According to the new Washington Post / ABC News poll, Obama has bounced back a bit. He leads Romney in almost all of those sub-questions like, “Is Obama or Romney better on the issue of Medicare?” But the one big place that Romney is leading is on the deficit. By a margin of 8%, the people think that Romney would be better on the deficit. Wow.
I went out to dinner with my father last night and we discussed politics as usual. I explained Romney’s plan: cut taxes, close loopholes, balance the budget. Of course, Romney can’t do all of this without raising taxes on the middle class. But regardless of what the Obama campaign says, Romney will not raise taxes on the middle class. That would be political suicide. What’s going to happen is that Romney will explode the deficit.
“Really?” my father replied like a child who just learned that Santa Claus is a myth. Sometimes my father is adorable, as he was last night. He thinks of himself a cynical old man who knows that all the politicians are crooks and liars. In fact, he is one of the most naive people I know—perpetually shocked that politicians do different things than they promise.
We don’t even have to look at Romney or his plan; we need only look at history. From the end of World War II on, the national debt declined. Under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter: it went down and down and down. Then Ronald Reagan ran. A big part of his stump speech was that the national debt was exploding. It was a big problem! And he was going to solve it by cutting taxes. (I can’t put my finger on it, but I seem to remember someone else suggesting this plan.)
So the debt not only went up, it went way up. And it continued up under Bush Sr. And it went up during Clinton’s first term, but then went down under his second. But then we elected another deficit cutter; under Bush Jr. the debt went way up again. Under Obama, the debt has continued up. But I don’t blame this on him. In fact, if you look at this graph, it is hard not to blame Bush Jr.
I hate having to make this argument. The truth is that I’m not worried about the debt. Right now, we need more debt, not less. It is only after the economy recovers that we should deal with our debt. This is because government debt can crowd out private sector borrowing when the economy is booming. But as long as the economy is in recession, almost no amount of borrowing will harm the private sector. As it is, corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars not knowing what to do with it.
So it is frustrating as hell to have people like my dad vote for Romney because he will reduce the debt when just the opposite is what will happen. Matt Yglesias has written about this exact point. Right now we should be spending more. Obama—like most Democrats—is conservative and probably won’t spend as much as Romney. (Also, if Romney is President, he will have a Republican congress and they will go wild.)
So why not vote for Romney? In this particular case, it is because not all spending is created equal. Romney’s spending will go to two things: tax cuts for the rich (There is no way around that and anyway: look at history!) and increased military spending. Note that the military spending will not go to hiring more soldiers or paying them better. It will go to the weapons manufacturers. This will create jobs, of course, but not as many jobs (PDF) as it would if the money were spent on healthcare or education or just about anything else. The bottom line is that the debt that Romney will run up will primarily go to people who already have more money than they can use. This is not the way to a prosperous economy.
If you care about the nation debt or if you don’t, you should vote for Obama. He isn’t perfect, but he has reasonable and pragmatic policies. Romney is offering the same policies that have failed for the last 30 years. What more needs to be said?
Check out this great zFacts video on the history of the national debt. It’s only 4:15 long.