The Corner

Politics & Policy

Something’s Gotta Give. And It Will.

The National Debt Clock in Manhattan, November 30, 2017. (That number is over $23 trillion now, at the end of 2019.) (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

Some years ago, we were talking around the office, and Kevin Williamson said that the national debt was the most important issue facing the country. If we’re going to crash and burn, what does all the other stuff really matter? I nodded at what he said and sort of whistled merrily on — as most of us do, I think. But the prospect of crashing and burning is not very merry.

“We face the most predictable economic crisis in history,” Erskine Bowles said — it’s all there in the arithmetic. Mitch Daniels quoted this to me in a recent interview. I am in the midst of a series on Daniels — and Part II is here. It addresses the present red menace. Part I, yesterday, was on higher ed, largely.

Red menace? In 2011, at CPAC, when he was governor of Indiana (today he is president of Purdue University), Daniels gave a speech on “the new red menace” — meaning red ink. It was an excellent speech, crystallizing our problem, or laying it bare. In West Lafayette the other week, he said to me, “Look at the failed regimes of history. As often as not, this is what undid them. They took on obligations they couldn’t pay back and collapsed economically and societally. They were plunged into an emergency situation that they could not tax or otherwise oppress their way out of.”

The two parties are “equally complicit” in all this, said Daniels. And no politician seems willing to lead on this issue — because the voters want big government and low taxes, which is a difficult combo to sustain. And politicians would rather follow the voters than lead anyone.

At the 2012 Republican convention — the one that nominated Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — there was a national debt clock, ticking away. This was placed there to taunt the Democrats, and to draw attention to a deadly serious issue. There was no such clock, obviously, at the 2016 GOP convention. And there won’t be one next year either, obviously.

Or at the Democratic convention (lol).

Something’s gotta give. And it will. Anyway, listen to Mitch, here in Part II.

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