What if Eisenhower’s budget were your (grandparents’) family’s? What if Kennedy’s were? How about LBJ’s? Nixon’s? What if Reagan’s were your parents’ or your own family’s? How about G.H.W. Bush’s? Clinton’s? G.W. Bush’s?
One of my pet peeves is the use by political reporters and pundits of sophistic or downright imbecilic supposed analogies. (Like last week’s classic from Politco’s Jim VandeHei, analogizing Obama’s justification for agreeing to team up with a Super PAC, notwithstanding his opposition to the Citizens United decision, to a teenager’s refrain that he wants to what “everyone else” is doing—as if what the teen’s friends are doing would have a profound effect on the teenager and others unless that teenager went along.)
So this morning when I clicked on the Yahoo News page, my opening page for one of the web browsers I use, and saw that one of the featured videos was a clip from last night’s ABC Nightly News broadcast, titled “What if Obama’s Budget Were Your Family’s?”, I shook my head in dismay at the sheer persistence of this ridiculously false analogy.
The clip begins with Diane Sawyer introducing a piece by ABC’s White House correspondent Jake Tapper purporting to explain Obama’s submitted budget by reducing the basic amounts of money—the budget total, the deficit in the budget, and the amount of debt already owed—by lopping off eight zeroes at the end, so that $38 trillion becomes $38,000 (a plausible middle-class annual expenditure), for example. In this analogy, the family’s annual deficit is about $9,000, because this is a so-called working-class family whose annual income is $29,000. The $9,000 deficit will be added to the family’s already-existing “credit card” debt of $153,000. Or something.
The clip then shows Tapper at Jay Carney’s press briefing yesterday asking whether, given the increase in amount of debt after one year, this isn’t irresponsible. Tapper then moves to a Feb. 2009 clip of Obama promising to reduce the deficit his administration inherited, by one-half. Tapper says Obama’s budget breaks this promise.
Which it does, assuming that the promise wasn’t based partly on a proposal to end most of the Bush tax cuts. The clip is, well, clipped, so its context is missing. But since Obama’s attempts to end enough of the Bush tax cuts to substantially lower the deficit have been blocked by the Republicans, any reference to this broken promise should give Obama the opportunity to point this out. All he has to do is actually take that opportunity to do that. Which, with Obama, is problematic.
But as for the tiresome family-budget analogy, Obama himself is partly to blame for its persistence, having (stupefyingly) adopted it, repeatedly, himself rather than explaining the easily explainable: that the analogy is false and destructive. Basic Keynesian economics is really not very hard to explain, so why make false representations of economic fact that undermine your policy positions, rather than bother to explain it?
But even just taking the analogy on its own terms, I’m wondering why all of that working-class family’s current $153,000 debt is described as credit card debt rather than, say, mortgage debt, or student-loan debt, or car-purchase debt owed as monthly car payments (and necessary for the family breadwinners to get to work). Or why the credit card debt might not reflect necessary purchases such as food and gas, or, say, a furnace or roof replacement for the home. Is their income too low for them to own a home? Have a car? Take out college loans?
And this is not even to mention that families cannot raise their annual income by deciding to do so, as governments can by, say, increasing tax receipts.
Which brings me to the point in the title of this post: What if Eisenhower’s budget were your (grandparents’ or parents’) family’s? Really were? What would the country be like now if it had been? What if Kennedy’s were? How about LBJ’s? Nixon’s? How about Reagan’s? G.H.W. Bush’s? Clinton’s? G.W. Bush’s? And what if the current budget, and revenue-raising options, really were like your family’s?
Any takers? Jake Tapper?