The Corner

Elections

The Post-Obama, Post-Debt Democratic Party

President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2016. (Carlos Barria/Reuters )

The first question of last night’s debate, asked by Savannah Guthrie to Elizabeth Warren, was a good one: “You have many plans — free college, free child care, government health care, cancellation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations. But this comes at a time when 71 percent of Americans say the economy is doing well, including 60 percent of Democrats. What do you say to those who worry this kind of significant change could be risky to the economy?”

Warren answered that the public is wrong to feel that satisfaction with the economy, that the economy is only “doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top.” Apparently, those 71 percent of Americans have all been hypnotized or something.

A more honest answer would be that the Democratic party is interested in a drastic overhaul of the economy because of two factors relating to the outcome of the 2016 election.

First, the departure of Barack Obama from office means it is safer for Democrats to openly discuss how his presidency disappointed them. Think back to how much wild optimism surrounded Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency in 2007-2008. Think of Oprah declaring that he was “the one.” Think of the massive crowds chanting, “O-ba-ma!” Think of the downright messianic coverage of Obama. Many Democrats genuinely believed that Obama’s election would usher in a golden age.

Different Democrats will give Obama different grades, but many would acknowledge that on some level they were disappointed by the outcome of his presidency — if for no other reason, the gradual decimation of the Democratic party at the local, state, and national levels from 2009 to 2016. George Soros called Barack Obama “my greatest disappointment.”

Matt Stoller contends Obama was far too cozy with big corporations and backed bailouts. The Affordable Care Act turned out to be a much more mixed bag than Democrats expected. As Michael Brendan Dougherty observed, last night ten Democrats discussed health care at length and never mentioned Obamacare.

Obama’s inability to deliver what Democrats truly wanted — and Democrats’ unwillingness to reexamine whether their expectations are realistic — leaves them wanting bigger, bolder changes. If the stimulus, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank didn’t do it, then the only thing that will is having the federal government cover the costs of every major expenditure in Americans’ lives — health care, college education, child care, etcetera.

Second, the Republicans under President Trump no longer worry about the annual deficit, the cumulative national debt, or the long-term sustainability of Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare. The Trump administration is comfortable with annual deficits of a half-trillion to a trillion dollars per year, and if Congressional Republicans have objections, they’re not really willing to fight with the administration over them. Trump ran on keeping the entitlement programs the way they were, and enough GOP primary voters agreed. (He also promised to eliminate the entire debt in eight years by “renegotiating all of our deals.” The national debt was $19.9 trillion when Trump took office; it is $22 trillion today.)

Democrats learned a powerful lesson from this: The U.S. government has infinite money. They do not fear bigger deficits or the size of the debt, they do not fear higher interest payments on the debt eating up the federal budget, and the federal government can spend as much as it likes because there will always be someone, somewhere, willing to lend the U.S. government money.

With the discovery of this magic endless piggy bank, Democrats are proposing policies like they have unlimited resources.

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