To review: Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.
That is our first and irrevocable starting point. Now, it’s true that there is some flexibility in its application to circumstances. For example, it may be said now to read: People got three jobs. People got not enough money. But the first sentence is the most important. Ever since 1980, when the Republican Party, through the vehicle of Ronald Reagan, committed itself all-in to the cloud-cuckoo land of supply-side economics—a far nuttier economic idea than any ever spouted by Bernie Sanders—the pattern has been ironclad.
A Republican president cuts taxes, pumps up federal spending in certain areas, and explodes the deficit. Republicans in Congress are unconcerned. Then, because the economy goes into the ditch, a Democrat gets elected to clean up the wreckage and, suddenly, Republicans and far too many in the professional political class decide that The Deficit is an existential threat that must be confronted before the Democratic president even thinks of going back to the ideas of that whack-job John Maynard Keynes, let alone propose new ideas that have been commonplace for decades all over the industrial world.
It happened with Bill Clinton. It happened with Barack Obama. Both of them hamstrung their own administrations’s first months by listening to the deficit hawks instead of the people who knew better. Two quotes are illustrative. The first is the only truthful thing Dick Cheney ever said: “Reagan taught us deficits don’t matter.” The second is attributed to Clinton: “We’re all Rockefeller Republicans now.” As for Obama, he larded up his stimulus package with tax cuts, sought to cut a “grand bargain” with Republicans that included damage to Social Security and Medicare, and gifted the nation with the Simpson-Bowles Commission, a neoliberal kabuki troupe that couldn’t even get its own members to agree with what Simpson and Bowles put out as a plan.
However, as El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago prepares to deliver a savage and cruel budget proposal to a Congress wherein it will be DOA, Buttigieg has decided to surrender prematurely to the fundamental forces of recent history, and to what undoubtedly will be the warm approval of much of the governing elite. From NBC News:
Asked at a town hall here how important the deficit is to him, Buttigieg said it’s “important” and vowed to focus on limiting the debt even though it’s “not fashionable in progressive circles.”
“I think the time has come for my party to get a lot more comfortable owning this issue, because I see what’s happening under this president — a $1 trillion deficit — and his allies in Congress do not care. So we have to do something about it,” Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said in a packed middle school gym, drawing cheers. “We’ve figured out how to deliver health care to every American without a $20-, $30-, $40 trillion price tag. Or according to one of my competitors, an ‘I don’t know’ price tag,” he said.
“It’s not fashionable in progressive circles to talk too much about the debt, largely because of the irritation to the way it’s been used as an excuse against investment. But if we’re spending more and more on debt service now, it makes it harder to invest in infrastructure and health and safety net that we need right now,” he said. “And also this expansion, which I think of as, by the way, just the 13th inning of the Obama economic expansion. It isn’t going to go on forever.”
What a bold truth-teller! Did you notice how, when he was decrying the use of The Deficit as an “excuse against investment,” he used The Deficit as…an excuse against investment? Granted, his overall rhetorical style strikes me as Marianne Williamson with a pocket-protector: “Up is better than down. We must shake off the current state of embedded entropy and expand the shape of our personal democracy into that of an oblate spheroid.”
But, when he does lapse into recognizable English, an awful lot of what he says sounds like old-line liberal Republicanism mixed with the performative anti-elitism we’ve come to expect from the more modern iterations: the vaguely insulting palaver about “Washington thinking” on which Amy Klobuchar called him out, and the even less vaguely insulting—and, frankly, divisive—palaver about his heartland upbringing, which he uses to come right up to the edge of talking about Real Americans. But this sudden and preemptive turn toward Simpson and Bowles is a startling political tell. He’d have been better off staying in the comfy fog from which he can divide people without being divisive. That sounds impossible, but you never ran for office.