The GOP’s New Line: Defaults Don’t Matter

May 18th, 2011 at 12:33 pm David Frum | 74 Comments |

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Noah Kristula-Green makes the important point that Stanley Druckenmiller’s weekend WSJ interview has blossomed in a matter of days into something like GOP orthodoxy. We’ve evolved in the space of a decade from “deficits don’t matter” to “defaults don’t matter.”

It seems flabbergasting that a conservative party could arrive at this destination.

Yet the new mood exemplifies the trend we have seen over the past three decades, whereby one after another the “rules of the game” have been discarded as the two parties play politics ever more savagely.

The filibuster evolves from extraordinary procedure to routine super-major requirement.

Secret holds on presidential nominees proliferate.

And now even the debts and obligations of the United States become a tool of politics.

Everybody seems to assume that the rules will be reasserted before the game gets too dangerous. Maybe. Let’s hope. But one year’s outrageous innovation has a bad habit of becoming next year’s new normal. Anything a Republican Congress can do to a Democratic president, a Democratic Congress can do to a Republican president. Americans like analogies to ancient Rome: a republic felled by overcentralized power. They owe it to themselves to study the Polish commonwealth: a republic wrecked by an irresponsible legislature.

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74 Comments so far ↓

  • Watusie

    “The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result. The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.”
    -Ronald Reagan, 1983

    “Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinksmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar.”
    -Ronald Reagan, 1987

    • kuri3460

      It’s funny to show Reagan quotes, as if they Tea Party even cares at this point. They think of Reagan the way that schoolchildren think of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree.

      They embrace a caricature, an oversimplification, a myth. Reagan was a good president in many ways, but the Tea Party conveniently forgets most of the things he did after his first two years in office, which in many cases go directly against many of the causes they champion today.

      If Reagan was alive and politically active in 2011, he’d be probably lose the party primary in favor of a Palin-esque, bat-shit crazy right-winger.

      • armstp


        Reagan would probably be elected a Democrat today, likely a Blue Dog.

        • valkayec

          Who knows, he might go so far as to reverse himself by saying, I didn’t leave the Republican party, the Republican party left me.

  • Slide

    I agree 100%. We have been inexorably heading towards banana republicanism.

  • armstp

    Everything is 100% about politics with the GOP. Nothing else matters.

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      This is the important point that Frum dodges. Sure, it would be surprising that a conservative party– ie, one based on the political philosophy of Burke– would be so flip about consequences.

      But it’s not at all surprising that today’s Republican Party would act this way. It’s conservatism as tribalism, politics as the continuation of psychology by other means.

      Every depredation that Frum lists in this post as bad things “both parties” do has been primarily or entirely a Republican offense.

      When they had control of the government, the GOP guaranteed deficits through amateurish tax policies, misleadingly sold unnecessary invasion & occupation of foreign countries, and enacting an unpaid for (in contrast to the ACA) prescription drug entitlement. If there’s anything Burkean conservative about launching a jihad to remake the middle east in our image, and torturing prisoners, I’m at a loss to find it.

      They have no beliefs, no philosophy, only resentment and tactics. They love America like Ike loved Tina. They’re mad at the government because they don’t control it. The second there’s a Republican administration, they’ll all go back to forgetting they care about small government, federalism, and balanced budgets– just like they did in the Bush Jr. years.

      • Grace

        Elvis — so true! The GOP has become nothing but a tribe of propagandized rubes driven by breathtaking nihilism, in service to rapacious uber-wealthy interests.

        Every day I’m more convinced that this isn’t brinksmanship; they really do not intend to raise the debt ceiling. It is guaranteed to tank the economy (we’d be lucky just to get out with a double-dip), whereupon the progaganda wurlitzer will swing into action to tie it all to Obama and the Dems. And our worthless media will be happy to facilitate that meme. I think the GOP powers see it as the only play likely to get them the White House and a 60-seat Senate majority. The stability and security of our country isn’t even on their radar. Winning the ‘game’ is all that matters.

        • TAZ

          I agree, the Party is lost.

          What is CONSERVATIVE about not conserving our good credit…….?

  • John Q

    It seems flabbergasting that a conservative party could arrive at this destination.

    Oh, David, David, David.

    Don’t you get it yet? The GOP is no longer a conservative party: it’s become an extreme right wing party.

  • LFC

    Yet the new mood exemplifies the trend we have seen over the past three decades, whereby one after another the “rules of the game” have been discarded as the two parties play politics ever more savagely.

    You say “as the two parties play politics ever more savagely.” Hmmm. Let’s look at your list…

    “The filibuster evolves from extraordinary procedure to routine super-major requirement.”
    Tripled in usage by the Republicans.

    “Secret holds on presidential nominees proliferate.”
    Vastly increased in usage by the Republicans.

    “And now even the debts and obligations of the United States become a tool of politics.”
    Survey says? By the Republicans!

    How about screaming for investigation of a string of bogus accusations. How about impeaching a President over a consensual affair? How about single-handedly holding up about 60 Clinton judicial nominees? How about shutting down Florida’s Constitutional right to select its own electors for the 2000 election?

    The last time I saw anything remotely like this was back in the 1980s. Jim Wright went on an anti-corruption crusade which is great, except that he turned a proper thing to do into a tool to only attack Republicans. I cheered when he was hoisted on his own petard, and the Dems have stuck to some level of normalcy since.

    The vast majority of the Congressional sociopathic behavior has been emanating from the Republicans for quite some time.

    • Saladdin

      Not to mention the hold on Goodwin Liu for appellate court. He won’t be nominated not because he isn’t qualified, but because he’s young and on a fast track to SCOTUS.

    • Steve D

      “How about shutting down Florida’s Constitutional right to select its own electors for the 2000 election?”

      Minor technicality here. The Constitution says State legislatures choose electors. All states have delegated that choice to the voters, but that’s a State choice, not a Constitutional mandate. The Florida Secretary of State certified the results as favoring Bush. It was Gore and the Democrats who went to court to block Florida from seating its electors. If you actually read the SCOTUS ruling, one of its major points was preserving Florida’s right to seat its electors in time for the deadline for appointing electors.

      The provision that gives the game away is that if the elections go to the House, each State gets one vote. The intent of the Electoral system (the word “College” appears nowhere in the Constitution) is for the States to choose the President. A voter votes only to decide how her State will vote – there is no valid comparison between the votes of a Californian and a Nevadan.

      Darn Constitution. Makes life so complicated sometimes.

  • mc419

    The Polish and Lithuanian Commonwealth. Perfect. A little mentioned, yet historically significant, epoch during the early and middle years of the European Imperial Age. Enacted broad laws codifying religious tolerance, lending breathing room to Non-Lutherans and Non-Catholics squeezed out of the Holy Roman Empire during the 30 Years War. Eventually swallowed up by the Hapsburgs and the Tsars. Anecdotes like this, in addition to the great writing, are why I read FrumForum everyday. In my opinion, George Will and Peggy Noonan couldn’t beat Frum with a rubber hose (sorry for the name dropping).

    • LFC

      In my opinion, George Will and Peggy Noonan couldn’t beat Frum with a rubber hose…

      Maybe not, but they’d certainly support having the U.S. government do it as a matter of policy.

    • ottovbvs

      The Polish Commonwealth is not the period to which David is referring but to the 18th century when the Nobility had individual powers of veto in the legislature. And Poland wasn’t squeezed out by the Hapsburgs in the 30 years war which ended in 1648. In fact Jan Sobieski the king of Poland rescued the Hapsburg monarchy when he raised the siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1683 some 35 years after the end of the thirty years war. Poland fell apart in the late 18th century because of governmental sclerosis brought on by reckless use of the veto and was partitioned between Austria, Prussia and Russia in 1772, 1793 and 1795.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    it is getting to the point I don’t even want to read US political news anymore. The Republican party has lost its freaking mind. And Republicans have a Democratic president who is willing to compromise, there can be substantial bi-partisan agreement to cut spending, raise taxes, and move towards a balanced budget, in line with what Papa Bush did with the Democrats.

  • Graychin

    It used to be that deficits didn’t matter to these guys. Now they say defaults don’t matter.

    Is there anyone who hasn’t figured out that the ONLY thing that matters to these guys is taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Specifically, looking for some reason – any reason – to cut them some more.

    Consequences? Who gives a s…?

  • politicalsportsmanship

    We are never going to be able to get past our squabbling unless we recognize the olive branch when it is extended. David is consistently calling out the Republicans on this issue. When he does so he gets mostly complaints blaming republicans for the tone of the debate. How about when a person from the other side is willing to call out their own, its recognized as a way to break through madness, instead of being dismissed? If the people on both sides willing to call out their own would get together wed have a decent place to start.

    • Grace

      Who should we call out on the Dem side? I’m not aware of any of them, from President Obama down to House reps, pushing the radical ideas that the GOP is pushing. They’ve even expressed willingness to negotiate with the GOP terrorists on this topic. So please, tell us who we should call out, and for what, if you’re going to play ‘magical balance fairy’ like the media does.

      • politicalsportsmanship

        Grace you are illustrating the problem. I didn’t comment on the lack of criticism by the left on the left. I was commenting that when David calls out his own very few people take that opportunity to reach for that and commend him, which would bridge gaps. Instead, we become territorial and use the opportunity to complain that its all his side’s fault.

        My point that when a person calls out their own theyneed to be recognized for the curent diplomacy instead of the previous warfare.

  • maxfieldj

    They are playing with fire and unfortunately the American people are going to get burned. If the markets lose faith in our ability to pay our debts the cost of federal borrowing could rise and any spending cuts will disappear into increased interest payments. Now no one knows for sure if this will happen, but why take the chance.

    Boehner spoke the truth recently when he said not only will they have to raise the debt once, but twice before 20212. The Republicans are only interested in the next election. Last year Boehner was quoted as saying he hoped people would act like adults when it came to raising the debt.

    Senator Coryn said he had no interest in raising the debt, let the Democrats do it. His job is to legislate. If I told my boss tomorrow that I didn’t want to do part of my job I would be fired.

    I have news for the Republicans no matter how many times a lie is repeated it still will never become the truth. Cheney said “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”. Republicans are now saying default dose not matter. I guess they were asleep in class when the teacher talked about cause and effect. Denial will not negate a simple fact: actions have consequences.

  • ottovbvs

    It is grotesque but this is the party that by and large DF supports. They are not fit to govern. We had eight years of reckless incompetence from Bush and now the Republicans in congress want to do an encore.

  • Nebraska Admiral

    The echo chamber here is full of self-righteous condemnations of Republican irresponsibility and pandering. Do the same flaws not exist in the Democratic Party? The establishments of both parties try hard to suck up to the lowest common denominator, often in embarrassing ways; this has always been the case. I’m not sure that this tendency is any more pronounced now than in times past, and I don’t see the Republicans differing much from the Democrats in this regard.

    For every Palin or Paul, I can name an Edwards or Sharpton. For every Glen Beck, there is a Keith Olbermann. For every cringe-inducing organization like the 700 Club, there is a Code Pink. There is plenty for thinking people on either side of the political spectrum to be embarrassed about; there always has been. It’s not the end of the world, as long as the weirdos are relegated to the fringes (something our two-party system does pretty well).

    • ottovbvs

      The echo chamber here is full of self-righteous condemnations of Republican irresponsibility and pandering….For every Palin or Paul, I can name an Edwards or Sharpton.

      What on earth have proposals to default on the US debt which are now becoming common currency among Republicans got to do with the personal venality of Edwards or Sharpton. Or Ensign or Vitter for that matter. Zilch. We’re talking of an issue of massive national importance, as important as war or peace, where if a default occurred it would have a catastrophic effect on the credit rating of the US and on the lives of all it’s citizens. And you want to discuss equivalence in the sense of two bit personal misbehavior by Edwards. You’ve obviously got a great sense of proportion.

    • Watusie

      You whistle past the graveyard – in the current Republican Party, the weirdos include the leadership. Did you somehow fail to notice that the subject of the OP is the fact that the GOP is willing to run the risk of tanking the economy if they think it can help them in 2012?

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      Do the same flaws not exist in the Democratic Party?

      No. They don’t.

      Roughly every Republican says that reducing revenues balances the budget, and that climate change and evolution are myths. There’s nothing like that insistence on falsehood in the Democratic Party.

      Code Pink, which disrupts meetings led by Democrats, has about 1/50th the influence of the 700 Club, which gets OK ratings and is run by a guy who has won GOP primaries and become an insider. There’s no analogue among Democrats.

      (Glad to see you here, btw, Neb. Admiral, I hadn’t seen you in a while).

  • indy

    There was time when both political parties peddled propaganda which cynically exploited voter fears or prejudices in the never ending dance for political power. To most observers it wasn’t really that big of a deal since all the players understood it was a parlor game and that when push came to shove everybody would sit at the table and get things done.

    More and more, I am coming to believe that for much of the GOP leadership it isn’t propaganda any more but the dangerous zeal of self-certain righteousness.

  • Nebraska Admiral

    Grace: “GOP terrorists”. Really? Politicians who propose policies you disagree with are equivalent to psychopaths who randomly murder innocent people? Hysterically over-the-top, don’t you think?

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      Depends who you ask. I wouldn’t use that term. But former GOP Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill would:

      “The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really. … They’re really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk.”

      Fun fact: O’Neill was fired as Bush Jr.’s Treasury Secretary because O’Neill argued against the second round of Bush tax cuts. (Dick Cheney’s response: “Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due.”) As people have jumped al over your previous comment to point out (sorry, wouldn’t have piled on that comment if I’d seen the previous replies to you, they weren’t there yet when I hit “reply”), the rot in the GOP goes right to the top. It’s not like Code Pink on the left, who’s on the outside looking in.

      It’s not that they’re proposing policies we disagree with; it’s that the Republican Party has no policy views at all, only psychological and tactical imperatives of the moment.

    • ottovbvs

      Nebraska Admiral apparently prefers to debate trivia rather than substance. And I’d have to agree with O’Neill to force a US default in order to score political points is essentially economic terrorism. The consequences would be infinitely more destructive than anything the the Unibomber could achieve.

    • arvan

      Yes, terrorists. Without a doubt. When they sabotage the economy, abolish Medicare, slash Medicaid… that will kill far, far more people than a bomb on any airplane. They hold the American people hostage, and will stop at nothing to gain more power for themselves. They are terrorists, and should be treated as such.

    • Grace

      No, Nebraska Admiral, I don’t think it’s over the top. Elvis explained very well the reason I used the term and why this is essentially a terrorist tactic. GOP leadership is saying they’ll pull the pin on a grenade to blow up the economy, with certain devastating effect for ordinary folks and potentially devastating effect on the world economy, for nothing more than advancing their political fortunes in 2012. Their apparent calculation is that their only hope of retaking the WH and a filibuster-proof Senate majority is sending the economy into a tailspin. Hostage taking on a national scale.

  • seeker656

    We are in trouble. Just when the world could benefit by our being an example of a mature functioning democracy, we are reaching the nadir of a three decade decline during which our national debt has increased steadily, our income and wealth disparity has grown to proportions not seen since the Great Depression, our schools have declined in comparison to other developed nations, our infrastructure is in disrepair, we have engaged one percent of us in three wars, among other problems.

    Now our politicians are continuing the kabuki dance and risking a catastrophic financial collapse while playing political games that feed the 24/7 news’ machine providing a distraction from doing the hard work needed to build a better future for our children and grandchildren.

    The government functioned reasonably well during the four decades preceding the seventies and eighties. We recovered from the Great Depression, defeated our enemies in World War II, adjusted from a war time to a peace time economy reemploying and educating the returning veterans, reduced the deficit from 100 percent of GDP to about 35 percent, reduced the income disparity between the top ten percent and bottom ninety percent from 50 percent to about 33%, improved our schools and much more.

    Then in the eighties we decided that the government was the problem and have made it so. I think it was President Obama who wrote that our politics are too small for the problems we face. I would disagree. Our politics have become too large and factional to be effective.

    We no longer respect or listen to those with differing political views. Compromise, the process by which our democracy was formed, has become a dirty word.

    So as millions in the world are taking to the streets to try and secure freedom and hopefully develop new democracies, we are becoming a target of befuddlement and ridicule.

    We have met the enemy and it is us.

    • armstp


      You are being a bit of a drama queen. Sure the U.S. faces its challenges, but things are worse in most other OECD countries. Relatively speaking the U.S. is still in good shape. We are coming out of a particularly deep recession. In two or three years unemployment will be 7%, the deficit as a percentage of GDP will be normal and things will be better. At that point we can deal with longer term issues like how to support our retired people with healthcare and retirement income for the next 50 years.

  • Nebraska Admiral


    “Nebraska Admiral apparently prefers to debate trivia rather than substance.”

    Otto, call it “trivia” if you like, but when ugly slurs and ludicrous hyperbole (“GOP terrorists”) become the common style to talk about one’s political opponents, real debate becomes impossible. If you consider your opponents to be bad people with evil motives, you’ve written off any chance of honest discussion. When you do it in a two-party system like ours, you’ve condemned nearly half of your fellow citizens as morally inferior. Those are the tactics of pandering to the lowest common denominator, riling up the base at the expense of critical thought and honest engagement.

    So no, it’s not “trivia”. The way we express ourselves matters. (At least, it matters if the goal is to debate and persuade, rather than narcissistically stoke one’s own feelings of moral superiority.)

    Elvis, I’ve been busy with work lately, but still like to hop on here when I can. As always, I appreciate your posts (even those critiquing mine!)

    • ottovbvs

      Otto, call it “trivia” if you like, but when ugly slurs and ludicrous hyperbole (“GOP terrorists”) become the common style to talk about one’s political opponents, real debate becomes impossible.

      Given that Republicans have made an art form of this type of rhetoric (or aren’t you keeping up with the speeches of Gingrich, Bachmann, Inhofe, De Mint, Palin et al) your concern about Democrats seems a bit overheated. Particularly since in this case I don’t think O’Neill’s characterisation of Republican tactics is that far off the mark. And it’s not really as if there is anything new about it since sixty years ago Joe McCarthy was accusing the great General George C. Marshall of being a communist fellow traveller. Either way it pales into total insignificance by comparison with a Republican doctrine that considers default on the debt remotely conceivable. Obviously you’d rather moralize about the nature of the US political carnival than face up to the enormity of what is being proposed by a party you clearly favor. It’s much easier isn’t it? Let’s talk about something other than Republican irresponsibility where Neb Admiral can wax lyrical about the equivalence of both sides. And the great thing about it from the Admiral’s viewpoint is that nothing can be done about it. Meanwhile if the loons at the head of his party get their way over the default an economic catastrophe ensues but that’s a minor matter Admiral so don’t worry.

      • Nebraska Admiral


        I find it interesting how you bristle at my suggestion that the type of self-righteous condemnations of the Republicans repeated here ad nauseum can easily be applied to the Democrats. Forgive me if I don’t consider the default talk of some Republicans to be evidence of unique idiocy or perfidy. (And for the record, I do agree to even contemplate it is extremely foolish; to publicly discuss it as a viable option is irresponsible and embarrassing.)

        The Democrats’ blind commitment to the status quo regarding spending and entitlements is equally (if not more) irresponsible. The country is in a desparate long-term fiscal/financial position, something that almost everyone outside of the Democratic establishment recognizes. Their obstructionism in preventing common-sense measures to address our spending and debt crises is dangerous and has the potential to ensure grave long-term problems– problems we can easily see coming. So no, I don’t see a huge gap between the parties when it comes to irresponsibility on matters of either style or substance.

        • Nebraska Admiral


          BTW, props for your summation of 18th century Polish history– Poland is a country with a fascinating story, that doesn’t deserve its obscurity in the American conception of European history.

        • ottovbvs

          The country is in a desparate long-term fiscal/financial position, something that almost everyone outside of the Democratic establishment recognizes.

          With all due respect Admiral this is nonsense. Those people outside the Democratic Establishment (ie. Republicans) claim this to be the case but cheerfully added 700 billion to the deficit at the end of last year and now claim civilisation is going to end but this can be allowed to happen if it involves raising taxes. You might take seriously people who advance these kinds of arguments but I don’t. We do have a deficit problem which is largely the product of a collapse in tax receipts brought about by the recession and the Bush tax cuts. The recession is going to end and the Bush cuts for all will expire on December 31, 2012. These two will add about $750 billion to receipts thus reducing the deficit to around $750 billion which is still about 350 billion too high (deficits have average 2-3% of GDP since 1950 and there’s no reason this shouldn’t continue). So we have a $350 billion problem that will have to be solved by some real budgetary reductions, raising the FICA cap, and closing some loopholes like treating carried interest as income and not a capital gain.

        • Nebraska Admiral

          Otto, the numbers you cite don’t take into account the ballooning entitlement costs we will see in upcoming decades as Boomers retire, and as the worker/retiree ratio shifts significantly. Unlike most economic projections, these can be made with great confidence, since we know how many Boomers there are, when they will retire, and what their benefits will cost. Our government’s budgetary landscape will look far different in ten and twenty years from now.

          Agreed that Bush, and the recession, are responsible for much (though not all) of our current problems with deficits and debt. However, letting the Bush tax cuts expire will not in itself do much to balance the upcoming mountain of entitlement-driven debt we face; strong economic growth is of course vital to any plan for dealing with this problem in the future, but is itself not sufficient in any realistic scenario.

          We do have a massive financial problem looming within the next couple of decades, and only part of one Party seems serious about addressing it.

        • Elvis Elvisberg

          It’s just not true that the Democrats are as unserious about the debt as the Republicans are.

          The long-term debt problem is the same thing as the long-term problem with the economy: skyrocketing health care costs. See:

          Happily, the Democrats passed a bill last year that will help reduce the deficit over time. See:

          That’s actually addressing the policy problem, not just saying, “here’s how we’ll cut down the deficit: you’re on your own, we’re dismantling Medicare!” That is what the Ryan plan does; it is neither a serious policy response, nor a likely political outcome.

          Not surprised you’re busy at work– doing admiralty along the Missouri River to ward off the depredations of the Iowans has to keep you pretty busy.

    • Watusie

      NA, echoing what Elvis said in his summation – recall that last November, at a time when unemployment was over 10%, Mitch McConnell said repeatedly that the top priority for the Republican Party was to deny President Obama a second term. Not to stimulate job creation, not to nurse the economy back to health, not to address any of the mound of other problems that face the nation – nope. Job 1 is get Barack Obama out of the Oval Office.

      Find me a statement as over-the-top and partisan and damaging to the nature of political discourse as that from Harry Reid.

  • LaughingCat

    I shake my head in utter amazement

  • Hunter01

    Frum is throwing jabs at the Republican “leadership” only to the extent that he thinks they can take it without writing him off completely. It’s telling that he believes they will only listen to mild criticism, and I think his apprehensions are right.

    Is there anyone within the party with sufficient stature to “order” them to stand down? Baker? Paulson? O’Neill? Goldman Sachs?

    • indy

      Goldman Sachs?

      They would if they weren’t so busy buying up short positions.

      • indy

        Although, now that I think about it, the guy who saved Goldman said this:

        Buffett, asked about the possibility Congress would not raise the ceiling, made one of his most-repeated comments of the whole weekend, saying it would be the legislature’s “most asinine act” in its history.

  • LFC

    Politicians who propose policies you disagree with are equivalent to psychopaths who randomly murder innocent people? Hysterically over-the-top, don’t you think?

    I think “terrorist” is over the top, especially in today’s climate. Let’s just call them immoral, power hungry, un-American hypocrites who love their party more than they love our country. They have repeatedly reversed themselves on positions simply because Obama agreed with them.

    I watched my father die from cancer. End of life counseling and hospice were a god-send. To have mainstream Republicans demagogue (remember “death panels”?) something that provides so much comfort and aid to people in their last months of life, a position they supported a mere year earlier, is immoral. These weren’t fringe characters, these were major players and people who held office. For me, watching them play games with the dying for political gain is an act that is so vile that it can not be forgiven. It is beyond politics as usual, and there is absolutely nothing remotely analogous in the Democratic Party today.

  • ottovbvs

    For me, watching them play games with the dying for political gain is an act that is so vile that it can not be forgiven.

    They played games with wars which brought grief and suffering to thousands of American families so why be surprised at this conduct. The Republican party with a few exceptions is totally devoid any integrity whatsoever. Any organisation has it’s share of scumbags, the Democrats have some just as the Republicans do, but that is totally different from institutionalized absence of integrity. You have to be fairly obtuse if you can’t tell the difference.

  • armstp

    From The Hill, Feb. 5, 2003:

    As President Bush sent his budget to Capitol Hill Monday, a split opened among congressional Republicans between those who are still deficit hawks and an increasing number, including top leaders, who no longer see deficits as the touchstone of fiscal probity.

    Confronted with projected deficits until fiscal 2007, senior GOP lawmakers are backing away from long-standing rhetoric about the government’s duty to live within its means.

    The switch – whether from conviction, circumstance, or both – is bringing charges of hypocrisy from Democrats.

    Some lawmakers view the existence of deficits as a useful tool to keep spending down.

    “I came to the House as a real deficit hawk, but I am no longer a deficit hawk,” said Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). “I’ll tell you why. I had to spend the surpluses. Deficits make it easier to say no.”


    Nobody cares about the deficit, least of all the people making the loudest noise.

  • Rob_654

    Aren’t these among the same people who decried individuals who walked away from mortgages as deadbeats and didn’t they demand that those individuals had a MORAL obligation to pay their bills?

  • valkayec

    Mr. Frum, I agree. I’ve seen the examples you cite it all too often in my 40 some years of politics watching. However, I’ve never been as discouraged and frustrated as I am now. I remember the Eisenhower Administration in which most Americans, outside of Southern Blacks, did fairly well. The economy as a whole grew and the nation’s debt as a result of both WWII and the Depression was paid down. Kennedy reduced the tax rate which released funds into the market place causing even more economic activity and the economy grew. Carter said the economy needs to change to prepare for a coming energy challenge that would threaten the US economy, but no one paid attention to him. Then came Reagan who was told that by 1979 manufacturing in the U.S. had begun to decline. He tried to find a solution, but GHW Bush ended the program and study. Clinton raised taxes just as the Tech boom took off, but he too failed to see what was happening in the economy as large banks became gambling houses and senior execs took more and more wealth out of companies than they put into them. Since the early ’80s, short term profits became more important, thanks to suits brought by large institutional investors such as CalPERS, and heads of companies began to come from the ranks of CFOs rather than manufacturing and production.

    After the negotiated settlement between Gingrich’s radicalized House and the Dems, the economy grew and the deficit ended. But GW Bush blew it all, racking up the largest deficit since WWII.

    And now we’re stuck with a radicalized, economically ignorant Tea Party, largely as a result of GW Bush’s spendthrift policies, that dominates and scares the heck out of Republicans and still a Democratic party that has been described as “herding cats.”

    The result is a congressional membership who are more afraid of crossing the economically illiterate members of the Tea Party than maintaining the fiscal health of the U.S. Just today, I read an article in the Financial Times which stated that the IMF is seriously considering replacing the dollar as the world’s only reserve currency with a mix of euros, dollars, and renminbi within the next few years. Doesn’t any understand, in either party, what that will mean to borrowing costs for the Treasury? Already China is reducing its purchasing of Treasury bonds to buy and sell bonds of its own and those of the other BRIC countries. Doesn’t anyone see that other countries are either actively seeking an American decline or are preparing for it? Meanwhile, the leaders in this country play games that could and will cost the country untold billions in lost jobs, higher interest rates, business failures, and an increased deficit.

    This is no way to run a country. As someone wrote today, just because you refuse to pay your utility bills for the services you’ve already bought while you continue to pay your mortgage doesn’t mean your credit rating isn’t going to take a hit. Fortunately, the US has the ability, thanks to its AAA credit rating worldwide, to borrow to meet its obligations. However, if that rating is destroyed, the consequences will be devastating to everyone – rich, middle income and poor alike. That no one in the GOP portion of Congress gets this or is willing to play games in order to satisfy some radical, economically illiterate portion of their base astounds me.

    Does being a member of Congress so far exceed the fiscal health of the nation that they would harm it in order to keep their jobs?

  • pnumi2

    Defaults don’t matter.

    Especially when they’re barreling down on you like an out of control freight train going 80 mph.

    What are you supposed to do, scream?

  • jamesj

    “It seems flabbergasting that a conservative party could arrive at this destination.”

    Ditto. I am again and again confronted with the fact that the modern day Republican party is not pragmatic and is not classically Conservative in any way. So where do right leaners go with their votes in this environment?

    • ottovbvs

      So where do right leaners go with their votes in this environment?

      Easy, switch to the Democrats until these idiots come to their senses. Who wants to vote for incompetence in govt.

  • sinz54

    We just got through a “crisis” in which a long kabuki dance between Obama and the Congress resulted in a budget deal that averted a government shutdown.

    This talk about the debt ceiling is just more of the same.

    Congress will posture, Obama will raise dire warnings–and in the end, the debt ceiling will be raised in exchange for deeper cuts in Federal spending, “just in the nick of time.”

    The only reason that some liberals are apoplectic about this is the same reason they hated the budget deal that averted the government shutdown: They want more–not less–Federal spending, and they wanted Obama to force Congress to go along with that. They are only now beginning to dimly realize that Obama is not another FDR, he’s not another LBJ–heck, he’s not even another Bill Clinton.

    Too bad for them.

    For us conservatives, Obama turned out better than we expected: An ostensibly liberal President who can be rolled, time and again. While keeping his liberal credentials and hence keeping the conservative GOP base stirred up to further action.
    Not bad!

    • valkayec

      sinz, if all you’re interested in is playing politics and scoring political points, then yeah, the GOP is doing okay. However, some of us really are more concerned about the economy, employment of the still ~6 million people who need a job in order to feed, house, and clothe their families, and creating a healthy and productive future for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our communities.

      Yes, Dems did not like the last budget deal because it added greatly to the deficit and was not paid for. If you want to cut taxes, fine. Find an equal amount in the budget to cut to pay for it without causing even more hardship for those who lost so much over the last couple of years. However, if you think that only slashing the federal budget or government is going to solve the nation’s fiscal problems, increase employment, rebuild the crumbling infrastructure which engineers estimate will cost $2 Trillion, and deliver a globally competitive economy, then I suspect you’re not being really serious about the issues at hand.

      I’m not interesting in the political rhetoric, games playing and one-upmanship being played by either party. I want good and reasonable solutions, and right now I just don’t see that coming out the GOP. Even Pelosi, one of the more liberal Dems in the House, has stated that she’s willing to negotiate on Medicare and Medicaid reforms, as long as the programs themselves stay in tact and are not privatized as per the Ryan budget. Has anyone in the GOP even come close that kind of compromise? If so, I’ve not heard of it. Coburn may come close, given his WaPo Op-Ed today, I’ll have to wait to see what his budget plan is when he introduces it to the Senate. Who else is there among the GOP?

    • ottovbvs

      An ostensibly liberal President who can be rolled, time and again.

      Keep on thinking that Sinz. Republicans probably including geniuses like you apparently believe that the $39 billion out of the 2011 budget was real. In fact only around $20 billion came out of 2011, the rest is smoke and mirrors in subsequent years. I’m sure Obama is happy to be rolled like this every day of the week. He’s looking like a shoo in for next year with only loonies and flip floppers eager to take him on. But if this make you happy who am I to spoil your day.

  • ottovbvs

    Otto, the numbers you cite don’t take into account the ballooning entitlement costs we will see in upcoming decades as Boomers retire, and as the worker/retiree ratio shifts significantly

    Actually they do Admiral. According to the CBO I’m being too pessimistic. If we just let the Bush tax cuts expire they have the deficit coming down to around 4% of GDP by 2015. If my numbers are incorrect tell me where they are wrong. You’re just making vague assertions a bit like Ryan. Revenue is currently running at just under 15% of GDP whereas it’s averaged around 20% since the early 50′s with occasional blips higher when we’ve had problems like wars and too high deficits. Current GDP is just over $15 trillion and assuming we get back into a growth pattern of 3-4% annually then revenue of ~21% of GDP ($3.15 trillion of present GDP $15 Trillion and change) with a modest deficit and the cuts I’ve suggested would be sufficient to cover the anticipated boomer retirements.

    • Nebraska Admiral

      Otto, as you know 2015 (a mere four years from now) is not when the full impact of the entitlement problem hits. Ten+ years after that on our present course, and entitlement spending is well on its way to growth on a scale larger than can be paid for by a normal economic recovery.

      • indy

        The CBO estimates ( 80% of all growth in entitlements will be health care related. The chart on page 13 shows SS entitlements increasing from its current slightly less than 5% of GDP to slightly less than 6% in 2035. This is a problem that can be handled relatively painlessly. On the other hand, Medicare/Medicaid goes from its current 5% of GDP to nearly 10% of GDP in 2035. After 2035, the 65+ age group of the population is relatively stable as a percentage of the 20-64 age group (see page 9).

        The GOP needs to find a policy position on health care that is reality based. It hasn’t so far for the simple reason is that given its self-imposed ideological constraints there is no solution that is even close to acceptable to voters.

      • ottovbvs

        Admiral you’re ignoring growth in the size of the gdp and just making vague assertions again. I don’t dispute a deficit problem but it’s entirely manageable if tax receipts return to around their postwar average. Do the math. Compound growth over five years of 4% annually takes you to a GDP of $18.25 trillion. 21% of that is revenue of almost $4 trillion in nominal terms.

        The major problem with Medicare/Medicaid is the rate of growth in costs which apply to the entire healthcare system not just Medicare. We have a system that costs twice as much to operate as anyone elses even though there’s no essential difference in the process. Now the problem can’t be access because they all provide universal access and we don’t. So it has to be obvious to a first year economics student that the problem is our cost base. Someone, it may have been the NYT, had a little interactive chart up where you could play with budget assumptions and it’s entirely clear it’s principally a revenue problem. Sure if you want to keep revenue in the 15-18% range which Republicans are proposing we can’t afford Medicare/Medicaid and probably such a large military. But does the American public want to junk these programs and alone in the advanced world return to the 1920′s…I don’t think so.

        And a footnote on the “Terrorist” usage. I’ve just finished reading an article about Samuel Plimsoll the author of the mandatory loading line on ships who was frequently described as a terrorist by shipping interests who wanted to send unseaworthy vessels to sea. So there’s nothing new about it.

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  • mikebsr

    It’s too bad we didn’t hear this type of clear thinking 4-6 years ago. Lifelong republicans like me have been cast out of the party for holding republicans to at least the same standards we hold democrats to.

    It is true that both parties suck. At least liberals are honest about wanting to steal our hard-earned money. Republicans just lie about it. Unfortunately, republicans have crossed over into reckless and dangerous territory by pretending they had nothing to do with the mess we are in. They call Obama a socialist because he hasn’t cut spending to go with the tax cuts. Does anybody realize that no republican president in over a generation has done that? I’m pretty sure Richard Nixon was the last one.

    When Obama cut $400 million in defense discretionary spending a few months back, the republican’s heads exploded because Obama was destroying our military in a time of war. So, cutting defense spending is out. That leaves medicare and social security. Ryan’s plan showed nobody will tolerate deep cuts in Medicare. So, that leaves social security – presumably where all cuts have to happen. To Mr. Frum’s point – republicans are trying to score political points by shooting themselves in the foot.

    The republican political platform is based on bearing false witness against their neighbor and blatant lies. If they are incapable of the truth now, why should we believe they will not govern as the flaming liberals they’ve been for the last decade?

    I’m sure their plan to regain power by doubling down on torture and preaching Obama’s intention to deliberately destroy our country will go a long way.

  • mickster99

    And this is the party that has made Reagan into a god????
    Would Reagan be a Teabagger now?
    Or invite Palin to be his VP running mate instead of G.H.W. Bush?
    Behold the blinding effect of pure true believers.

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  • leomoore

    Conservative. There is a word for us to ponder. It used to mean someone who preferred slow change or no change. Now, I am not sure what it means. Conservatives used to have a reputation for being fiscally prudent. I do not think it is necessarily deserved since I have never seen it, but it definitely did not involve profligacy and economic suicide as it does today.

    Conservatives blame all our budgetary and economic problems on liberals even though we have not had a liberal government since the 1960s. It seems that our slide to the morass in which we find ourselves started three decades ago. Before I get to far ahead of myself, let me step back to the 1970s, specifically when Ronald Reagan was governor of California. Reagan supported and did not hinder several anti-tax movements in California, which led to Proposition 13. This wrapped California budgets in a financial straitjacket. Raising and lowering taxes is a function of self-governance. Raise them to meet the needs and demands of the people who pay the taxes then lower them when needs change or people decide they don’t want to pay for the demand. There comes a point when costs of basic needs rise and require more money to pay for them such as from population growth, cost of providing water, maintaining roads, replacing bridges, etc. We also have to be able to change as we get more knowledge such as DDT kills off the birds or dirty air is making sick our children. Reagan, the holy saint of conservatives, introduced the holy doctrines of government is bad and taxes are worse to the rest of the country when he ran for president. He fastened onto the myth of supply-side economics as if that was the unifying principle of all economics.

    The Republicans stick to the cult of Reagan as vigorously as the followers of Marshall Applegate clung to their belief in flying saucers. Unfortunately, as they rush for the edge of the cliff, the Republicans drag the rest of us along unlike the Heaven’s Gate followers. I don’t get cults so don’t ask me to explain the thought processes of the modern conservative and the so-called independents who support them. If there really was a god, perhaps, conservatives is how the god decided to knock the United States down a peg or two.

    There are some things I know based on the smell of rotten fish. If we follow the conservative policies, such as they are, we will default on our debts; we will lose the confidence of the world; we will embolden those who would see themselves in the dominant position; our economy will shrink dramatically; our struggling view of ourselves as a nation of the comfortable middle class will crumble. Conservatives have never encountered a fact they could not ignore, or a reality they cannot deny if it challenges their rigid orthodoxy of how things are and how things work. They strike me as the proverbial panicked horse that runs back into the burning barn.

  • Nebraska Admiral

    Otto, you call me out for making “vague assertions” in my earlier posts regarding the severity of our future debt problem. Fair enough. Here is some data to give you some specifics:

    The two (related) problems we face are significant long-term growth in entitlement obligations, and an aging population in which we have a declining ratio of younger workers to older retirees. The percentage of our population aged at least 65 is currently about 20%. This percentage begins to spike in around 2015, rising to about 36% by 2040. Following this trend, the major federal entitlements (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) rises from 10% of GDP now to 16% in 2035– in other words, rising by 60%.

    Needless to say, the percentage rise in the share of the federal budget will be much higher than that of overal GDP. It is kind of a fool’s errand to attempt to predict future federal deficits, since so much depends on which party is in charge, unforeseen natural disasters, etc. But it seems certain that with such a sharp and sustained rise in entitlement spending, combined with fewer earners in their working prime paying taxes to support more older retirees, that hard choices are coming our way.

    You cite 4% GDP growth as being a painless way to grow out of debt. (Never mind that any way ahead that depends on perpetual 4% growth is more hope than plan.) However, the CBO statistics I cite take future growth into account, and still show a huge spike in the percentage of GDP eaten up by entitlements. They also show annual deficits of at least 4% of GDP until 2019, at which time they trend sharply south. This is an unsustainable trend. I don’t like talk of a default, but I am glad that Congressional Republicans have turned the national conversation to how to deal with our looming crisis.

    (By the way, here is a good, concise document from the CBO containing many of the statistics I cite:

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    The two (related) problems we face are significant long-term growth in entitlement obligations, and an aging population in which we have a declining ratio of younger workers to older retirees.

    That omits the biggest problem: the cost of health care.

    Here’s where the long-term budget problems are coming from:

    Here’s where the increases in the price of Medicare & Medicaid are coming from (CBO chart from a few years back):

    And here’s our preexisting condition:

    Happily, we passed the ACA last year, which should address this issue, though almost certainly not resolve it altogether. See:

    • indy

      Precisely. Were it not for the rise in health care costs, the problem would be less severe. Republicans can pretend that shifting the cost from the government onto seniors is a ‘solution’, but unless the cost curve is bent down, health care costs will still consume 10% of GDP in 2035 and continue to climb. Everything else is pretend accounting.

      • Nebraska Admiral

        Demographics make this an especially intractable problem. For many years to come, there will be a steadily-growing number of seniors who account for a high per-capita share of health care costs. At the same time, the ratio of working (and tax-paying) people to retirees will gradually decline, meaning fewer people to pay the bills. So even if the cost increases of commonly-used medical equipment and procedures are arrested, demographic trends make it likely that health-care costs will continue to eat a growing piece of the GDP pie. Since Uncle Sam foots a lot of that bill through Medicare and Medicaid, we will have a massive budgetary problem on our hands.

        • indy

          Demographics are demographics. Seniors represent the most powerful voting block in the United States and, as you note, it is getting twice as big as a percent of the population. Any solution that doesn’t recognize these two simple facts is BS. If, by some miracle, the Ryan plan were adopted tomorrow and it doesn’t meet the needs of seniors (and I am thoroughly convinced it won’t), it will be corrupted as soon as it went into effect by the political weight of those seniors coupled with the political weight of the children who need to care for them.

          Personally, I see single payer in our future as clearly as I can predict the sun will rise from the simple and obvious fact that it will be demanded–by everybody–as soon as the children realize they will be on the hook for mom and dad’s health care costs when the government no longer is. It’s just not obvious to them yet.

  • Newslinks for Thursday May 19, 2011 | Conservative Home USA

    [...] David Frum is depressed: "We’ve evolved in the space of a decade from “deficits don’t matter” to “defaults don’t matter.” It seems flabbergasting that a conservative party could arrive at this destination. Yet the new mood exemplifies the trend we have seen over the past three decades, whereby one after another the “rules of the game” have been discarded as the two parties play politics ever more savagely." [...]