Lethal Ignorance


As the year heads for summer, Republicans are determined to flood the political conversation with attacks on President Obama over deficits and the national debt. During Obama’s presidency, the national debt has increased from roughly $10 trillion to a record high of $15 trillion. This looks bad for the president, but appearances are highly deceptive. The president’s decisions and policies are only slightly to blame for the debt increase, and the vast bulk of the increase and the total stem from “policies enacted during the Bush administration coupled with automatic increases in federal spending and decreases in tax revenue triggered by the economic downturn.”

As Republicans strive to obscure the economic facts of life while pushing debt and deficits to the center of our political discourse, a quick reminder of the truth is in order. The major drivers of the deficits and thus the rising debt of the last decade are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts, and stabilizing policies meant to combat economic downturns. Recovery measures by both Bush and Obama had a short-term impact on the deficit, but have mostly phased out. A chart depicting the interplay of these factors appears below.

Talking Points Memo - Causes of Debt


From the time President Obama won the election in November 2008 and with rising frenzy and ferocity since their victories in the 2010 mid-term elections, Republicans have raised alarms about deficits and debt as a pretext for attacking spending of social programs. The cloak of fiscal responsibility, however, hides the true Republican agenda enshrined in numerous budget proposals. They want to slash spending for the poor and elderly, increase defense spending, and cut taxes on the rich. The GOP platform would drastically alter the nature, scope, and size of government, but it would address deficits and debt quite slowly if at all. Let us recall that the last Republican president took office with a budget surplus and debt on a downward course.

The Republicans have repeatedly described President Obama’s budget proposals as “deficits built to last.” They seek to make a play on the president’s call for “an economy built to last.” The Obama proposal is substantially different from Ryan’s so-called Path to Prosperity which every Republican in Congress and Mitt Romney has endorsed. “Obama’s proposal maintains the basic shape of the social safety net. It draws down deficits over the coming decade with a mix of tax increases on high income earners and corporations, already enacted spending cuts, and additional cuts to health care spending and other programs. Ryan’s budget calls for huge cuts to the safety net, makes Medicaid a block grant program, and, after a decade, for phases out Medicare. Ryan also proposes significant tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Contrary to the heated rhetoric, the Ryan plan produces – deficits built to last! Furthermore, both the Ryan plan and the Bowles-Simpson plan are based on economic assumptions that became more dubious during the past year. Consequently, their deficit projections are outdated and probably more optimistic than realistic.

Comparative Deficit Reductions - Talking Points Memo


In fact, there is an even better alternative to the Republican slash and burn budget. This budget has more of what Americans say they want — new taxes on the rich and cuts to defense — than either the Ryan plan or the president’s budget. And it has none of what Americans say they hate: changes to the social compact that’s guided America from the days of the New Deal and the Great Society. “This is more than a fantasy document. It’s sound policy. The conservative Economist magazine has called the budget courageous.” This is the proposal of the 75 member House Progressive Caucus.

The Progressive budget by slashing $5.6 trillion in deficits on the way to generating a small surplus in 2021—reaches a balanced budget two decades in advance of Paul Ryan’s plan. The following chart shows this clearly.

Deficit Elimination Performance - www.rollingstone.com


If the citizenry does not get beyond the heated and deceptive rhetoric trumpeted by the Republicans, their ignorance could lead to dreadfully erroneous decisions in November. For many of our most vulnerable countrymen, such mistakes could literally be lethal. In 2012, ignorance is not bliss; it may be the kiss of death for a just and prosperous society. The truth will set us free, but weary or willful ignorance on the part of a majority of voters will doom us all.

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  • The attacks foretold at the start of this article began on the same day it was published.

    Mitt Romney charged President Obama as a reckless spender who has fanned a “prairie fire of debt” while portraying himself in battleground Iowa as the defender of fiscal responsibility.


    House Speaker Boehner asserted -- the debt ceiling is an “action-forcing event” where he will insist on cuts greater than the increase, setting up a legislative fight similar to the one that paralyzed Congress last summer.

    Boehner called the statutory debt limit the “only avenue” to solve “our structural fiscal imbalance,” at the Peter G. Peterson Fiscal Summit Tuesday. A Boehner aide told the Washington Post that tax increases are still off the table.


    Once again, Republicans are using a problem they largely created to do more damage to the Republic and its citizens. It is time we wise up!

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  • Cher Duncombe

    Larry, it is the same old same old, isn’t it. Statistics don’t lie but statisticians do. Ryan and his cronies will skew the numbers and scare the devil out of people. I will acknowledge that certain programs need cut. But the Arts? Education? Medicare? Frankly these folks remind me of that old fellow with the mustache who killed millions to make a powerful Aryan nation.

    I will pay my taxes. I just want those who make over a million per year to pay their fair share. I write a check to the IRS every year because there are no loopholes for me. Not so for corporate fat cats. Let’s just have parity. Is that really too much to ask? What would Warren Buffett say?

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    • Cher,

      The programs the Republicans choose to cut feed the hungry, they help the disabled, they educate the young, the treat the sick. What values drive people to make such choices? To my mind, warped and unworthy ones.

      The Republican of diminishing revenue to create a purported deficit and debt crisis is working as long as they are not skewered with the blame for the problem and deposed from positions of authority.

      Whom do they serve and whom do they protect? Clearly not people like us and clearly not the least among us. It seems to me a Christian sage had something relevant to say on this point.

      It doubt the pompous and pious spokespeople of the Republican Party would like what his statement implied of their moral stature.

      Thanks as always!


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  • Great article Larry,

    The charts really helped illustrate your point. The question for me is this. How do we get information like this into the heads of the people who are so content to be spoon fed misinformation by a bunch of greedy cheating liars?

    We waste so much most of our wealth in this country giving breaks to rich people, and on our monstrous military complex. I thought that after the cold war ended things would start winding down, but they just keep coming up with new excuses for pouring money down the unnecessary, wasteful, military rat hole.

    It all just boggles my brain.

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    • Dan,

      Thanks for the kind and cogent remarks. For some reason I had to struggle to get the charts in, but I felt they were essential because every picture tells a story and this story needs telling!

      How to inform the uninformed is a true mystery. Research I have been doing suggests many of them are beyond reach due to their emotional investment in their erroneous viewpoints.

      What a challenge! The military expenditure thing is truly frustrating. Even with the sequester cuts military spending would still have increased. The real kicker is that Republicans are using a problem they largely created as a pretext for doing more damage.

      The American electorate better wake up. They better wake up damn fast!

      Thanks as always.


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  • Hey Larry- The Huffington Post just did a little fact checking into Romney’s recent speach on the debt and found (once again) he was lying through his teeth. Their facts seem to support yours. Did you happen to see this article?


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    • Dean,

      I have not seen this, but I will check it out. Thank you.

      I am truly concerned that such a proficient fabricator is seeking the presidency. Given the efforts to suppress votes and the tsunami of slime we will experience with unaccountable Super Pacs, a truly free and fair election seems problematic.

      Unlike Romney, I try to say and write the truth. Perhaps the Huffington Post still does as well.

      Thanks for the alert and the comment.


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