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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Deficits Reshape the Debate as Republicans Jockey for 2012

From The New York Times:

Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana described the nation’s fiscal condition in dark terms more often reserved for a terror threat, declaring, “We face an enemy lethal to liberty and even more implacable than those America has defeated before.”

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey argued that the country was headed toward financial ruin if leaders did not summon the courage to tackle the most politically charged aspects of the problem, saying: “You’re going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security. Oh, I just said it, and I still am standing here. I did not vaporize into the carpet!”

Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska said Republicans would be on the hook, along with Democrats, if runaway spending was not controlled in Washington, declaring, “Tone-deaf politicians are going to be fired, and they’re going to be replaced in the next election cycle.”

Budget deficits and the nation’s growing debt load have emerged in the last few weeks as the consuming issues in Washington and in state capitals, and they are now shaping the early stages of the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Not a single candidate has formally opened a campaign yet — and some of those delivering the toughest talk on the budget may never do so — but the subject is giving focus and energy to a contest that has so far been largely unformed.

The growing profile of the issue has given Republicans an opportunity to cast President Obama as a weak leader, unwilling or unable to confront the tough issues, and has added fuel to the conservative drive for smaller government.

But it has also highlighted divisions among Republicans about how aggressively to cut domestic spending; the wisdom of supporting specific steps to address long-term problems in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; and the proper balance between emphasizing fiscal issues and social ones like same-sex marriage.

And with the Republican-controlled House voting to cut deeply into this year’s federal budget and state capitals producing their own volatile showdowns, it has underscored the opportunity for potential candidates to seize on a fiscal-themed message to break out of the pack.

As a result, a presidential race that once seemed poised to be a straight referendum on Mr. Obama’s record — with a particular focus on the health care law, the unemployment rate and criticism over the expansion of government regulation — now seems likely to focus more at the outset on how aggressively the country should be reassessing the size and role of government and the future of the social welfare system.

Candidates in both parties have learned the hard way over the years about the risks of advocating changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and it is not clear whether voter sentiment has changed enough to reward blunt talk this time around — or whether positions taken in a primary driven by conservative voters might be problematic for the eventual nominee in the general election.

But with the anger and energy that animated the Tea Party movement last year still coursing through politics, how Republicans navigate fiscal issues could be just as critical to their primary campaign as the Iraq war was to the Democratic nominating contest four years ago.

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