JACKSON, Tenn. – March 20, 2013 – Americans should celebrate gridlock in Washington rather than seeing it as an obstacle to progress, especially when nation faces a staggering amount of debt, according to FOX News contributor Stephen F. Hayes.
“I think it’s a positive outcome when gridlock in Washington has forced the politicians we send there to focus on a problem they have long ignored – or, more accurately, have exacerbated, have created,” Hayes said March 19 at Union University.
Hayes, senior writer at the Weekly Standard and author of two New York Times bestsellers, spoke in the Carl Grant Events Center as part of the 14th annual Union Forum luncheon lecture series. Addressing the political landscape in Washington, Hayes emphasized the importance of civility in political discourse as leaders with widely differing views of how government should operate try to tackle some of the nation’s problems.
Though George Wallace in 1968 declared, “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two political parties,” Hayes said that’s not true in Washington today.
“There are tremendous differences between the political parties in Washington and outside of Washington,” he said, describing the proceedings there as “an epic battle between two competing and often wildly divergent ideologies represented however imperfectly by these two political parties.”
President Obama ran to Hillary Clinton’s left in the 2008 Democratic primary on almost every issue, Hayes said, even though Obama had tried to position himself previously as a centrist.
“In 2008 he ran as the anti-Bush, someone who could transform a dysfunctional Washington, but was nonetheless eager to give it more power,” Hayes said.
Hayes said Obama hopes to do for liberalism what Ronald Reagan did for conservatism – mainstream it and make it broadly acceptable. But Obama’s two major legislative triumphs early in his first term – the stimulus package and health care reform – caused Americans to react negatively. Rallied by Tea Party Republicans, voters handed the Democrats a sound defeat in the 2010 election, which returned control of the House to the GOP.
Many observers expected Obama, in the aftermath of the 2010 election, to follow the same path that Bill Clinton did in 1994 – moving to the middle. But instead, Hayes said, Obama did just the opposite, doubling down on his policies and calling for even more government spending.
“There was no give,” Hayes said. “This is what he believed, and he was going to run on it.”
Republicans failed to capitalize in the 2012 election (Hayes described Mitt Romney as a good man but a bad candidate who ran a horrible campaign), and Obama strengthened his pledges for an activist government. But the recent debate about the sequester reflected poorly on the president and his promises of chaos if the mandated budget cuts became reality, Hayes said.
“The reason I think the sequester fight matters so much is because it’s a fight about a lot more than the sequester,” Hayes said. “This is the coming together of these two divergent views of how American government should relate to its citizens – of the role of government in American life.
“I think the White House correctly understands that if it loses this battle, it makes the case for activist government even more difficult for it to make,” he continued. “If you can cut 5.3 percent of domestic discretionary spending, and most people get along, what’s the case for adding more and more and more, particularly when it’s adding to the debt?”
The gridlock in Washington, Hayes concluded, means that politicians can’t worry as much about peripheral issues.
“I’m thrilled that the discussion now is focused on our $16.7 trillion in debt,” he said. “These are issues, in my view, that are exactly what we should be debating.”