The current budget wars in Washington are exposing a rift in American politics that finally puts to pasture the long used and abused labels "conservative" and "liberal." I propose a new set of political terms that more accurately reflect the ideological battle taking place as Congress debates how to spend American dollars in a tough economy. Just as Hanna-Barbera's cartoon characters, the futuristic Jetsons and the Stone Age Flintstones, met up in the 1987 cartoon "The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones," two camps with wildly different mindsets are meeting on the floors of Congress. This budgetary battle is being fought between the Jetsonians and the Flintstonians.
The Flintstonian-proposed cuts in environmental protection, family planning and health care, and their war on collective bargaining reveal an ideological agenda that belies fiscal austerity. Flintstonians are using the budget crisis and their majority in the House as an opportunity to take America back to a time long ago. Just picture House Majority Leader Boehner as Fred Flintstone, with a club instead of a gavel.
Flintstonians side with traditional energy sources: oil, coal and natural gas. These resources are becoming more difficult to access as they are depleted in America and as our pipeline from OPEC fluctuates with political stability in the Middle East. Despite negative publicity for fossil fuels (coal mine disasters, costly oil spills, mountaintop removals, loss of clean water from fracking and high prices at the pump), Flintstonians are invested, often quite literally, in fossil fuels and they fear economic upheaval in the transition to sustainable, non-polluting energy sources. Overall, this position does not conserve money or resources, just the wealth of established energy providers and the old ways of powering the wheels of industry. Flintstonians don't support the environmental laws that were once accepted across party lines because as fossil fuel resources decrease and concerns about climate change increase, environmental protections threaten expanded drilling and mining.
Flintstonians support traditional views of family and gender roles. That is why Planned Parenthood funding was put on the chopping block, though it is a bargain that frees women to work by preventing unwanted pregnancies and disease.
Flintstonians side with business over labor, believing that what is good for the C.E.O. is good for America as wealth trickles down to the working class. Jetsonians see the growing divide between the minority rich and the poor masses as evidence that workers need protection. Jetsonians believe that collective bargaining helps keep workers safer, longer living and more productive than third world workers.
Jetsonians view fossil fuels as fossilized thinking. Jetsonians see green, sustainable energy as the only way to achieve a sustainable economy and energy independence from foreign regimes. Jetsonians believe in spending to stimulate a stalled economy while Flintstonians seek economic recovery through sharp cuts, mostly in anything Jetsonians value. Jetsonians look at crumbling infrastructure and see homegrown jobs. Flinstonians look at crumbling Iraq and Afghanistan and see contracts. Jetsonians believe that an ounce of protection costs much less than any cure, so they support environmental regulation, family planning, and universal health care.
Can compromise be reached between such differing mindsets? What will be sacrificed in the bargain? One thing is for certain: the consequences of this budget may be long lasting. If we fail to use our fiscal and natural resources wisely, we may mess things up so much on this planet that we are left with only rubble and are forced to live in outer space like the cartoon Jetsons.