Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2010 6 Mar-Cheshvan, 5771
Deficits and Depression
By Victor Davis Hanson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | We will learn in November just how angry the public is about a lot of things, from higher taxes to massive unemployment.
But the popular uproar pales in comparison to the sense of humiliation that we Americans are quite broke. In 2008, the public was furious at George W. Bush, not because he was too much of a right-wing tightwad, but because he ran up a series of what were then thought to be gargantuan deficits. The result was that under a supposedly conservative administration, and despite six years of an allegedly small-government
What exactly is it about big deficits and our accumulated debt that is starting to enrage voters?
First, the public is tired of the nonchalant way that smarmy public officials take credit for dishing out someone else's cash without a thought of paying for it. Each week, President Obama promises another interest group more freshly borrowed billions, now euphemistically called "stimulus." But the more public money he hands out to states, public employees, the unemployed or the green industry, the more voters wonder where in the world he's getting the cash. The next time a public official puts his name on yet another earmarked federal project, let him at least confess whether it was floated with borrowed money.
Second, there is a growing sense of despair that even vastly increased income taxes cannot cover the colossal shortfalls. At least the old Clinton tax rates of the 1990s balanced the budget. But should we bring them back, we would still run a deficit of more than
That bleak reality creates hopelessness -- and anger -- among voters, who feel they are being taken for fools by their elected officials. The public opposes tax hikes not because they don't wish to pay down the debt, but because they suspect the increased revenue will simply be a green light for even greater deficit spending.
Third, it does no good for Beltway technocrats to explain how deficits are good at "stimulating" the economy, or why they do not really have to be paid back. Voters know that such gibberish does not apply to their own mortgages and credit card bills.
Voters feel relieved when they can pay off debt and become chronically depressed when they cannot. When the government last balanced the budget in 2000 under the Clinton administration and the
So national reputation and sense of self also matter. Americans are tired of hearing about inevitable Chinese ascendency and American decline. They know
Fourth, there is real fear that something terrible will soon come from this unsustainable level of spending. Interest rates are at historic lows. But if they should rise, just servicing the current debt would cost even more hundreds of billions in borrowed dollars. Soon, we will face a bleak choice of either slashing national defense or
In this upcoming election, all the old political pluses -- years of incumbency, entrenched seniority and pork-barrel earmarks -- are proving to be liabilities. Instead, the more public officials admit to being in control when trillions of dollars were run up, the more Americans want them gone.
We are humiliated by what we owe. If we cannot pay it back, will at least want political payback.
It's that simple this year.
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Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and military historian, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. Comment by clicking here.
© 2010, TMS