Long before spreading falsehood online became a career opportunity and a political strategy, many many people believed falsities and disbelieved truths. For centuries, women were hanged or burned at the stake for “witchcraft.” Throughout the Middle East today (other than Israel), the popular understanding is that the Holocaust didn’t happen. In the very big picture, assuming that masses of people basically know the score, especially about things beyond their hometowns, is a mistake. There is no law of man, nature, or economics that says they must, and untruths are often more attractive than realities.
Even so, there is one perennially asserted and believed untruth about American politics that puzzles me. We are all given to understand that Democrats, with their social safety-net programs and entitlements, are the budget-busters in Washington, D.C. The opposite has been the case all along, and the numbers have always been there for anybody to look up.
These numbers are from the Office of Management and Budget. All figures refer to annual deficits.
The first huge leap in modern times was during the Gerald Ford administration. The deficit was $6 billion in 1974, and $53 billion the next year. A ninefold increase in a year.
When Jimmy Carter left office in 1980, it was at $74 billion; that was a 40% increase over four years. Twelve years of Reagan-Bush later, it was at $290 billion, more than tripled.
After eight years of Bill Clinton, that $290 billion deficit had become a $230 billion annual surplus.
Eight years of George W. Bush turned that surplus into a $459 billion annual deficit.
Eight years of Obama brought it up all of 27% , to $585 billion annually in 2016.
By 2020, before Covid hit, Trump had nearly doubled it to $1,083 billion. Who needs a pandemic to hit the trillion-dollar-a-year mark?
I have cherry-picked nothing. That’s all the administrations since 1974.
I am puzzled why this entirely public information is never cited when Democrats are described as fiscally irresponsible.
I am less puzzled why it is so: Republicans really do cut taxes when they can– especially taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations– and they really don’t control spending.
This is a statement like “Geese migrate south in winter:” it’s not an opinion, and it isn’t a difficult truth to discover. Republicans talk about “small government,” apparently, talking is all that’s required. Federal budgets swell significantly and regularly under Republican administrations, but talking about small government somehow works for them. The blazingly obvious arithmetic truth, dutifully detailed in the public record, matters not.
Democrats, on the other hand, really don’t cut taxes much, and sometimes try to raise them– again, especially on the wealthy and the corporations. On the spending side, my guess is that they are aware of the widespread (false) belief that they are budget-busters, and therefore take care not to actually bust budgets as a matter of political prudence. You can’t keep people from spreading a falsehood, but at least you can see to it that the falsehood remains false. That seems to be the idea.
Now, for the first time, we have a Democratic administration that really does want to spend (or invest) a whole lot of dough. On current form, it looks unlikely they will succeed with much of anything in the way of enhancing revenue, so this actually could be a Democratic administration that does what all modern Republican administrations do: jack up the federal debt.
As this possibility looms, it becomes more and more egregious political malpractice for Democrats to allow the truth of these matters to remain somehow obscure. It’s as if this particular big lie has them cowed. Who knows, maybe they believe it about themselves, having heard it so many times. The truth is there in plain sight, should they ever get it together to point it out. For generations, they haven’t managed to.
Maybe deficit spending is a cardinal sin, and maybe not. Maybe Biden’s bills are too big and maybe not. But there’s no ambiguity about which one of our two political parties is the perennial D.C. budget-buster. None at all.
Eric Kuhn lives in Middletown.