But not far behind in the “have they no shame?” department is the cavalcade of Republicans denouncing Obama’s health care proposals (and pretty much anything else the President has tried to do) on the grounds that it will increase the deficit. Particularly odious are the ones who claim, “Well, it would be nice to do something about health care, but we just can’t afford it. The country is broke.”
They do have a point; by conventional standards, we are broke, or very nearly so. But thanks for noticing now, Republicans; a shame it escaped your notice when you — that’s right, you — were busily bankrupting us.
Not everybody has such a short attention as to have forgotten that President Clinton handed the federal government over to George Bush with not just a balanced budget, but a surplus that stretched as far into the future as prognosticators could prognosticate. Within two years Republican policies had turned those surpluses into not just a deficit, but, by the time the Republicans had been turned out of office, the biggest deficit in history.
Where was all this talk of fiscal responsibility when the Bush administration pushed through the tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefited the richest Americans and saddled all Americans with generations of debt? When a lying and/or delusional President led us into a mostly pointless and — even considering the merits of removing Saddam Hussein — an incredibly mismanaged and wasteful war? We can’t afford to provide even the most basic health insurance for all Americans? Oh, but you had no problem passing that colossal unfunded liability masquerading as a prescription drug program for seniors but which in reality functions as a means of funneling hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare to our poor, struggling pharmaceutical companies.
Now we’ve even got the teabaggers, rabble-rousers, and hatemongers attacking Obama for spending or at least lending jaw-dropping amounts of federal money on trying to stabilize the economy, bail out the financial system, and ameliorate the pain of millions of Americans who’ve been thrown out of work. Never mind that at least half the money involved was committed before Obama even took office, and that it was the loony-tunes wackonomics of a couple generations of right-wing “thinkers” that landed us in the soup in the first place.
I’ll be the first to admit that the deficits we’re currently running up are making me nervous, not least because it won’t be that long before I myself will be at least partially dependent on the fiscal soundness of the Medicare and Social Security programs. But the way I see it, we don’t have much of a choice other than to commit the resources, even if they’re only borrowed against years of future earnings, to put the country back on a sound footing. Roosevelt had to do it in the 1930s to combat the Great Depression (which the Republicans, just as now, said we couldn’t “afford” to do anything about). In the 1940s, virtually nobody questioned the necessity of going massively into debt (even greater debt than today when expressed as a percentage of GDP) because they recognized that having a balanced budget wouldn’t do us much good if we lost the Second World War.
We’re in a similar situation today. The economy isn’t quite as bad as it was in the Depression — yet — and the threat posed to global civilization by a total financial collapse isn’t as serious — yet — as that posed by the Nazis, but things could get a whole lot worse in a hurry if those in power miscalculate. I don’t have total faith in Obama, and I have considerably less than that in many Congressional Democrats, but considering what the Republicans have done to our economy and what they continue to do to our body politic — i.e., tear it to bits for short-term political gain — I’m far more inclined to trust a rational and idealistic young President over the jabbering idiots and slavering jackals who were running this place before he took office.
And in answer to your next question: yes, even if my taxes have to go up. It’s a bit galling, no, strike that, it’s very galling indeed to accept that those of us with moderate incomes will almost certainly have to pay more to repair the damage done by those who got incredibly wealthy in the course of looting the American banking and securities systems, but we’re the ones who — whether through apathy or insufficient resistance or, in some cases, voting for Ralph Nader — who let the foxes into the henhouse, and whether it seems fair or not, we’re going to be paying — probably for quite a long time — to clean up their carnage.
Larry Livermore is a writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. He penned a column for Maximum Rock ‘n Roll for seven years, followed by a 14-year stint at the now-defunct Punk Planet. Check out his blog at www.larrylivermore.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was originally published on larrylivermore.com.