Sequestration was conceived as a big stick to convince lawmakers to get serious about solving the nation's fiscal woes. It is not, itself, fiscal policy; it is intended to provoke careful deliberation, not replace it. Inflict a moderate amount of pain, the theory was, and Americans would push their elected officials to devise a better plan that might, over the long term, result in more responsible spending.
One possibility was that Americans simply wouldn't care, or possibly would care but not believe they could push Congress to do better.
A second was that citizens would decide, consciously, that the cuts were good ones that could be sustained, at least over the short term.
A combination of those two results seems to have come to pass. Although some of the cuts have been ill-advised, they have not proven to be so draconian that Americans have risen up en masse to demand their legislators abandoning the ideology that got them elected and do something practical. Some people have grumbled, most have largely ignored the cuts, and not much progress has been made.
The full force of sequestration also has not been felt yet. From a budget-cutting perspective, that plan is brilliant: Allow Americans to grow accustomed to one change before imposing another. Individually, most changes are manageable, at least over the short term. What the nation needs, though, is a better bottom line over the long term.
A third path, and the one most likely to accomplish permanent results, was that some cuts would raise enough eyebrows to make a difference.
For example, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has told Congress that the sequester will involve furloughing ag inspectors, at a time when China's bird flu outbreak is growing. Chicken farms reportedly are the source.
Forced spending cuts to the Air Force will cut 44,000 flying hours between now and September, grounding some combat air squadrons. (Source: DefenseNews) At the same time, North Korea continues to threaten American allies, a fight almost the entire world hopes can be conducted with combat planes and not with nuclear missiles.
The truth is that the cuts aren't holding. Last month, Congress approved legislation restoring tuition assistance for military personnel and requiring the Pentagon to make the cuts elsewhere. Tuition assistance is a well-deserved investment in the lives of men and women who have volunteered to serve their country, and it will pay dividends far into the future, but it's not an immediately essential component of military readiness.
And the political brinksmanship - or the game of political chicken - currently taking place regarding Social Security is hardly the best way to reach a decision that will have such far-reaching consequences.
Good government is not driven only by squeaky wheels. Legislators who cling to rigid positions until they are knocked off balance by public pressure are not really responding to constituents; they are responding to threats.
Better to admit that cuts both must and can be made, and then skip the posturing and get to work. That's the American way, and it's significantly better than North Korean-style politics.