Our president, however did become the first national political figure in 49 years to touch a 3d rail in American politics in the same budget where he is touching an even more visibly charged 3d rail. Most commenters seemed to understand that key point, but some took offense at comparisons between our first A-A president and an ardent opponent of civil rights legislation. While the use of a provocative title generated the benefit of drawing attention to an important point that was being largely overlooked, it also had the downside of distracting the argument from its central point. There are always unanticipated trade-offs in making such decisions.
Obviously, there are countless things that distinguish this president from the 1964 GOP nominee. Others have already argued over those differences, and I have nothing substantive to add to that now exhausted discussion at this point. Instead, I'd like to point out the true significance of this unprecedented step.
As I noted before, Goldwater's pledge to sell TVA was considered one of the more obvious examples of his dangerous radicalism at the time. His position was deemed to be so toxic that no national Republican publicly took it again. While I'm sure that Romney/Ryan would've loved to have sold TVA had they gotten elected, it's not a position that they (or any other GOP ticket) publicly took in 24 cycles. In fact, as my diary noted, both of TN's GOP senators staunchly oppose the sale. Ron Wyden, Dem chair of the Senate Energy Committee opposes it, too:
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said TVA and a similar federal-owned power agency in the West, the Bonneville Power Administration, "have been a bedrock of local economies."One of the more noxious trends in contemporary politics is the ongoing sell-off of public assets by cash-starved state & local govts. IN entered into a 75 year lease on its toll road, Chicago entered into a 75 year lease of its parking meter concession to a Morgan Stanley/Abu Dhabi-led consortium, and Newark sold its Symphony Hall and police and fire HQ. Countless other jurisdictions have made similar deals, most of which end up costing the local citizenry in the process.
"It would be shortsighted to sell off this kind of public asset in search of short-term revenues," Mr. Wyden said.
Seeing a newly-re-elected Dem president sitting atop the last mountain of political capital he will ever have even consider joining this unhealthy trend is discouraging in the extreme. It becomes downright disturbing in the political context cited above and in the context of the proposed chaining of CPI. There's a basic philosophical question at stake as to which approach to public assets is the correct one--the FDR approach, or the Goldwater approach?
This WH has a finite supply of political capital at this point, and it has countless issues that are in desperate need of an application of that capital. Why consciously piss away even a minute fraction of it on a politically toxic wet dream of the GOP right? If you want to take on a bruising fight in the name of deficit reduction, why not call for the cancellation of the F-35, which is 7 years behind schedule and 70% over original cost estimates? There's no potential political gain in selling TVA, and there's an already apparent political downside. Plus, if TVA is sold, what federal assets (Bonneville Power Authority, perhaps) will be on the auction block next?
Selling TVA is a losing position politically and philosophically. The track record of state and local asset sales indicates that it's likely a losing proposition economically, too. The fact that an obvious lose/lose/lose scenario made it into this budget raises serious questions about the 2d term priorities of this WH and about who would benefit from such a controversial move.