medicare and other entitlement programs account for roughly two-thirds of all federal spending. Any remotely serious approach to solving the country's budget problems must include serious and painful cuts to Medicare. But when asked whether spending on Medicare should be cut, an astonishing 74 percent of respondents to the McClatchy poll said they opposed any cuts. Similarly, The Christian Science Monitor found that only 19 percent of respondents said they would support cuts to Medicare (making it the least popular of all 12 policy options survey-takers were presented with).

Our leaders read these polls. They know what will happen if they defy the popular will. The electorate no longer rewards politicians who act like adults and play nice with the other side, who make conscientious stands and ask the country to take its medicine. Americans — particularly partisans on each end of the political spectrum — are very clear about what they want, even when it doesn't make much sense in practical terms. And if lawmakers go against them, well, voters are eager to throw the bums out.