Ky. Voices: Sophistry can't cover up GOP role in national debt

July 8, 2013 

  • At issue: June 17 column by Sen. Mitch McConnell, "Reining in government spending my priority" and June 4 column by Ron Formisano,"Despite posturing, McConnell enabled government's growth"

In Sen. Mitch McConnell's reply to University of Kentucky professor Ron Formisano's column, he resorts to sophistry which utterly fails to rebut the professor's charges.

Rather than addressing Formisano's point of the senator's substantial involvement in the creation of the national debt — through his support of the Bush tax cuts, the unfunded Iraq war, the drug bonanza known as Medicare Part D and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) — McConnell asserts, without evidence, that our debt burden is merely a consequence of "Washington spending too much."

What purport to be arguments in support of this judgment are really groundless assertions or false claims.

So, according to McConnell, President Barack Obama has no serious plan to reduce the deficit, despite numerous proposals put forward by the president dating back to 2011. Moreover, McConnell raises hyperbolic alarms about Medicare and Social Security going bankrupt, recklessly exaggerating the structural problems that will need solving over the long run for the persistence of these two anchors of the welfare state.

He distorts the intentions of Obama and most Democrats in agreeing to the Budget Control Act in 2011, to twist them into another example of bad faith on the part of liberals. He persists in the fallacy of equating family and federal finances ("if your family can not live beyond its means, neither can your government"), ignoring many who have thoroughly debunked such comparisons.

He appeals to the supposed failure of the Obama administration's stimulus program as proof that government can never be a positive force in restoring the economy. This argument flies in the face of our nation's history, dating back to the New Deal which most certainly set the country on the road to economic recovery and failed to fully achieve its goal only because the Roosevelt administration cut back sharply on its intervention in the economy.

In our own Great Recession, the 2009 stimulus not only prevented the economic crisis from becoming as bad as its 1930s predecessor, but created millions of jobs which played a significant role in the recovery that the nation has experienced over the past four years. Any failure stemmed from its not being large enough to bring about a full recovery.

Finally, the senator throws out the tired and baseless charge of "out-of-control spending," despite the inconvenient fact that recent budgets of the Obama administration have actually reduced the deficit.

At the heart of the senator's bogus reasoning are several key assumptions: that government is an alien force whose activity, as represented by spending, must be minimized; that only laissez-faire government can provide the freedom for individual American enterprise to bring about prosperity and progress; that individuals are best qualified to determine how to apply the money they have earned in shaping the nation's course; and that taxation ultimately amounts to a theft of people's hard-earned assets.

President Ronald Reagan famously declared that government is not the solution, but the problem. In this demonizing of government Reagan forgot what the Republican Party's greatest president said about our government, that it is "of the people, by the people, and for the people." It's us — through the individuals that we elect to represent us at the various levels of jurisdiction in this nation.

The genius of the Constitution is the empowering of a citizen government strong enough to ensure all have the opportunity to realize the promise of American life embedded in the Constitution's preamble as well as in that of the Declaration of Independence. That power involves regulating, taxing and spending.

So calling Democrats hyper-regulators, taxers and spenders, as McConnell and his colleagues are wont to do, is an unintended compliment. In these activities Democrats are being faithful to their constitutional duty to protect the country, as well as to promote its general welfare, by securing revenue that will responsibly enable them to do all of that.

By contrast, Republican administrations have been by far the biggest culprits in incurring astronomical debt. But, of course, accusing Republicans of irresponsible government does not faze them, since they are not really concerned about governing.

Their priority is to reduce government to a level at which it has the least power to impact the skewed economic order whose plutocratic overlords they so faithfully serve. The phony deficit crisis merely provides a convenient path toward reaching that goal.


At issue: June 17 column by Sen. Mitch McConnell, "Reining in government spending my priority" and June 4 column by Ron Formisano,"Despite posturing, McConnell enabled government's growth"

Robert Emmett Curran is professor emeritus of history at Georgetown University.

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