By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: June 21, 2011 , New York Times
There is something crazy about what is going on in our country today. Our fiscal condition continues on an unsustainable path, the European currency is heading for a crackup, the Arab world is in the midst of a crackup, unemployment is creeping upward and basically our two parties are telling us that they will not make the reforms that we know are necessary because it would involve too much pain and could imperil their chances of winning the presidency in 2012.
Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legendary “First 100 Days” in office — which stabilized a country ravaged by the Depression — the first 100 days of every president have been used as a measuring stick for success. That’s over. I’ve said this before, and I believe it even more strongly today: We’ve gone from the first 100 days to the “Only 100 Days.”
Really — it feels as if Barack Obama had 100 days to push through the basics we needed to stabilize the economy and then lay the basis for his one big initiative — health care reform — and then he was preparing for the midterms, and then he was recovering from his midterm losses and then he was announcing his re-election bid and then, judging from all the Republicans who have declared for the presidency already, the 2012 race got started. As such, the chances of the two parties successfully doing something big, hard and together to fix the huge problems staring us in the face are very small — unless the market or Mother Nature imposes it upon them.
Therefore, let us all now hold our breath and hope that nothing really bad happens until the next president has his or her 100 days in early 2013 to take a quick shot at fixing the country before getting ready for the 2014 midterms and 2016 elections.
There is no way that America can remain a great country if the opportunities for meaningful reform are reduced to either market- or and climate-induced crises and 100 working days every four years. We need a full-time government, and instead we’ve created a Congress that is a full-time fund-raising enterprise that occasionally legislates and a White House that, save for 100 days, has to be in perpetual campaign mode.
To get elected today, politicians increasingly have to play to their bases and promise things that they cannot possibly deliver (5 percent annual growth for a decade) or solutions to our problems that will be painless for their constituencies (we’ll just raise taxes on the rich or we’ll just cut taxes even more) or to keep things just as they are even though we know they can’t possibly stay that way without bankrupting the country (Social Security and Medicare benefits).
The truth is, we need to do four things at once if we have any hope of maintaining American greatness: We need more stimulus to keep the economy from slipping back into recession. But we need to combine that stimulus with a credible, legislated, long-term plan for cutting spending and getting the deficit under control — e.g., the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan. And we need to raise new revenues in order to reinvest in the sources of our strength: education, infrastructure and government-funded research to push out the boundaries of knowledge.
That’s right. We need to do four things at once: spend, cut, tax and invest. And unless we do all four at once we’re not going to break out of our slow decline. But to do all four at once will require a new hybrid politics, which does not conform to the political agenda of either major party.
The Democrats are ready for more stimulus but have refused to signal any serious willingness to cut entitlements, like Medicare, that we know are unsustainable in their present form. The Republicans are all for spending cuts but refuse to accept any tax increases that we need to pay for the past and invest in the future. So what we’re basically saying as a country is that unless the market or Mother Nature make us pay, we are going to hand this whole bill over to our children.
Maybe it is just my friends, but I find more and more people completely disgusted by this situation and looking for a serious Third Party candidate who could run in 2012 and deliver the shock therapy to the corrupt, encrusted, two-party duopoly now running the show in America.
Such a Third Party would have a simple agenda: 1) Inject a short-term stimulus. 2) Enact Simpson-Bowles. 3) Shrink our presence in Afghanistan. 4) Raise automobile mileage standards. 5) Impose a gasoline tax to pay for a massive increase in government-supported scientific research and a carbon tax to pay for new infrastructure and stimulate clean-power innovation.
Do I think such a Third Party can win in 2012? Not likely. But it doesn’t have to win to be effective. If such a party attracted substantial voters on such a platform, it would shape the agendas of the Republicans and Democrats. They would both have to move to attract these voters by changing their own platforms and, in so doing, might even create a mandate for the next president to govern for an entire term — not just 100 days.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on June 22, 2011, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: 100 Days.