Recently I wrote a couple of op-eds for our local paper, the Bakersfield Californian. There were several responses from community members, one of which said President Bush's annual budgets only added a little over $2 trillion to our national debt. Huh?
Hey, I have an idea. Let's do the math.
5.6 trillion (our national debt, December, 2000)
+ ??????? (big mystery ...)
= 10.6 trillion (our national debt, December, 2008)
Now, try as hard as I can, I can't seem to see how our national debt grows to $10.6 trillion in 2008 by adding only 2 trillion to what we owed in 2000. Can you? This is a real puzzler. So, let's make it even simpler. Does 5 + 2 = 10? Hmmmm ... I know, tough one.
Time to call Stephen Hawking or John Nash ...
All kidding aside, a simple Google search of the Treasury Department, or even Wikipedia, would have showed my friend that President Bush's annual budget deficits added much more than $2 trillion to our national debt.
My guess is that my friend was playing with the rhetoric. He did write that "Bush's annual budget deficits (added to the national debt) totaled $2.006 trillion." This might give him leeway (in his mind) to argue "If you look at President Bush's annual budget proposals you'll see ...". Cute.
Unless you're a professional psychologist, it really serves no purpose to try and understand or explain the logic behind this kind of thinking. So I won't. But as a student of politics, and as an American who doesn't want to see our country driven off a financial cliff, I also understand we can't solve our budget problems by sticking our head in the sand, or being cute with the math.
The real problem with being cute with the numbers, and the subsequent factual disconnect in the GOP, is that it's been going on for some time now.
For the better part of two decades the GOP has conveniently forgotten that President Reagan raised taxes 11 times, raised the debt ceiling 17 times, and effectively tripled our national debt from $950 billion in 1981 to $2.7 trillion at the end of his presidency. Yet, the GOP persists in the idol worship of Reagan, calling him a tax cutting fiscal conservative!
The math isn't very difficult here (who can't count to 11, 17, or 3?), so why the disconnect?
More recently, I had a friend (who's a conservative republican) argue - as do many other republicans - that the Clinton surpluses weren't real. I know that this mind-set is a way for the GOP to ignore that the Bush administration blew through $5.6 trillion in projected budget surpluses after 2001. Still - and although I'm nobodies idea of an accountant - I decided to explain the math behind the Clinton surpluses. I took my time and explained on my blog (very slowly) why my friend might not believe Clinton's surpluses were real. Then I explained (very slowly) why the Clinton surpluses were real (the key is distinguishing between annual revenue and total debt).
It didn't make a dent. Sigh.
Like Galileo's colleagues (and the Church), who refused to look through his telescope for fear of what it might do to their narrow-minded world views (they were afraid of learning that the earth moves), many in the GOP are afraid of what looking at the facts will do to their world.
So, they play games, and refuse to do the math.
This explains why, in spite of evidence to the contrary, many in the GOP can say with a straight face that President Obama created our trillion dollar deficits. They don't do the math, which allows them to ignore what unfunded wars ($300 billion), unfunded insurance giveaways ($70 billion), unfunded bailouts ($350 billion), unfunded tax cuts ($300 billion), and the unfunded costs associated with financial losses from the market collapse ($250 billion) have done to our budget numbers since 2008.
Worse, like the petulant kid in the back of the room, the GOP blames the guy next to him for the problems they caused.
At the end of the day, President Reagan effectively tripled our national debt. Then President Bush II doubled it (and he started with annual budget surpluses!), and left a mess for President Obama to clean up. The GOP ignores these inconvenient truths, and then fail to do the math because it's politically convenient not to.
Our problem now is that it's threatening the financial stability of our republic. Whatever happened to America First?