A very good article in the Wall Street Journal by Joseph Rago about the contrasting worldviews of liberals and conservatives and why it was remarkable any deal at all was struck on the debt limit:
Whatever the rhetoric that preceded this week's deal, the debt-ceiling debate was never really about the debt at all. It was about the terms on which the debate would continue. The "two different worldviews" that divide Washington, explains Eric Cantor, are too far apart for anything more than an armistice. Still, listening to the House majority leader-who says the deal is "not perfect" but "there were some achievements"-it's remarkable that the two parties were able to agree even to its modest terms.
The "philosophical starting point" of today's Democrats, as Mr. Cantor sees it, is that they "believe in a welfare state before they believe in capitalism. They promote economic programs of redistribution to close the gap of the disparity between the classes. That's what they're about: redistributive politics." The Virginian's contempt is obvious in his Tidewater drawl. "The assumption . . . is that there is some kind of perpetual engine of economic prosperity in America that is going to just continue. And therefore they are able to take from those who create and give to those who don't. We just have a fundamentally different view."
Mr. Cantor's aggressive style has earned him the enmity of liberals and most of the D.C. press corps, though his larger offense is against their orthodoxy that a fiscal compromise must by definition include tax increases. Mr. Cantor, who holds the second most powerful post in the House after Speaker John Boehner, did more than any other figure to prevent "revenue" (that is, tax increases) from entering the final package.
Like Mr. Cantor, President Obama is also a man of deep and strong convictions, and perhaps that's why they seem to dislike each other so much. Call it, to adapt Freud, the narcissism of big differences. Mr. Cantor cautions that he isn't a "psychoanalyst"-before politics, he was a real-estate lawyer and small businessman-but he says, "It's almost as if someone cannot have another opinion that is different from his. He becomes visibly agitated. . . . He does not like to be challenged on policy grounds."
AT's Rich Baehr has put the problem in similar terms. Conservatives can't give on taxes for philosophical reasons nor can liberals give on entitlements. It is a classic recipe for gridlock and can only be overcome by brute electoral force - one side or the other must totally dominate to get anything done.
When the Dems had control of the presidency and both houses of congress, they uncorked the most massive spending and regulatory programs in history -- all aimed at forcibly redistributing the wealth of the country. In normal times, their policies might have plunged the nation into a recession. But because we were barely out of a serious downturn, their actions stalled the economy and may yet shove us back into a deep hole. They paid for this in 2010.
The GOP, on the other hand, only controls the House and successfully leveraged that control by forcing the national conversation toward reducing the deficit without tax increases. The deal struck to raise the debt ceiling won't pare the deficit much, but the GOP has the momentum to go into 2012 with increased prospects of winning the presidency and the senate. Then it will be the Republicans who will dominate and will be able to try their ideas - almost certainly without much compromising with the Democrats.
How will it turn out? Some analysts believe that the economy is so moribund that it will be years before jobs and strong growth return - our "lost decade" - and that nothing either party does will make a material difference. Some believe we are doomed to see Congress keep changing hands every few years because neither party will appear to have the answers. Whether that's true or not, the fact is that Republicans and Democrats are so far apart that the divide will continue to color politics and policy for the foreseeable future.