By Fareed Zakaria
The debate over the sequester – the forced budget cuts that went into effect Friday – seems to have generated a lot of heat, but little light. So I have been studying the issue to try to fully understand what is going on.
The first question: how big are these cuts? Although they are not draconian, they are still significant. Why? For a start, you will have to find a year’s worth of savings in about seven or eight months, since that's all that's left of the year. But the big problem is that there are large parts of the budget that are either effectively exempt or where there are limits to how much can be cut. This means that the remaining parts of the budget are facing significant shrinkage.
It’s important to remember when thinking about government spending it has to rise every year even with no additional functions. The American population is growing, plus there is inflation of around 2 percent these days. There is room for discussion on how exactly factors like inflation should be evaluated, but some increase in spending is necessary if we are just to stay even. Of course, there are areas that should actually be cut or eliminated. But politicians rarely specify those and the truth is, the big money is in all the popular middle class programs (social security, Medicare, interest deduction, local tax deduction), most of which actually have relatively little waste and abuse in them.
Fareed Zakaria offers his take on why President Barack Obama should think big in his upcoming State of the Union address. Watch CNN's comprehensive coverage of the address, starting at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday.
On the president’s watch, we know that the country has now added 1.2 million jobs since he took office, but it’s not creating enough jobs fast enough to sustain a strong recovery. You see the housing market is coming back. The stock market is rallying. But how much can this president really do in the next four years to get the economy going again?
He could do a lot. We are actually in good shape compared with Europe, compared with Japan.
What this president should do is try to enlist Congress in recognizing that with borrowing costs at historical lows, what we need to do is rebuild America and gain jobs…and allow the economy to get to a kind of escape velocity.
If the president were to announce he has a big, new infrastructure bank that is going to borrow money, but which is going to spend it to rebuild America – invest in the future, rebuild the bridges and highways, build a new generation of smart grid, build a new airport system, a new air traffic system – I think the public at large would like to hear that.
This is the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal. People said we could never do something like that. It was the largest and most expensive government project ever, but unleashed 100 years of economic trade.
So, we have to think in those large terms. If we do, we can do things. If we believe we are entirely constrained, we can’t do much.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore about democracy in the United States and why he thinks the campaign finance system needs an overhaul.
You feel as though a combination of special interests and money have essentially completely corrupted democracy in America.
Functionally corrupted it, yes. You know, we’re told that corporations are people, that money is speech and that might makes right. And we know all of [these] things are contrary to what the United States of America is all about. But because our elected representatives now have to spend most of their time begging rich people to give them money, begging corporations and special interests to give them money, they spend more time worry about the effect of their actions, votes and speeches on these big donors, some of them anonymous, than the time they should be spending thinking about how to serve the interests of the publics they represent.
And you were in the Senate. So when you are raising all that money, when – it's gotten much worse since you were there – those people are expecting certain lines and regulatory codes, lines in the tax code, correct? They’re not paying $50,000 to have breakfast with a congressman because of his personality.
No, not at all. Some of them still do that, I’m sure. But the request for a quid pro quo has become routinely far more brazen than was the case in the past. Fundraisers are often scheduled by special interests according to the legislative calendar when particular bills come up. The same conversations involve legislation and fundraising. Now there are exceptions. There are many honorable men and women. Don’t get me wrong. But there are good people trapped in a very bad system now.
Fareed speaks with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore about the politics of gun control. For the full interview watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
You and Bill Clinton passed the first big assault weapons ban. Do you believe that that was responsible for your losses in the midterm election, which has cast a shadow on the Democratic Party making even today's conservative Democrats or moderate Democrats very, very reluctant to embrace any kind of tough gun control laws?
I think it was only one of many factors, Fareed. Others, including some with keen political minds, have focused on that as a central element in the 2000 campaign. I think it was only one of many issues. And I think that some have given it way too much responsibility for the result in 2000.
I think that the tragedy at Sandy Hook school is really a watershed event that is likely to change the political discourse. I’m so heartened by the many pro-gun advocates who have said in heartfelt terms, we need to make some changes. It still remains to be seen whether our sclerotic political system can process this change. It’s an open question. But I certainly hope so, and I am encouraged.
And you would say to Democrats, don't run away from this, you're not going to pay a price at the polls.
I think the price – whatever price to be paid – pales in comparison to the duties that they and all of us have to respond to this tragedy.
"I think it’s really important that we be seen to be the party of hope, optimism and opportunity," former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker tells Fareed Zakaria on GPS. “That’s what Ronald Reagan taught us, instead of the party of doom and gloom, we need to be positive and not negative.”
“We need to appeal to those voter groups that we had trouble with. We need to appeal to all minority voters and particularly Hispanic and Asian voters. We need to have a credible and comprehensive immigration plan that we can put forth out there. We need to talk about urban issues and face the fact that we didn't get the votes we needed from urban areas. We didn’t get the votes and don’t get the votes we need from women. Therefore, we need to focus on our economic conservatism more than our social conservatism, because a lot of those issues cut against us in the general election.”
Watch the full interview on GPS this Sunday at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET
By Fareed Zakaria
Over the course of this campaign, commentators on both sides of the political divide seemed to agree on one point: this was a campaign about nothing. Barack Obama’s supporters wanted him to lay out a detailed and ambitious agenda for his second term. Mitt Romney’s fans wanted to hear more about the radical restructuring of government. But in fact, by the standards of most elections, this was a campaign about something very big.
Obama and Romney presented two distinct visions of how to rebuild the American economy. Romney emphasized the need to cut taxes and spending and, in general, shrink government. Obama talked about core investments that would allow the country to compete in this century. (Both agreed, without being specific, that they would pursue their agenda while reducing the deficit.) This is not a trivial divide, and the fact that Obama won should have consequences.
By Fareed Zakaria
Growing up in India in the 1960s and 1970s, I always thought of America as the future. It was the place where the newest technology, the best gadgets and the latest fads seemed to originate. Seemingly exotic political causes — women’s liberation, gay rights, ageism — always seemed to get their start on the streets or in the legislatures and courts of the United States. Indians couldn’t imagine embracing all American trends — in fact, we rejected some things outright — because they were too edgy for a country like ours. But we had a sneaking suspicion that today’s weird California fad would become tomorrow’s conventional practice.
For me, Tuesday’s elections brought back that sense of America as the land of the future. The presidential race is being discussed as one that was “about nothing,” with no message or mandate. But that’s simply not true. Put aside the reelection of Barack Obama and consider what else happened this week
By Jason Miks
Editor’s note: GPS Editor Jason Miks speaks with TIME political columnist Joe Klein about the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Watch Klein on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
A columnist in The Guardian this week suggested this may be the most divided American electorate ever. Whoever wins next month, can either candidate make good on President Obama’s pledge during his 2008 presidential campaign to bring the country together?
I actually think that either one of them is going to be in a strong position to make a deal. There’s a big deal coming down the road in terms of budgets and deficits, and I think it’s really interesting that on so many issues, the answers are now obvious. We’ve been in a period of real partisan gridlock, and I think that these problems are going to be solved.
Is one or the other candidate better positioned to do this?
No, I don’t think so. And I disagree first of all with the notion that this is a bitterly divided country. I think you have about a third of the country who hate the president and are Tea Party sorts. Then you have a much smaller “left” – perhaps about 5 percent of the country at most. But on a lot of major issues, I think there’s a real consensus out there, and I think the question is whether a Republican president like Mitt Romney would go with the national consensus, which is in favor of a balanced program for the future – restoration of the Clinton tax rates plus budget cutting and entitlement reform. And if Romney loses, the question is what does House Speaker John Boehner want his legacy to be? Some of it will depend on how much strength the Tea Party has coming out of these elections. We’ll see.
By Fareed Zakaria
The conventional wisdom following last week’s presidential debate was that President Obama performed badly. I think that’s a fair reflection of what happened. It is still inexplicable to me why the president was so passive, why he did not bring up issues such as Romney’s 47 percent comment or the auto bailout or explain the popular provisions in the Obama health care bill. But for whatever reason, perform badly he did.
But the lessons for Joe Biden – as he thinks about his upcoming debate with Paul Ryan – derive less from watching Obama than from watching Romney. Romney had one of the best performances I can remember watching in a presidential debate ever – it was punchy, intelligent, empathetic. There is no question there were substantive problems, most notably the fact that Romney’s tax plan simply doesn’t add up – he cannot do a 20 percent tax rate cut while also retaining all the big deductions for most people without massively adding to the deficit. He certainly can’t do it while also promising to maintain Medicare and Social Security as is for current retirees. But Romney was good enough that he was able to convincingly argue that 2 plus 2 equals 5.
By Fareed Zakaria
In the '70s and '80s, to many Americans the Democratic Party seemed more concerned with America's shortcomings than its strengths. Many of its leaders criticized the country relentlessly for its behavior at home and abroad, for its inequities and injustices. The Democrats, Jeane Kirkpatrick said at the Republican Convention in 1984, "always blame America first."
Today it is the Republican Party that often seems angry with America. Read the best-selling books by conservatives these days, watch Fox News or attend a Tea Party rally. They are filled with rage, often combined with a powerful nostalgia for an America that has gone away.
Reagan was said to be three parts optimism and one part nostalgia. Recently, that formula has been inverted. In 1996, Bob Dole gave an astonishing convention speech that attacked those who believed the U.S. had improved over the past decades. "I say you're wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember," said Dole. So much for progress on civil rights, women's rights or even toward a more open and meritocratic economy and society.
Editor's note: Andrew Selee is director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, which promotes dialogue and understanding between the United States and Mexico. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Andrew Selee.
By Andrew Selee, Special to CNN
Mexico's elections have brought back the PRI, an authoritarian party that ruled Mexico for seven decades. This possibility had worried many observers and politicians in the United States, and yet, surprisingly, it will make little difference for the U.S.-Mexico relationship. This is largely a tribute to how deeply interdependent the two countries are today, as well as the ways in which Mexican society has evolved over the past two decades.
The PRI has been known in the past for its anti-American rhetoric and distrust of the United States. However, circumstances over the past 20 years have completely changed the relationship between the two countries. FULL POST
Editor's note: Robert A. Pastor is professor and co-director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University and author of "The North American Idea: A Vision of a Continental Future." The views expressed in this article are solely those of Robert A. Pastor.
By Robert A. Pastor, Special to CNN
The main question asked about the Mexican presidential elections on July 1 is whether victory by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) means that Mexico will return to its authoritarian past.
The answer is simple: The PRI has changed because Mexico has changed. For more than six decades, the PRI manipulated elections and ruled Mexico in a quasi-authoritarian system. However, between 1988 until 2000, two Mexican presidents – Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Ernesto Zedillo – gradually responded to internal and external pressures and opened the economy and the political system.
I have observed elections in Mexico since 1986 and witnessed the transformation of the election system from the worst to the best in the Americas. The projected victory by PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto will not turn Mexico backwards. Mexicans have chosen democracy, and after two terms under PAN presidents, they are voting for change.
Indeed, in this year when the United States is engaged in a ferocious campaign for the presidency, the question that ought to be asked is: How does the U.S. electoral system compare to Mexico's? I undertook a comprehensive study of the electoral systems in North America, and the good news is that the United States came in third. The bad news is that there are only three countries in North America. FULL POST