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It has been a long time since Karl Rove's dream of a permanent Republican majority was ignominiously buried.  Meanwhile, lost in the current triumphalism among Democrats ("GOP Postmortem"; "GOP Eating Their Own!", and the like) is the sad truth that it is the Democrats who had a real shot at a "permanent" majority, and not simply by waiting for the nation's demographics to shift in their favor.  They could have done it by capturing and owning the one issue on which they keep getting smacked upside the head: The national debt.

We all see the writing on the wall for the conservative culture warriors.  They are losing, and deservedly so.  No need to reiterate all the reasons we don't want America dragged back into the 11th century.   On national security, the Bush disaster, combined with Obama's surprising toughness and his growing list of foreign-relations successes, have leveled the playing field, and even given the Democrats a bit of an edge.  So why do Republicans still remain competitive?  

Ok, aside from gerrymandering, a formidable propaganda machine, and a lot of not-so-latent racism...?  Seriously, the only issue which motivates both the Tea Party base and the GOP establishment is the debt.  The problem for Democrats is that hard-core right-wingers are not the only ones concerned about the debt.  Many of us who are not reflexive partisans are concerned too.  Very concerned.  

Here is where the Democrats have messed up.  Part of it is their infuriating incompetence at messaging.  For a historical example of their tone-deafness, look at what happened to President Clinton after rumors broke about his affair with an intern.  Republicans jumped all over it, saying "Character matters!"  What should Democrats have said?

"Yes, character matters, and there is no greater test of character than standing up for the less powerful in society.  A personal indiscretion pales by comparison."  Instead, here is what Democrats said:  

"No, character is not that important."  Bingo.  They gave the Republicans a wedge that almost separated Clinton from his office.

So today, we are treated to an astonishing parade of Democrats (Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, the President himself) saying "Fiscal Crisis?  What Fiscal Crisis?"  They look like fools!  Our debt IS a looming catastrophe, for our country, our children and our future.  And rational people know it.

The question then is, why adopt such an untenable position?  The Tea Party answer is that these people are simply clueless.  However, this correspondent has spoken with enough Democratic insiders to know that many in the party actually do know the debt is a big problem.  The real answer appears to be that the Democrats are trying desperately to save the social safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare, and they see a frontal assault on the debt as inevitably threatening those programs.

What an incredible irony.  And what a triumph for Republican messaging.  For what the Republicans have done is to wage that frontal assault on the debt, while taking taxes off the table.  And the Democrats appear to have internalized that framing!  So, to save the social safety net, they have to resort to the contorted rationalization that the debt must not be that big a deal, after all.  It's like saying "Character doesn't matter."

Legislative courage seems to be one quality in which the Democrats suffer a chronic deficit. Republicans govern like they have a mandate, even when big majorities disagree with them, while Democrats seem to need a 2:1 advantage in popular support before they will even whisper about a contentious issue.  Well, here is your issue!  A large majority of Americans worry that our debt is a millstone that could hurt us for generations to come.  But the Republicans have been exposed:  they don't really care about the debt--they just want to cut taxes.  The Democrats should call their bluff, and make this issue their own.

If the Democrats had the courage, they get out in front in acknowledging that securing our future requires reducing the national debt to sustainable levels.  They would insist on a full range of solutions: they would stick to their guns on closing corporate loopholes and raising marginal rates, at the very least.  They would also join with libertarian Republicans in eliminating industry subsidies, banning bailouts for failed banks, and making it illegal for the U.S. to enter a war of choice.  And they might entertain gradual, incremental reforms to social programs to guarantee their solvency indefinitely.  Making FICA progressive and removing the income cap on contributions would be an obvious start.

If the Democrats can "own" the solution to our debt crisis, with all of the other political winds in their favor, they could in fact create their "permanent", or at least long-lived, majority.

Originally posted to Wanderer1961 on Sat Mar 23, 2013 at 07:47 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good points. So why do our spokes people (5+ / 0-)

    always seem to be on the DEFENSIVE on economic issues. Our record is great compared to theirs. Our solutions are REAL while theirs are transparent attempts to reward their cronies.

    For a start, respond to each of their demands with the question "SO HOW WOULD YOU PAY FOR THAT?"

    Kill Obama-care?  HOW WOULD YOU PAY FOR THAT?

    Raise the Medicare age? HOW WOULD YOU PAY FOR THAT?

    Cut taxes on the rich? HOW WOULD YOU PAY FOR THAT?

    "...to name something is to own it." Thomas L. Friedman. Pleonexia. Ruthless self-seeking. An arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one's own benefit. I now own the Republican Party.

    by Dave in Columbus on Sat Mar 23, 2013 at 08:21:43 PM PDT

  •  The diarist is wrong both about the debt (14+ / 0-)

    being a frightening harbinger of unbearable burdens on our children and a subject of blinkered focus of the general populace.  Wealth inequality (the decline in  wages and the difficulties this presents in paying the household bills and planning for the future) is a much larger problem in most people's minds than the debt - even the tea partiers whose movement began as a pushback against the bank bailout were not focused on the debt and deficit until their movement was hijacked by wealthy business and political interests.

    Regular folks' biggest interest is in jobs and the possible distortions in the social programs they rely on in order to "address the deficit/debt problem."  If there is any budget-cutting done to address these issues, most people agree that taking an ax to the military budget, tax loopholes enjoyed by the rich and corporate subsidies are far better ideas.

    In fact, no one but the wealthy would be the least concerned about a "debt crisis" or the size of the deficit if they weren't constantly being told that those things were the cause of a lack of good-paying jobs right now and our children's eventual relegation to poverty.

    "In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

    by SueDe on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:45:05 AM PDT

  •  The "Debt Crisis" is manufactured, (11+ / 0-)

    we are not in existential peril because of the debt. We sustained much higher debt during our boom period in the postwar. Interest rates are currently so low that we should be borrowing a pile more money to boost the economy by boosting infrastructure and preparing our kids for the future.
    But because of the phony panic promoted by Pete Peterson and the RWNJ/Media complex, we're cutting off our future and handing over our country to the uber-rich.
    Don't fall for it, fight back.
    Our debt is sustainable in the short run, we could safely go way deeper, IF we do it to build our future revenues. That will include opening up wider opportunities for development of Alt. energy and does not include more tax cuts.
    If you buy into the "Debt Crisis", you buy into austerity, you buy into the GOP's favorite hobby horse: Spending Cuts.
    That's what the Dems should be doing if they want to be the longterm majority, not falling for the Billionaire Boys Club's fantasy.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:51:09 AM PDT

    •  Democrats (0+ / 0-)

      like former governor Ed Rendell schilling outfits like billionaire Pete Peterson's "Fix the Debt" campaign don't help neither.

      In a capitalist democracy - every dollar is a "vote" ... spend wisely ...

      by RUNDOWN on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 10:45:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You're so wrong, I wonder where to begin. (11+ / 0-)

    1) Federal debt only matters to the Sunday gasbags on television who worry about their stock portfolios. Folks who have shitty high deductible health insurance, who haven't had a raise in 5 years, whose son lives in the basement with no job and $80,000 education debt, driving a 9 year old car with 140,000 miles on it and living in mortal dread of being fired in the next wave of 'downsizing'? Not so much. They only worry about "Teh Deficit" because people like David Gregory (and, well, you) keep insisting it's the only problem in America.

    2) In the midst of a sustained worldwide recession, this obsession with the Federal deficit isn't just misguided; it's economically brain-dead. Obsession with balanced budgets turned a banking crisis into worldwide depression in 1930. This stupid deficit fetish promises to do it again.

    3) We have a genuinely critical problem with disintegrating infrastructure in America. We have an aging energy grid crying out for modernization in a world where global warming is a real, screaming, legitimate looming apocalypse. We have brutal unemployment with millions of folks who would love a chance to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. We have tax rates at historic lows, and trillions of dollars of wealth sequestered in the pockets and Cayman Island accounts of America's 1% because decades of brain-dead policy has encouraged this 'goal'. And you think the big problem is....the deficit?

    FAIL.

    •  You obviously didnt 'read the entire post (0+ / 0-)

      I'm against the GOP's focus on cuts as the only solution.  Read again...

      The Wanderer, from somewhere over the Pacific...

      by Wanderer1961 on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 08:30:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You obviously didn't read the entire post (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hwy70scientist, RUNDOWN

      I am against the GOP's focus on cuts as the only solution!  They've done verbal jiujitsu on us.  If we offer a solution to the debt, instead of pretending it doesn't matter, we take away the only leg they have left to stand on.

      The Wanderer, from somewhere over the Pacific...

      by Wanderer1961 on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 08:32:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're buying into their delusion. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RUNDOWN

        As soon as you start arguing in their terms, about their pet deficit project, using their rhetorical framework, you have already lost.

        As soon as you start talking about deficits you ignore all the dreadful social, environmental and economic cancers eating this nation alive. You are tacitly agreeing that gruesome unemployment rates, horrific inequality, a criminal banking industry run by thieves at no risk of ever seeing justice, blind ignorance of the coming climate apocalypse and perpetual warfare are the normal state of affairs and completely okay. Nothing to see here, moving along.

  •  step away from the TV (9+ / 0-)

    put down the remote control. Repeat after me: Fox lies, Fox lies, Fox lies, etc. Feel better yet? Now do some homework. We are in the grips of a kleptocrat takeover. They are saturating the airwaves with mind-control propaganda to scare you. The money is gone because they took it! The only solution is to get it back from them.

  •  Debt is neither good nor bad. (7+ / 0-)

    It depends on what the borrowed money is used for and when it is borrowed.

    I refinanced my mortgage two years ago at a historically low rate (yeah, I should have waited a year to get a new historically low rate) and have the money invested. If interest rates go up, I win. If they don't, I can pay off the loan early. I didn't use it to buy crack, bling, or vacations in Bali.

    Keynes pointed out that the government should take on debt in a recession and pay it off during a boom. Clinton did the second part; Obama did the first. The only serious argument I have heard against this is that since the US has a fiat currency debt levels don't matter at all.I don't buy this, but I don't pretend to be an expert on macroeconomics.

    The only group that doesn't agree with Keynes' ideas are the rich who don't care about the rest of the country. It may be better for them to throw us into a depression since they will come out relatively better.

    •  Henry Potter's business ethics and model: (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Justus, Bcre8ve, Andrew F Cockburn

      "Blackstone, other investors snap up thousands of Tampa Bay rental homes"

      One of the virtues, sic, of low interest rates and the crashing of the national economy is that for those who have glommed onto "money," there's all kinds of opportunities to buy up Bedford Falls and turn it into Potterville...

      http://www.tampabay.com/...

      Has the diarist actually studied the effects of a "national debt," how that all fits into the complicated, screwed-up, perpetually-being-hijacked thing we call "the economy," and other than scare words about our children's children living poor (which the kleptocrats are working on, every femtosecond of every day, see e.g. "high speed trading," where corporate fundamentals mean absolutely NOTHING, and the MIC, and all the other scams in operation), whether the "national debt," that bookkeeping entry, actually MEANS anything at all? Just asking, I have no answers, and neither, obviously, do "economists" and their pro-wealthy models, or politicians who have zero incentive whatever "side" they claim to be on, to "do anything" actually substantive about, starting with any agreement on what the whole concept means, in terms as simple as they can manage, and the reasons why one set of actions and "responses" or another make any sense, one way or the other, and WHO gets rich off of whatever is proposed.

      Quoth the diarist,

      A large majority of Americans worry that our debt is a millstone that could hurt us for generations to come.
      A set of beliefs that is the result of a long, steady, flatly dishonest media push by some very interested people.

      And I invite the reader to CAREFULLY read through the set of "solutions" to the supposed "insolvency" given by the diarist in his clarion call to Attack The Evil Deficit!:

      If the Democrats had the courage, they get out in front in acknowledging that securing our future requires reducing the national debt to sustainable levels.  They would insist on a full range of solutions: they would stick to their guns on closing corporate loopholes and raising marginal rates, at the very least.  They would also join with libertarian Republicans in eliminating industry subsidies, banning bailouts for failed banks, and making it illegal for the U.S. to enter a war of choice.  And they might entertain gradual, incremental reforms to social programs to guarantee their solvency indefinitely.  Making FICA progressive and removing the income cap on contributions would be an obvious start.
      Aha! we get finally to the hook buried in the minnow!

      I would be very interested in the diarist's explication, not of how to turn a potentially very stupid set of beliefs and actions into a "winning political argument," but what he evaluates as the reasons why the National Debt actually matters, in a world where there's global heating and "all of the above" energy policies, and an MIC merging with the Police State to bring us DRONES and other "Terminator"-grade Autonomous Battle Robots and Autonomous Unmanned Flying Machines at every scale from 747-size to micro-mini:

      "The Siphonaptera" is a nursery rhyme, sometimes referred to as Fleas.

      Big fleas have little fleas,
      Upon their backs to bite 'em,
      And little fleas have lesser fleas,
      and so, ad infinitum.

      Sometimes a second verse appears, with lines such as

      And the great fleas, themselves, in turn
      Have greater fleas to go on;
      While these again have greater still,
      And greater still, and so on.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/...

      Seriously, since none of the "debt reduction" will be done at the expense of what we are foolish enough to call "defense," a word that has quite lost its formerly honest meaning, who (maybe Ma and Pa Bank Depositor, a la Cyprus) will "fix the Debt?"

      Hmmmm?

      "Is that all there is?" Peggy Lee.

      by jm214 on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 10:27:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I recce'd this because it is a worthy subject, (4+ / 0-)

    and it needs to be addressed... just not exactly in this way. It is important because this is how the GOP undermines us.

    Talking about "the debt/deficit" is a way to blow a lot of hot air about nothing and sound serious about serious issues (ie, "the economy"). And yes, you bring up an excellent point in that the Democratic Party is typically very bad about getting messages across.

    The economy is a big subject with a lot of confusing facts and nuances. The Democrats try to educate with each word uttered but it goes past a lot of the people. It sounds "political". People seek simple solutions, and the GOP are great at making good bumper-sticker "solutions" to big problems. (Most of their "solutions" are worthless).

    What we need to have is some of the folks in the spotlight retort with "Yes, the deficit is important-- and the best way to solve the deficit is with jobs. Jobs for Americans. Productivity for Americans. You're solution was to ship the jobs overseas and reward the corporations that did that with tax breaks. It hasn't worked."

    "The best way to solve the deficit is with jobs".

    And just go from that.

    The internet is ruled by cat people. Dog people are busy playing outside.

    by Canis Aureus on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 08:21:22 AM PDT

  •  trade deficit (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bcre8ve, RUNDOWN

    has been horrendous for a very long time yet no one seems outraged by it with few good jobs available in the nation and people are still scratching their empty skulls wondering why.  Point of no return  is likely well past us now.  The money people will, no doubt, have their version of a 'solution'.

    "History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance." -James Madison

    by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 11:13:25 AM PDT

  •  Social Security (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Justus, hubcap

    has nothing to do with the debt.  By law, it cannot be paid for out of the budget, and money collected by Social Security cannot be used to add to the budget or pay down the debt.  The only problem with Social Security is that the $2.7 TRILLION surplus has been "borrowed" to give the wealthy tax cuts.  And now they want to permanently keep that money since it "doesn't really exist" according to them, and they enshrined that concept in the new Ryan Budget.

    Medicare and Medicaid have grown at the slowest rate since the 1940's, and from 2009 to 2011, total health spending grew at the lowest annual pace since the government started keeping records 52 years ago.  Saying that SS will be "broke" in 40 or 75 years is a ridiculous argument.  It would be like saying that, in the time of WWII, that we knew we were going to walk on the moon, or that there would be this thing called the "interwebs".  Nobody knows what this world will be like in 40 or 75 years, or the period in-between, no matter what they say.  

    Entitlements are not the problem.  Historically low rates of taxation are, both for individuals and as a share of GDP.  Corporate tax rates are also at historically low levels.

    Nobody believes it, and they promptly forget it since it seems counter-intuitive, but the greater the marginal tax rate on upper incomes is, the better the economy does.  Why?  Because it becomes more profitable to invest that money in the actual business than stuffing it into their pockets.

    Federal spending over the past three years grew at their slowest pace since 1953-56 under Obama, yet under the deficit "hawks", Federal debt rose to 41 percent of GDP in 2008 from 33 percent in 2001, the year Bush took office. The budget was in surplus in the closing years of his predecessor Bill Clinton’s presidency.

    More has been done by this administration to cut the deficit and the debt than any other president, ever, and it has been detrimental to the economy as a whole.  The people are making historically low amounts for their labor, while corporations are seeing record profits and are sitting on record amounts of cash, as are the very wealthy in this country, and this is what is truly unsustainable, not the debt.

    When money is "cheap" with what are historically low interest rates, and our infrastructure and vital services having been cut to the bone, and then some more, we would be stupid to wait until interest rates go up to borrow the money to make the investments that will propel us into the 21st century, finally, and once we catch up, into the future.  We will need to pay for these things, and yes, we will need debt to do so.  As any business or head of household knows, capital improvements are expensive, and borrowing is how you pay for them.  But they are investments.  They will pay off in the long run.

    These same people whining about "teh debt" are the very same ones who racked up historical amounts of debt under Bush II, and some of them were even there when Reagan tripled the debt in the 1980s.  They have no credibility in this discussion.

    I'll let that deficit "hawk" Dick Cheney have the last word, "Deficits are good".

    "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." - Plato

    by Bcre8ve on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 11:32:50 AM PDT

  •  The screaming about debt is part of the con (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    T C Gibian, hubcap

    The Republicans have been running now for over 30 years. They don't care about the debt, they only care about using it to convince everyone that the money that the working people have pooled to help each other in the form of Medicare, Medicaid and SS taxes should not be returned to the working people as the benefits they worked for and earned.

    It's a scam, that's it.

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 02:46:32 PM PDT

    •  Hear, hear (0+ / 0-)

      It seems to pass unnoticed that the greatest increases in the national debt during the last thirty years has been during republican administrations, and the greatest reductions of the deficit has been under Democratic ones.  Obama has overseen a nearly 50% drop in the deficit, and it is bound to continue down.

      The republicans' main game is crisis (panic) management.  They create a crisis atmosphere, whether the occasion is real or not, and they work to manage it, trying to leverage their agenda into existence.  This is their main strategy because they absolutely cannot sell that agenda to the American public by any legitimate means.

      The national debt is the last thing which they (hypocritically) have to howl over.  None of the bad effects, such as skyrocketing interest rates, have happened.  The economy is slowly improving, and eventually nobody will pay any attention to them screaming "economic disaster!" any more than they do when the cry is "Benghazi!"

      Stick it out.

      Bene Scriptum, Bene Intellectum.

      by T C Gibian on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 03:25:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  remember when Democrats understood what (0+ / 0-)

    "Keynesian economics" was . . . . ?

    (sigh)

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