The failure of the Congressional budget “super-committee” to address our geometrically expanding debt and deficits should surprise no one. From the beginning the committee was political theater designed to create the illusion of action when the will to act is missing. Unfortunately, this perennial bad habit of democracies to pursue short-time interests at the expense of long-term needs is now too dangerous to indulge.
The glory of constitutional government is its replacement of violence or coercion with speech and persuasion. But going back to ancient Athens, the primacy of verbal persuasion and processes makes it possible to substitute procedural words for actions when the courage or will to act is missing. The creation of committees, conferences, symposia, commissions of inquiry, and the like provides politicians with a ready answer to the citizens’ frustrated cry, “Why isn’t something being done?” Since few in government want to anger the voters by calling for the sacrifices and hard choices needed to put our fiscal house in order, creating a committee buys time and creates the illusion that “something is being done.” And we know where the reluctance to do anything comes from––making the hard choices necessary to deal with the impending fiscal apocalypse is attended by political costs that will have to be paid come the next election. Better to delay decisions until after November 2012, when the political stars will be better aligned one way or the other.