CARLSON AND PATEL: How Congress, Wall Street and the media traded America’s future for the next short-term fix

If someone had woken you from a dead sleep 20 years ago and asked what the Republican Party stood for, you would’ve had no trouble answering: Fiscal restraint, a strong national defense and lower taxes. Those were the three pillars of the GOP. The party’s brand was clear. Voters understood it, and many approved. In the days before Obama, Republicans won seven out of ten presidential elections.

Things have changed for the muddier. Scratch the surface and you’ll find there is no longer a consensus among Republicans on foreign policy. Fiscal restraint? Years of earmarks, record deficits and at least one new federal entitlement under Republican congresses make that idea a bitter joke.

Of the three principles that have united the party since Reagan, only taxes remain. Republicans have been able to claim — sincerely, and with continuing success at the ballot box — that they are for lower taxes.

Until Tuesday.

Here’s what happened: For reasons that aren’t entirely clear but are probably related to panic and a basic lack of principle, the Speaker of the House and other Republicans in Congress signed on to Democratic calls for “balance” between tax hikes and spending cuts — this despite the overwhelming evidence that spending is the real problem.

So, even before the negotiation began, they abandoned decades of principle on taxes. The result: Two months later, we have a deal, but no balance. It’s all tax hikes. Zero spending cuts. Nice job. (RELATED OPINION: Congress should dive headlong off fiscal cliff)

Many contended Republicans had no choice. The effects of the fiscal cliff were so severe, they said, that a deal — any deal — was imperative. Republicans would be blamed if negotiations fell through.

Recognize this argument? It’s common on Wall Street, where nothing matters but the next fiscal quarter. It pretty much sums up why America is in such steep decline.

Consider what happens to companies that worry only about the most imminent financial report. They do everything possible to push problems down the road while maximizing the shortest-term benefits at all costs. Companies like this may post impressive numbers for a time. In the end, they go bankrupt.

This is a well-known corporate phenomenon and commentators regularly criticize it. Managers like Warren Buffett, meanwhile — those who see past the next quarter and play the long game — get the praise they’re due. Yet somehow, when it comes to our country’s finances, it’s considered wild, even reckless, to think about anything but the few months ahead.