Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Little Perspective

This is not a time when I'm proud to call myself a Republican. I may have to go back to saying I'm an Independent, but the truth is, I'm still a Republican. More and more, a closet Republican, but a Republican none the less.

Has anyone else noticed the pattern? Whenever Republicans get control of a legislative body, they run wild. It happened in the U.S. Congress in '94; it happened here in Texas when they got hold of the state legislature in '02; it's happening now in the U.S. House; and most embarrassingly in Wisconsin, where the Republican supermajority is running riot on issues that, I'm sure, most Wisconsans regarded as settled long ago. 

The excuse for the current gleeful excess is debt. The real reason is a deep hostility to government, approaching  pathological libertarianism in some cases. 

The Federal government's debt is on the order of almost eight trillion dollars: that's $8,000,000,000,000. That's a lot of money. It's also about 57% of gross domestic product. Both of these figures are high, in historical terms. While a dollar-to-dollar comparison is difficult, given inflation and the touchy-feely way that amounts are converted to comparable units (like "1982 dollars"), a comparison to gross domestic product is straightforward across the years.

Our public debt is now about what it was in 1955. The main differences, for those of us who live in the real world, are that (a) back in '55, we were coming down from World War II (which most people still think was worth going into debt for) and Korea (which most people think might not have been, but who knew at the time?), and (b) the level of debt was declining in '55, while now it is growing.

The main difference for Republicans is that, in '55, there was a Republican in the White House, so the state of affairs was Their Fault. Now there's a Democrat, so they will make their hay while the sun shines. For moderate Republicans like me, their childish glee at being able to attack, attack, attack is galling.

Yes, debt is high, but it's not so high as to warrant the kind of excesses the Republicans are laying out. It's less than Canada's, less than France's, less than Germany's, way less than Japan's, or Italy's, or Greece's, or India's. And I have no doubt that, if cooler heads can prevail over the Sturm und Drang of the Republican froth, it will be dealt with, and successfully, and we will work our way back to balanced budgets and declining debt levels, just as we did after 1994, when the Republicans last shot themselves in the foot on a national scale. That's probably what it will take.

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