It's been a very bad week for the merchants of austerity. In Europe, the just-released statistics on first quarter performance show EU nations sliding deeper into recession. In Spain and Greece, unemployment rates are approaching a staggering 30 percent. In Britain, the Tory government took as good news the fact that the UK managed to eke out 0.3 percent growth. Even Germany, the prime sponsor of these policies, is on the edge of recession. You don't promote growth by slashing demand. Supposedly, fiscal tightening improves business confidence. But if some entrepreneur somewhere decided to break ground for a new factory because the president and Congress at last cut the budget, nobody could find such a person. Even the Washington Post editorial page, which has long been promoting a budget bargain built on more cuts, warned in its lead Sunday editorial, that austerity is pinching too hard -- in Europe, that is. How about at home?
There are credible warnings that Obama intends to seek a "grand bargain" causing the U.S. to adopt the type of austerity program that threw the Eurozone back into a gratuitous recession. Worse, Obama intends to begin to unravel the safety net (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) to convince the Republicans to enter into this Faustian bargain. Just as only a conservative Republican could visit "Red" China, only a Democrat can begin the destruction of the safety net. The difference, of course, is that normalizing relations with China was a good thing while unraveling the safety net is a terrible thing. The Republican Party's approach to convincing Obama to commit this Great Betrayal cleverly exploits three human weaknesses. First, Obama wants to be considered a "centrist." Second, Obama yearns to be considered "bipartisan." These first two weaknesses are forms of vanity.