As I was reading Richard Vinen’s op-ed about Margaret Thatcher from this weekend’s New York Times,
I couldn’t help but think of Florida’s beleaguered governor. Rick Scott
ran as a staunch Tea Partier dead set on getting public spending under
control, cutting $1.35B from the state’s education budget last year.
With the 2012 elections looming, however, Scott has suffered a crisis of nerves,
calling for a billion in new money for education — and no new reforms
of note — in an effort to improve his flagging popularity. He has turned
to the kind of likability-oriented politics that Thatcher eschewed in
her program to remake 1980s Britain.
Scott is not alone. After losing a ballot measure over his signature public-sector reform, Ohio’s John Kasich declared, “It’s time to pause,” despite the fact that voters largely support
the education reform portions of the law. Where 2011 was defined by
tough discussions about how to balance competing state-level priorities
in an era of austerity — with teacher unions frequently on the losing
end of those battles — many politicians gearing up for 2012 are striking
a softer tone. (By contrast, the bipartisan duo of Chris Christie in
New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo in New York have made progress, if
haltingly, toward reform of the public sector, and both seem braced for
productive work in 2012.)
Sweeping problems under the rug would be a mistake, however. The
growing pressure on state budgets from health care cost inflation will
not go away. Collections from property taxes are not likely to recover
quickly. We need politicians who can make the case for unpopular
decisions, not ones who pander to our childish desires to have our cake
and eat it too.