An engaging debate between Matt Ygelesias and Mickey Kaus about unions, prevailing wages, Katrina reconstruction and what this all means for the Democratic Party. Yglesias says up front he knows nothing about the Davis-Bacon Act (which mandates that workers on government contracts get union wages), and it shows.
That said, it's refreshing to see this debate unfold among Democratic public intellectuals, even if it's unlikely to reach the cerebral cortexes of, say, Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi. Since the 2000 election, Bush-religious right-conservative-Republican hatred has poisoned the national Democratic Party, relegating constructive discussions about policy issues, even in the abstract, to the dustbin of history. (As Mickey points out, even the "centrist" Democratic Leadership Council has become a sorry mouthpiece for the party's reflexive left.)
The problem with this policy vacuum is that the Republican Party has, by default, emerged as the nation's dominant political force. And the GOP has embraced all the spoils of governing with relish -- as evidenced by Tom DeLay's jaw-dropping claim that the federal budget has been cut to the bone. Some $25 billion of the $284 billion highway bill is made up of "earmarks," aka pork -- spending that goes to specific congressional districts and was not vetted through the regular budget processes. Even so, DeLay said the $110 million in highway pork project he secured for his district "are pretty important to building the economy." So much for "the party of fiscal restraint."
This profligacy is not just a problem for today's taxpayers. Because the Democratic Party offers nothing constructive to anyone who does not belong to its base of union members, public employees, welfare-state wards, and remnants of the loony left, there's no organized or principled force to block (or at least slow) the GOP's fiscal wrecking ball.
Instead, the Democrats simply embrace the latest bromides from the antiwar left -- including their musty, McGovernik Great Society policies. It's as someone pushed the History Eraser and the misery caused by the technocrats of the Nixon-Ford-Carter era never occured. Witness the move in Hawaii to cap wholesale gasoline prices (subhed: "Some analysts warn move may spur supply problems." Ya think?)
The sort of politicians who at least paid lip service to what Mickey calls "policy liberalism" -- Gary Hart, Tim Penny, Dave McCurdy, Chuck Robb -- have aged, sure, but mainly they've been sent to pasture. Penny now is more comfortable with the folks at the Cato Institute than he is at, say, the DLC.
I'm not arguing that to again be taken seriously as a governing party, Democrats have to embrace Adam Smith. But they should at least consider that there's a reason the United States has prospered for the past quarter century. America shook off the malaise of the 1970s because Americans (in general terms) rejected central planning and embraced entrepreneurship, fiscal discipline and individual enterprise. So long as those latter principles remain anathema to the Democratic brain trust, the less likely independent-thinking Americans will be to take the party seriously.
Lacking genuine opposition, Republican leaders have no incentive to call off the spending orgy. And taxpayers have few outlets for channeling their outrage. Not exactly what Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey had in mind in 1994, I'm guessing.