I've been observing discussions here and elsewhere about the immigration debate with increasing anxiety that the Republicans are going to get away with yet another misdirection perfectly designed to derail progressive hopes and dreams by stroking America's lizard brain. The election feels eerily reminiscent of 1992, when so-called reasonable centrists stoked the crazy man Ross Perot's campaign by backing his obsessive concern for "the deficit" which was nothing more than a weird abstraction into which misinformed discontented voters could pour their economic fears.I come not to praise H. Ross Perot, but to bury him. Actually, I agree that he was more or less nuts, although in a uniformly entertaining and wholly healthy way. Yanking 20% of the vote out of the pot in a Presidential election year was a neat trick, probably the only real scare that our famed bipartisan system--as in, "I believe in the bipartisan system"--has had in many years, and it just went to show what a Quixote can do with a billion dollars in the bank. No one entirely sane by our ordinary lights would ever a.) make a billion bucks or b.) run for president in the first place, so complaining that Perot was nuts seems narrow and uncharitable.
"The deficit" was real, of course--I mean, it represented fiscal reality, that the federal government's operating expenditures exceeded its revenues. Now it is popular to say that "deficits don't matter," insofar as a.) government revenues and expenditures are largely fictions anyway and b.) because the children are our future. What wiser wags will tell you is that deficits don't necessarily reflect intrinsic failures of an organization's fiscal policy from year to year, and that it is sometimes perfectly reasonable to operate for a year--or two, or more--at a loss. Non-profits, businesses, and governments of all levels do it for plenty of legitimate reasons, usually to maintain current levels of programming and production and subsidy and whathaveyou through leaner revenue years. But running in the red is hedged against some projected future revenue that will make up for the loss and the service on any debt incurred in the process, or is supposed to be in any case. The question of the federal deficit is a question of persistent deficits and a relentlessly compounding debt. There's a certain tragic irony here, since the deficit requires borrowing which causes debt which charges interest which contributes to operating costs which causes the deficit which requires borrowing . . . These aren't high-church economicisms. Every family has faced these principles.
Digby complains that the surplusses of the Clinton bubble years should have been used to "finance new initiatives for the public," and "finance" is the unintentionally, hilariously felicitous word. Surplusses should have been spent on reducing debt, not on building future costs. In any case, "initiatives for the public" or giveaways to the rich are staggeringly irrelevant compared to the cost of war, and in fact the debt service that we pay every year is largely a camouflage for what is in fact war spending: debts incurred for prior imperial ventures and added onto by the going one. As noted elsewhere and otherwise, the only real way to reduce the national debt and to limit the costs and scope of government is to stop fighting wars. You will curiously enough not find that much discussed, neither by Club for Growth types nor by Reasonoids, the latter of which persists in lazy agnosticism when it comes to war and peace. For the former, well, I always laugh when I hear Norquist types talk about drowning the government in the bathtub when they are unwilling to tamper with the half-trillion-dollar army hanging out in the bathroom with its shrunken boss.