Liberals Are Losing the National Debt Argument

The case of Keynesians v. Conservatives is becoming clearer and clearer.

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Saying wrong things louder doesn’t make you any more right. That is the main lesson I learned during my summer working in a big-city courtroom. Court, especially from behind a district attorney’s table, is an ideal forum to observe human behavior: a high-stress, high-stakes environment where every word, movement, and change in body language can be meaningful. But the best way to tell winners from losers was their tone. Both lawyers and defendants can tell when they are on the wrong side of the facts, but their responses are diametrically different. Lawyers get louder, hoping to distract juries from the facts. Defendants (at least the quasi-remorseful ones) get quieter, an acknowledgment that punishment is about to be handed down.

The same underlying behavioral is being played out in Washington. In the face of an overwhelming economic case against them, liberal pundits are getting louder. President Obama is growing meeker.

The case of Keynes v. Conservatives has begun to crystallize over the past week. The Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget issued a report showing that the budget deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. Worse, the spending isn’t translating into jobs. The report finds that the unemployment will remain above 8 percent at least through 2012.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s diagnosis was even more dire. Under their “alternative fiscal scenario” our national debt would reach 90 percent of GDP by 2020. From there, the imbalance between revenues and spending, fueled by ever-higher interest, would reach 180 percent by 2035. The inevitable result of such debt loads would be a fiscal crisis that would destabilize our entire national economy. As the CBO reported,

Unfortunately, there is no way to predict with any confidence whether and when such a crisis might occur in the United States; in particular, there is no identifiable tipping point of debt relative to GDP indicating that a crisis is likely or imminent. But all else being equal, the higher the debt, the greater the risk of such a crisis.

In the face of such grim assessments, the pro-Keynes, prospending faction of the Left has ramped up its rhetoric. The typically reserved E.J. Dionne asked this week whether “a nation can remain a superpower if its internal politics are incorrigibly stupid?” His prime example of such stupidity was, of course, the Republican Party and their “stupid” belief that tax hikes needn’t be included in a plan to solve our deficit crisis. He adds a growing chorus of pundits calling Republicans deficit “chicken hawks” who go around “yelling that something terrible will happen if we don't reduce the deficit.” This contingent believes Republicans don’t really care about reducing the deficit, but are leveraging it to win votes in November.

Never mind that Republicans have actually put forward several plans that address the budget deficit, including the Republican Study Committee’s balanced budget plan, Paul Ryan’s Roadmap for America’s Future, or the Committee on the Budget’s Cut Spending Now solution.

[See who gave the most to Ryan.]

Losing attorneys don’t let facts get in the way. They talk louder. They distract the jury with their emotion. They don’t let anyone see the man behind the curtain. In short, they pull out their best Mel Gibson impression.

But while attorneys emote, defendants go soft. This is why Barack Obama, the man who got the multitudes to chant “yes, we can!,” is now whispering a message of “things could be worse.” That is now the best our beaten down president can do. Our once combative president who was ready to take on everyone from Fox News to Wall Street to Big Oil has slunk into the shadows. Faced with historic deficits, unsustainable debt, and persistently high unemployment, he has been forced to back down from his hard-line stance. In its place we get a subdued president hoping that voters will somehow believe we’d be worse off if he hadn’t brought his brand of “change.”

In the court of public opinion the pundits are getting louder, the president is getting quieter, but the economic reality of our nation’s finances remains the same. The verdict won’t be handed down until November, but the telltale signs of a losing battle are plain as day.