D. Dowd Muska


A Useful Idiot for Big Government’s Status Quo

July 21, 2011

If we continue to ignore the federal government’s debt and unfunded liabilities, we’ll place a crushing burden on our children and grandchildren. Look, everyone has a piece of the solution. So it’s time to roll up our sleeves, work together, and fix this thing!

That’s the message transmitted by a growing number of voices and organizations. They’re responsible. Their ideas are constructive. Their tone is civil. They’re not interested in irrelevant, petty questions about the proper role of government. After all, what did ideologues ever achieve?

No one better exemplifies the can’t-we-all-get-along chorus than David M. Walker. He ran the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) for a decade. In the final years of his tenure, Walker crisscrossed the nation in a “Fiscal Wake-Up Tour” to publicize Washington’s ballooning deficits. The establishment media -- 60 Minutes, The New York Times -- dutifully crafted fawning profiles.

In 2008, after leaving the GAO, Walker moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut -- a corrupt, impoverished city in a state that policy-wise, can credibly be called the most suicidal in the nation. With funding from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the über-accountant established the Comeback America Initiative (CAI), to “promote fiscal responsibility and sustainability by engaging the public and assisting key policymakers on a non-partisan basis.”

The CAI advisory council is mystifyingly incongruous stable of wonks. The neoconservative Heritage Foundation and libertarian Cato Institute have representatives, but they’re outnumbered by members of far-left policy shops, such as the Progressive Policy Institute, Urban Institute, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Third Way. And one CAI advisor doesn’t exhibit Walker’s obtuse, demonstrably false view that bureaucrats are committed to “the greater good” and feel a “duty of loyalty to the collective best interest of all rather than the interest of a few.” In 2008, a reporter asked University of Connecticut economist Fred Carstensen about layoffs and wage freezes for the state’s notoriously overcompensated bureaucrats. The pompous, public-payroll professor sniffed, “I almost resent this kind of discussion.”

Product is more important than personalities, so let’s examine a recent CAI panel discussion. Earlier this month, Walker’s group cosponsored a forum in Hartford. CAI’s partner was No Labels, a band of fatuous politicos and media hounds whose goal is to “‘put the labels aside’ in an effort to seek common sense solutions to our nation’s problems.” (Walker is a “founding leader.”)

The event’s guest speaker was U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, who’s enthusiastically backed nearly every expansion of the federal government, at home and abroad, in the last quarter-century. Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon was booked as the forum’s token right-leaner, but at the last minute, had to cancel. Two ex-fedpols from Connecticut, Nancy Johnson and Barbara Kennelly, did show up. The former is a quintessential New England Republican -- average rating on the National Taxpayer Union (NTU) 100-point scale: 53. After leaving Washington in 1999, Kennelly (average NTU rating: 23), the daughter of legendary Democratic National Committee Chairman John Bailey, went to work for the don’t-you-dare-touch-a-penny-of-our-benefits National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

On July 20, CAI released “Restoring Fiscal Sanity: The Tough Choices We Face and Two Possible Paths Forward.” It averred that the U.S., “arguably the greatest [nation] in the history of mankind,” was in jeopardy due to “a lack of political courage, excessive partisanship, and/or ideological rigidity.” By now, the report’s proposals should be no surprise: Ditch the “Bush/Obama” income-tax cuts. Tweak Social Security and Medicare -- don’t privatize them. Keep the death tax. Cut troops in Afghanistan and Iraq “to no more than 45,000 by December 31, 2014.”

For someone who preens over being above it all, evidently, Walker isn’t sophisticated enough to grasp his pro-Big Government bias. Or perhaps he doesn’t care. Either way, he’s used his media-darling, Serious Public Servant standing to legitimize the continuance of high taxes, a massive military-industrial complex, and unworkable, European-style healthcare and pension programs.

Contrary to Walker’s tired technocratism and trendy, management-consultant buzzwordsmithing, Uncle Sam’s impending insolvency isn’t an accounting problem that requires “transformational reforms.” It’s the inevitable result of a betrayal of the Republic’s longstanding aversion to what libertarian scholar Murray Rothbard called the welfare-warfare state. (Mercy -- what an “incendiary” term. Someone notify No Labels.)

Given Washington’s pervasive, unaffordable, and destructive meddling around the globe and in Americans’ personal and economic lives, CAI’s mission to make the federal government “more future focused, results oriented, successful, efficient, equitable and sustainable” is pathetically naïve. Walker, who’s pondering a run for the U.S. Senate, should stick to spreadsheets.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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