The Mendacity of Hope

I have sometimes remarked that there is a fundamental moral difference between the Right and Left in American politics. Politicians on the Right by and large tell the truth, or, at least, what they believe to be the truth. They are honest about their beliefs, for the most part, and tell the electorate what they hope to do. Politicians on the Left do not. They misrepresent their own opinions, attitudes, and aspirations, especially during election season—but not only at election season, as recent debates over raising the debt ceiling have made clear.

I have seen few things as dishonest as the White House chart that purports to reveal who’s to blame for the deficit. There’s a lot to say about the arbitrariness of counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Bush’s tab rather than Obama’s, etc. But think for a moment about the methodology. Since January 2001, the federal government has spent several trillion more than it has received in revenues. What spending was paid for with tax receipts, and what was borrowed? The question makes no sense. A certain amount was received; more was spent. There’s no nonarbitrary way to say which expenses were covered by tax receipts and which were covered by additional debt. You can make this kind of chart come out however you want. So, no surprise that the White House blames everything on Bush.

Here’s a more meaningful way to proceed. Compare spending and revenue under Bush and Obama, and look at the gap between them. The best chart I’ve been able to find for this is from the Heritage Foundation:

The Bush deficits were due mostly to a collapse in revenue that followed the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the September 11 attacks. The Bush tax cuts, far from costing the government revenue, as the White House chart reports—since when is a tax cut an “expense,” anyway?—led to economic growth that decreased the gap between spending and revenue for 2007 to a figure less than Obama racks up in a single month. Under Obama, revenue has dropped dramatically due to the economic crisis and our “recovery,” which is proceeding, if at all, far slower than the recovery in countries such as Germany that resisted the idea of artificial government “stimulus.” But spending has also surged dramatically. Compare the gap under Bush—an eight-year gap—to the gap under Obama in just three years. It’s not close. Return spending to Bush’s 2007 level and you cut the deficit by more than half. You also give the economy a significant boost and reassure credit agencies who are rightfully alarmed at the prospect of massive deficits every year for the next decade.

It’s true that long-term projections aren’t worth very much. Does that mean that this chart shouldn’t scare you?

Not at all. There’s a pattern to these projections—they’re always too optimistic.

That should frighten you.

As the Leftists have been saying for years, if you aren’t completely appalled, you haven’t been paying attention.

2 thoughts on “The Mendacity of Hope

  1. If I have debt, and I cut revenue (taxes), then on account of interest my debt will increase. That looks like simple mathematics to me. The funny thing about politics is that I see it completely differently. I see that most of what the right says is rhetoric, empty words employed to maintain power. I see the left as, in part, attempting to resolve issues and find healing.

  2. Look again at the first chart above, in particular at the spending line. There’s been a dramatic increase under Obama. That’s not increased debt service costs; interest rates are at historic lows. Nor is it spending on helping the poor; poverty is up.

    The political right is concerned primarily with liberty and maximization of overall welfare. The Left plays to emotions (“healing”) but always proposes policies that increase their own power while doing little to help the people they claim to want to help.

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