Groups such as Norquist’s and Greenstein’s serve as political and intellectual gatekeepers. They help determine which ideas and what rhetoric are acceptable to their partisans. The visions presented to their constituents are satisfying — but also selective, simplistic and, ultimately, false. This is one reason that budget debates have been so futile, and why the nation is now flirting with a potentially disastrous failure to raise the debt ceiling.
Governing is about choosing, and in the budget debate, there are no popular choices. But the reality shaping them all is an aging society in which programs for the elderly are pushing the budget into growing disequilibrium. Until the political gatekeepers acknowledge this — meaning the left recognizes the need for genuine benefit cuts and the right accepts some higher taxes — public understanding and political agreement will remain hostage to partisan fairy tales. It’s time to deal with facts.