Posted by: N.S. Palmer | September 15, 2012

Romney, Deficits, and Being “Tough-Minded”

By N.S. Palmer

Miscellaneous thoughts:

Democrats and some Republicans (notably Newt Gingrich in his famous video, “When Mitt Romney Came to Town”) portray Mitt Romney as a heartless “vulture capitalist” who’s better at destroying jobs than creating them. I’m not at all sure how inaccurate those portrayals are. I’ve known people very much like that: people who are completely indifferent to the welfare of those outside their own circle.

Of course, I might be wrong: Romney might be the sweetest and most compassionate person on the planet. I just don’t see evidence of that in his background or behavior.

Romney and the Republicans are making a lot of noise about our “deficit problem.” It’s worth noting, by the way, that Republicans see deficits as a problem only when there’s a Democratic president. Under the administration of he-who-shall-not-be-named (let’s call him “BushCheney”), Republicans thought that deficits were a good thing. That’s why they turned the budget surpluses at the end of the Clinton years into trillion-dollar deficits by the end of the BushCheney years. But I digress.

Our government deficit and national debt are long-term problems, not short-term problems. Even liberal lions like Paul Krugman agree that we need to address excessive deficits in the long term. However, our deficits result partly from economic depression. More budget cuts would worsen our economic situation, thereby defeating the purpose of the cuts. We’ve seen exactly that scenario play out in Europe due to the misguided “austerity” policies dictated by the Cameron government in the UK and by Angela Merkel in the EU. Further depressing economic activity would not only cause great hardship (though not on the people who advocate it), but it would make it harder to address the deficit in the long run.

Moreover, our deficit problem does not result mainly from the things that are proposed as cuts: help for the poor and elderly, Obamacare, teacher salaries, and so forth. To the extent that our deficit problem does not result mainly from economic depression, it’s caused mainly by (a) higher medical costs than other developed countries that provide better medical care and (b) inadequate taxes on those who benefit most from the system, including people like Romney. Most people don’t know that in the 1950s, the top income tax bracket was 91 percent, while taxes on capital gains and corporate profits were much higher than today, but economic growth was much better and a family could live comfortably on a single wage-earner’s pay.

Even the most militaristic neo-conservatives must admit that U.S. government’s counter-productive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with its apparent decision to garrison the entire planet, have made our national debt problem much worse. When I was a movement conservative, that was openly discussed as part of the game plan: Run up such huge deficits that we would then be “forced” to cut Social Security, Medicare, and other so-called entitlements, as well as get the government out of areas where we didn’t think it should be in the first place, such as regulating Wall Street and providing public education.

One more general point: There’s a temptation to think that suffering is good for the soul — that the “tough” solution is necessarily the best solution. It’s the same argument that “tough-minded” atheists use to argue against what they see as the weak and cowardly belief in God. It’s no more valid in economics than it is in theology. And the suffering that tough-minded people advocate always falls, surely by coincidence, on people other than themselves.

Copyright 2012 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL ( are included.


  1. The problem I have is that current Republican deficit-reduction rhetoric is so obviously a smoke screen for a plan to ultimately gut “entitlements” that I have a hard time believing the average Republican voter can’t see it.

    • Ideology can blind any of us. Moreover, most Republicans think that “entitlements” are just handouts to people they don’t like. The politicians know what they’re doing, but most voters (of both parties) are misled.

  2. I’m amazed by the run-for-the-dumb mindset of the Republicans since the 80s, with the possible exception of George Bush Sr. Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, and now the dream team of not just one but two people too dumb to know what they’re saying won’t play well with anyone under six figures. But they’re so many orders of magnitude out of relationship to that that they can barely understand.

    I think what was missed in Romney’s 47% comment is that he was also dumping on own supporters, earmarking only 5-10% of the electorate as thoughtful. What does that make convinced Republican voters?

    I’m no expert but it seems to me that the only real shot the US has for straightening out its finances is to roll up the empire. That’s what the Brits finally had to do, and ironically, it was a Republican, Ike Eisenhower, who brought that home to them with the Suez Crisis. A dozen supercarrier fleets, when no one else has even one? So maybe the US could get by with four, Pacific, Atlantic, Indian/Persian Gulf, and one for hot spots? It’s already part of the biggest military bloc in history. I’m sure the US could do better at home if it just accepted getting by with a little help from its friends.

    I felt that the comment about atheists at the end was kind of tacked on. Gratuitous. For what it’s worth, atheists that I know tend to be socially aware and some of the more generous people with their time and their money, personal and tax. I’m not aware of many who are advocates of suffering, mainly because they’re operating on the assumption that THIS is IT; there’s no golden reward coming later… what we do to, and for, one another now is what matters because there is nothing else; so think and get it right. I don’t think standing up for the position that there’s no solid reason to believe in a god, particularly one who’s going to show up with a big broom and make everything right, is quite the same as insisting people who fall on hard times deserve the bridge they’re living under… in fact it’s more typically the devout who see that kind of thing as a righteous judgement and condone it, and don’t want to change society in ways expensive to them (at least in this life) to prevent it. Just look at the two guys fronting your GOP offering this year. But it IS turning to one another and saying “We’re responsible. WE have to make it happen. WE have to put it right. No one’s going to do it for us, and there’s no one BUT us to care if we do, or weep if we don’t, but ourselves and our posterity.”

    I see it more as being willing, and able, to deal with reality on its own terms, rather than the ones you’d prefer to be real if you had your druthers. The presents I got for Christmas didn’t drain of all value when I came to realize they weren’t rained on me from above by a magic man who was watching me all the time and could be everywhere in one night. If anything, as I matured, they become more special. They were the freely-given gifts of limited beings with finite resources who cared about me enough to watch me and learn who I was and what excited me, and then devote a little bit of their lives to improving my personal world above and beyond the necessities. That’s real. That was reality. There’s nothing harsh or cruel or triumphalist in it. It doesn’t require magic or miracles or even myths. It’s what human beings are to one another. That’s wonderful all on its own.

    • Hi, LP —

      Thanks for the insightful and thought-provoking comment. I agree with most of what you said. George H.W. Bush is smart enough, but he’s evil: as Kant observed, qualities such as courage and intelligence are only instrumentally good. If they’re employed in the service of bad goals, then they’re vices instead of virtues.

      One thing that holds back Americans from closing down the empire is that many of them don’t believe it is an empire. I had an exchange today on Facebook with a member of the military who sincerely believes that the U.S. government’s various invasions, occupations, and attacks are philanthropic rather than imperial. What can you say to someone like that? In other respects, he’s quite sane.

      Regarding atheism, I hope my words didn’t suggest that my criticism applied to all atheists or that I think faux “tough-mindedness” is the only reason atheists can adduce for their viewpoint. Given the evidence, atheism is a reasonable but not a logically compulsory conclusion. It amounts to an existential choice: neither theism nor atheism can be proven or disproven, though reasons and evidence can be adduced for each. As a result, we all make our best guess. I happen to be a theist, but I realize that I might be wrong. The point of my criticism was that a desire to be tough and courageous seems to bias some atheists in favor of their viewpoint, independently of the evidence; toughness really isn’t relevant.

      You’re quite right, of course, that theism can be used as an excuse to sit on one’s butt and do nothing to improve the world or help the needy, on the theory that it’s all God’s responsibility. Likewise, however, atheism can be used as an excuse to believe that right and wrong are totally arbitrary, and that it’s just as good to let people starve as it is to help them get something to eat. People make the choices they want to make, and then invoke one ideology or another post hoc to justify the choices they made.

  3. I didn’t watch the presidential debate last night but I’ve picked up enough about it to get the gist. I really wonder if Eisenhower would even recognize the Republican Party today. These people literally make Richard Nixon look like a pinko. I’m inclined to think that the day is fast approaching, if it’s not already here, when Romney and Ryan could just trot out on stage and say, “I’m rich. Why aren’t you?” and then have them beam the stars and stripes behind them… and get a standing ovation from people with two jobs who arrived in a ten-year-old beater.

    Obviously I’m more simpatico with Obama’s line. I don’t believe government should do everything, but I believe there are some things government shouldn’t allow to befall the members of the society it governs. A balance has to be struck between allowing people to suffer real privations on the one hand, and giving them nothing better to aspire to on the other. The carrot should become the stick by holding out the opportunity to shoot for a salad with a little dressing. But meanwhile, you don’t starve.

    Currently here in Canada there’s a scandal over a huge recall of meat products because the Conservative federal government has cut some of the funding for meat inspection. It’s hard to be responsible and not agree that budgets need to be examined and trimmed from time to time, but on other hand, some things are fundamental. It seems to me that to conservatives the world around, a dollar is a dollar is a dollar (unless it buys something that flies real fast and/or blows up real good). It wasn’t always like this. If you look at what a “conservative” stood for around 1960, guys like Dwight Eisenhower, John Diefenbaker, and Harold Macmillan, and compare that with what it’s meant since, well, Reagan and Thatcher, it’s clear that something mean and selfish has taken root in the philosophy. And it’s clear that a lot of people really love that.

    • Contemporary American “conservatism” is just Hobbesian political philosophy in service of the super-rich and giant corporations. It defines “freedom” as allowing the powerful to do whatever they want, no matter how many people they hurt, no matter how much damage they cause, and no matter how dishonestly they behave.

      That has almost no connection with conservatism as traditionally understood, for example by Russell Kirk (author of “The Roots of American Order”) and me.

      Big money now owns the political process and the government. It uses both to enrich itself and to crush the vast majority of people into poverty and despair. As journalist Chris Hedges remarked, we no longer seem to have any options for change within the system. That situation can’t go on indefinitely.

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