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Nobody Cares About The Deficit, And Democrats Should Shut Up About It
Spend What Is Needed To Make Lives Better
President Joe Biden likes to mention the deficit in his tweets.
"Our Administration has worked hard to lower the deficit by $1.7 trillion" - Jan. 13
"The Inflation Reduction Act lowers costs for families, combats the climate crisis, and reduces the deficit." - Dec. 5
"Reducing the federal deficit is one of the best things we can do to fight inflation." - Nov. 11
"This year alone, we've cut the deficit by $1.4 trillion. And we'll cut another $250 billion over the next decade." - Nov. 8
"Congressional Republicans want to add about $3 trillion to the deficit by cutting taxes for the wealthy and large corporations." - Nov. 2
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He should shut up about this. Biden, and every other Democrat holding elected office, would ideally never mention the budget deficit ever again. Because it doesn’t matter, at all.
Many Democrats at the federal level still live in a mindset most prevalent between the 1984 Reagan landslide and the 2004 George W. Bush reelection that the public at large defaults to a conservative outlook on economics. In this dynamic, Democrats are looked down upon as fiscally irresponsible “tax and spend” liberals while Republicans are careful, bean-counting fiscally conservative stewards of the economy and the government purse. This, of course, is nonsense.
Republicans spend a ton of government money, either on ridiculous military boondoggles like the useless F-35 fighter jet program (over $1 trillion and counting), or as a way to pay off their key voting blocs like farmers to subsidize a useless trade war. Not to mention wasting tax dollars on racist border walls that don’t work to limit immigration. The last two Republican presidents, especially when they had GOP control of Congress, didn’t give a damn about the deficit.
In what might have been the only true thing he said throughout his entire life, Dick Cheney famously noted, “deficits don’t matter.”
Democrats bought so much into the myth about how the public views deficit spending that these fears unnecessarily hobbled President Obama’s Recovery Act, which was sold as “fiscally responsible” in a way that wouldn’t significantly increase the deficit.
But the truth of the matter is nobody cares. Not in any politically impactful way.
The vast majority of voters do not enter polling places with their accountant green shades on, giving either party merits or demerits for what they’ve done in regards to the deficit. Voters vote based on whether the government delivered on the priorities they care about on economic issues. Did the government stabilize the economy? Did it provide an environment for job creation? Did the government provide for the common defense so that commerce can continue to operate normally? Things like that.
They don’t care about the deficit.
Even for that sliver of people who do intensely care about the deficit, their political impact is negligible. The fiscally conservative crank is never in a million years going to believe any Democrat is in line with them, no matter how much lip service people like Biden and Obama pay to them. In their minds, reinforced by right-wing media like Fox News, Democrats are always the caricature of the free spending liberal of Reagan lore, handing out tax dollars to Black welfare cheats without a care in the world.
Deficit talk doesn’t sway any votes.
Many liberals are mentally stuck in a world shaped by President Bill Clinton’s campaigns in 1992 and 1996, where Democratic Party rhetoric shifted sharply to the right and great pains were made to show a “new” type of Democrat that had moved on from the failed politics of the late ‘60s to ‘80s that saw Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis go down swinging.
It’s questionable whether liberal economic policy, rather than just incompetent politics like Carter’s “malaise speech” is what hurt those campaigns, but the success of Clinton seemed to prove punching left economically worked.
But the reality is that the public likes spending. George W. Bush and Donald Trump were unpopular presidents, but one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement they enjoyed was that the public liked when they spent money on things. The public doesn’t want to see the president saying “no” to spending when it can solve or ease major problems in their lives.
Simultaneously the intervening years exposed just how much of a sham Republican pouting about deficits has always been. The same crowd who howled that Clinton and Obama were drunk sailors on spending binges — even as both men offered up sacrifices to the gods of deficit reduction — were more than happy to rubber stamp billions in spending by Bush and Trump.
We are seeing the return of the deficit scolds once again with Republicans taking control of the House while a Democrat is in the White House. Suddenly spending is bad again, and deficits are a major concern, people like Kevin McCarthy tell us — fresh off of giving the super rich and mega-corporations a huge tax break that didn’t help the economy.
Democrats like Biden shouldn’t help to push this false and unfavorable narrative with constant talk about the deficit.
Luckily, when it came to policy, Biden put deficit concerns on a much lower tier when passing legislation like the American Rescue Plan. That legislation prioritized what America needed at the moment, to recover from Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic and to boost employment and stabilize the economy. Direct payments to citizens were authorized and helped millions of families to make it through a cataclysm. As a result, unemployment has dropped and bolstered by other legislation a boom is far more likely than a bust.
The deficit didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now.
Democrats reinforce conservative economic ideas when they engage in deficit talk. Conservative economics have failed America again and again and the last thing the country and the world at large needs is conservative economics.
Deficit focus is unnecessary and it is no longer 2004. Democrats can stop worrying about deficit-related attacks from the right and it’s dubious they ever truly worked to sway a significant number of voters in the first place.
Shut up about the deficit. Nobody cares. Just get things done for people and talk about that instead.
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