December 29, 2006
Edwards vs. the Deficit Hawks
Des Moines is a very charming town, with some truly fantastic steakhouses. That's particularly if some of your fellow reporters are feeling generous with expense accounts. But I digress.
I spent much of yesterday in Iowa watching Edwards do the Townhall thing. And believe me: The boy got skillz. Speaking to a room of a 1,000+ people (the campaign estimated 2,500; the papers 1,000), Edwards easily outdid his announcement speech from the morning, going far deeper into the policy and at far longer length. And it was an impressive performance, particularly compared to his relative insecurity when discussing such issues in 2004. Afterwards, I couldn't find a member of the crowd -- not that there were none, just that I couldn't find him -- who wasn't now supporting Edwards in 2008. As I said, an impressive performance, But Nick's post on the deficit reminded me of a fairly remarkable exchange from the Q&A that I want to transcribe here. Do follow below the fold, it's worth it:
Q: No one seems to have talked about the deficit, and I see that as a twofold problem. Not only are we going into debt, but we're mortgaging our future to the Chinese -- last time I noticed, they weren't really allies of ours, weren't really our friends. I wonder what would your approach to the piling up of the deficit be?
Edwards: Well, I have to first off say what everybody here knows...when George Bush came into office we had surpluses as far as the eye could see, and now we have deficits as far as they eye can see. I think the honest answer to this question is that there's a tension between our desire to eliminate the deficit and create a stronger economic foundation and eliminate some of the debt our children will inherit, there's a tension between that deficit and our need to invest and make America stronger for the 21st century.
I think that, if we're honest, you cannot it, it's just common sense in the math, have universal health care, and invest in energy, and make a serious effort to eliminate poverty, to strengthen the middle class, and do some of the work that I think America needs to be leading on around the world, and at the same time, eliminate the deficit. Those things are incompatible. And anybody who claims -- politicians who say 'I'm going to give you a big tax cut, and give you health care, put more money into education, and oh by the way, we're going to balance the budget in the process,' it's just make-believe, it isn't the truth. So I think there's gonna be hard judgments that have to be made -- my commitment is to have universal health care, to do things that have to be done about this energy situation and global warming, because I think they're enormous threats, not only to the people of America but to the future of the world, for America to lead on some of these big moral issues that face the world, and I think America has to do something about poverty, I just do. Those are higher priorities to me than the elimination of the deficit. I don't want to make the deficit worse and I would like to reduce the deficit, but in the short-term, if we don't take a step to deal with these other issues, it in my judgment, undermines the ability of America to remain strong in the 21st century.
That's a genuinely important admission, and one that very, very few Democrats are willing to make. It's the opposite of Clintonomics, which took deficit reduction as the transcendent priority and, as Robert Reich long regretted, forsook most investment spending. It's different than most campaigners, who both promise deficit elimination and heightened spending, and so offer no real clue of how they'll conduct themselves in office. Indeed, it's a relatively rare progressive moment in national politics: A forthright argument for the importance of, and an increase in, public spending, one not shackled by a desire to drive the deficit into nothingness just so the politician can say it's been done. In addition, Edwards answer was a direct refutation of his questioner's premise, and not what many in his audience probably wanted to hear. As I said, an impressive performance, and one that was actually quite revealing so far as the evolution of the Edwards ideology goes.
And yet somehow, Matt Stoller will find something in it to criticize.
Posted by: Tom Hilton | Dec 29, 2006 12:44:40 PM
Oh so very close.
The only thing he's missing is saying "well, we spend more on health care than everyone else. We ought to be able to cover everyone for the amount of money we spend. So that won't hurt the deficit. But the investments in energy, in reducing poverty ... we will have to make hard choices there versus the deficit." Which cushions the blow a little.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Dec 29, 2006 12:54:59 PM
Impressive and refreshing.
Posted by: nolo | Dec 29, 2006 12:55:49 PM
Oh, and he should add "and a pony" to the bit about politicians not being honest by promising big tax cuts plus education spendign plus health care, etc.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Dec 29, 2006 12:58:08 PM
I don't know about Matt Stoller - but I think it's brave, and ultimately a mistake to go where he's going with this. There has simply got to be an honest effort to look at the debt that has been amassed by this government and figure out ways to at least get it under control if not reduce it; I'm sure that part of that is looking at REDUCTIONS IN DEFENSE SPENDING, something Edwards doesn't even dare to touch - but absent that admission, his line is about as "and a pony" as other politicians. He's just being up front about the fact that in order to get you the moon and the stars, he's planning to mortgage your kids future... some more. Honest? I suppose. A winning formulation? I'm not buying it, at this point.
Posted by: weboy | Dec 29, 2006 1:08:10 PM
"And yet somehow, Matt Stoller will find something in it to criticize"
I am no Matt Stoller, but I am a deficit hawk. The deficits do have macroeonomic consequences, both immediately and longterm, and somebody is suffering/paying for them. There are more than two options here. I would have do a lot of work to prove that increased social spending with deficits/debt does net harm to workers and liberal causes. I can come up with some arguments; the huge interest bite out of the budget; the vulnerabiliy to emergencies. It is of course complicated.
I think massive tax increases are essential, probably inevitable; and I think the selling, the preparing the ground for massive tax increases is essential. Even Ezra has mentioned stuff like VAT or gas/carbon taxes. Liberals and Democrats cannot forever be scared of reversing the restributionism of the last thirty years.
It will kill us.
Reverse all of the Bush tax cuts. Bring the top marginal rate back up to at least 50%. Treat all income, whether from work or investment equally. Where are we, taxes at 17% of GDP? I would like to see 25, will settle for 20.
I can't be enthusiastic about a candidate that isn't openly redistributionist.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 29, 2006 1:08:43 PM
Edwards is among (see Krugman) the liberal opinion leaders who've had an epiphany: deficits are immoral, economically devastating, they mortgage our children's future and blah blah blah, but only when the Republicans are spending money. ("Kerry & I believe we have a moral responsibility not to leave trillions of debt to our children & our grandchildren.") When Democrats spend money, deficits are a necessary investment in creating a just and healthy and unblah unblah unblah society.
While there is a nub of defensible reasoning here -- e.g., borrowing money to buy heroin is bad, while borrowing money to go to college is good -- I think we should hold off on the applause and roll our eyes instead.
Posted by: ostap | Dec 29, 2006 1:09:53 PM
He gave an answer. That alone impresses me in an era of Obama/HRC. What also impresses me is that he gave an answer that took a risk to define the narrative. Finally, what impresses me is that he was honest in his answer. We can't have something for nothing anymore. You do have to balance and prioritize among competing economic forces (tax cuts, healthcare, military industrial complex (he didn't add it but I would have), and multitude of other things and the deficit). The devil is in the details, but I like the honesty of the answer.
Posted by: akaison | Dec 29, 2006 1:31:47 PM
Is it me- or does bob's posts make no sense- he's supporting HRC right? How does anything you say here reflect that decision?
Posted by: akaison | Dec 29, 2006 1:34:40 PM
I'm sure that part of that is looking at REDUCTIONS IN DEFENSE SPENDING, something Edwards doesn't even dare to touch
Simply ending the Iraq war will drastically reduce our defense spending. That said, what we really need to do is re-examine the Cold War ratios of defense spending at the Pentagon. The President can't really do this; he needs to get serious support on Capitol Hill for reshuffling defense spending priorities (like slowing procurement of Navy equipment and fighter jets in favor of transport aircraft, Army assets, and more soldiers).
Now, it's possible that support could exist. The high-ranking Republicans on the Armed Services are reasonable people, except Inhofe: McCain, Collins, even Sessions has his moments. You could probably cobble something together.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Dec 29, 2006 1:39:14 PM
Good point, akaison. Hilary or Obama would have said the deficit was an imporant issue and that it was important to have a "national converstion" about it, and then changed the suvject.
Posted by: FMguru | Dec 29, 2006 1:40:06 PM
"he's supporting HRC right?"
I am tending toward her. I think she is a liar, and a stealth candidate, who must run right to get elected but will govern very left. She has a history, and used to be even more liberal than her husband. She does not have a lifetime of wealth seeking, for instance.
I fear Edwards is running left but will govern right. Reminds of Jimmy Carter and John Kennedy.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 29, 2006 1:43:30 PM
Krugman is calling for deficit spending for the next two years only, AFAIK, in order to get a Dem President and more control of Congress. With a Democratic President I will bet he turns more hawkish, and recommends tax increases.
I know Sawicky recommends some deficit spending for social programs, but many liberal commenters at say Thoma and Angry Bear, realize this is still just a continuation of "starve the beast" If Edwards is planning to govern in deficit, I do become concerned as to his long term fiscal and entitlement strategy.
HRC, or at least the team, did raise taxes almost immediately in the early 90s, when they had a Democratic Congress. See, I have evidence and history to predict her behavior. Words are cheap.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 29, 2006 1:55:40 PM
"I fear Edwards is running left but will govern right. Reminds of Jimmy Carter and John Kennedy."
Then by all means, he's the man for me! Look, here is a candidate who actually answered the question instead of sidestepping it. Regardless of whether or not you agree with him, he is refreshingly honest when you compare him to HRC. There is something real about Edwards that I don't see in HRC or Obama. So far, Edwards is impressive, much more so than in 2004. Plus, I LOVE HIS WIFE! She is quite the asset.
Posted by: Doubting Thomas | Dec 29, 2006 1:56:24 PM
But Jimmy Carter didn't run left. JFK ran on the missile gap and like claptrap.
You're just making up these double-bankshot theories that allow you to ignore everything that people have said. Clinton has sounded skeptical notes on universal health care, Edwards has pledged it by name. Edwards wants withdrawal to start now, Clinton hasn't even taken a stand on whether the war was a bad idea.
If you don't like Edwards for whatever reason, I mean, that's your call. If Hillary gets the nomination, I'll support her with everything I got. But the reasons you're citing for your Edwards dislike I find profoundly unconvincing, and sometimes factually wrong.
Posted by: DivGuy | Dec 29, 2006 1:58:10 PM
Bob- although I phrased it as a question, I should point out I think you are full of shit. I think you will say anything to justify your own magical real perspective of politics.
For instance, how you can know what these candidates are, or are not, or will, or will not, in their heart of hearts is beyond me. All I can do is what any other normal human without your magical powers can do- namely pay attention to what they have done with their lives.
I am not per se against HRC. I think she would be an okay President. But I also think she is terrified of making a mistep (and so is Obama which is disappointing). The danger of being terrified of making a mistep is that you ultimately can't get much done under those circumstances. See Exhibit Kerry and Gore. A lack of risk taking plays directly in terms of strategy into the GOP's hands both in campaigns and governing (see Clinton Presidency in later period).
On Edwards, we are to believe these issues that he has spent his entire time talking about aren't really things he believes in. That he's just con'ing us because Bob says so. We are to believe that even when he gives an honest answer that takes a risk because as you, yourself claim, you are a 'deficit hawk' whatever tha means considering all the other shit you say, that he doesn't really mean this. Why in your magical real wisdom do you think he would take this risk. Hell, why even get on the plank if you don't think that he means it. He's smart enough to have avoided the discussion, and moved on. He choose not to.
What I have sensed from your comments in the last two days is a very Orwellian frame. Up is down, down is up. An honest answer means one is a stealth candidate. A triangulating answer means one will govern to the left. A speech about volunteering and poverty means one is going to govern like George Bush. Pandering to people (ie flag burning) means that HRC maybe pandering but at least she's honest. Have I missed something about your logic? I swear this time its a real question.
Posted by: akaison | Dec 29, 2006 1:59:14 PM
"Pandering to people (ie flag burning) means that HRC maybe pandering but at least she's honest."
Quote me saying that. It is not my logic, but you are twisting and lying out of personal animosity. I have not, or rarely and gently, personally attacked you in this forum. You have done nothing else.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 29, 2006 2:05:41 PM
Clinton hasn't even taken a stand on whether the war was a bad idea.
Hasn't she recently stated that she would not have voted for the war knowing what we know now, or something?
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Dec 29, 2006 2:08:41 PM
"...do you think he would take this risk. Hell, why even get on the plank if you don't think that he means it. He's smart enough to have avoided the discussion, and moved on. He choose not to."
I don't know that it is that big a risk. The message he sent is a) he will spend, and b) he will not raise taxes, and 3) he is ok with deficits.
The deficit hawks who are actually budget cutters are a very small constituency, and mostly Republicans. Doesn't look that risky to me.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 29, 2006 2:12:15 PM
Well, can we now please dispense with the claims that Edwards a) is a DLCer in disguise b) has never taken a risk. (Stoller: "This is promising, but it would have been better if he'd made this declaration while juggling knives, sporting a Buck Fush t-shirt, and questioning the logic of Christianity.")
It's Rubinomics (Hillary) v. Edwards. Where's Obama? Let the debate begin.
Posted by: david mizner | Dec 29, 2006 2:12:56 PM
Bob, you are right- you didn't say HRC was honest. And, that was the most important part of the discussion that we were having. Not whether or not your over the top analysis of Edwards was uncalled for when you suggest he's a stealth candidate like GWB. Thanks for pointing out that is not exactly what you were saying. I mean what you were saying is that she's a liar, but you think she will govern liberally. Did I get it right this time?
Posted by: akaison | Dec 29, 2006 2:17:59 PM
reading comprehension. Here's what he said:
"'I'm going to give you a big tax cut, and give you health care, put more money into education, and oh by the way, we're going to balance the budget in the process,' it's just make-believe, it isn't the truth. So I think there's gonna be hard judgments that have to be made -- my commitment is to have universal health care, to do things that have to be done about this energy situation and global warming, because I think they're enormous threats, not only to the people of America but to the future of the world, for America to lead on some of these big moral issues that face the world, and I think America has to do something about poverty, I just do. Those are higher priorities to me than the elimination of the deficit. I don't want to make the deficit worse and I would like to reduce the deficit, but in the short-term, if we don't take a step to deal with these other issues, it in my judgment, undermines the ability of America to remain strong in the 21st century."
Where does he say what he's going to do with taxes? He said we were going to have to prioritize. That any politician who says I can give you everything is lying. That's a risk to say that. It's also a risk to say what his priorities are. HRC as someone has said would simply have avoided the issue. But, I suppose with your magical abilities you can know what she really would prioritize.
Posted by: akaison | Dec 29, 2006 2:22:46 PM
Let me see. 11:17 is very close.
It is not the most "important part." The most important part was that Edwards promised to continue the "starve the beast" strategy of Grover Norquist, building deficits and debt. Now what was Edwards voting record, the best evidence available?
I know no one who believes HRC's heart is really in flag-burning, so she is universally considered somewhat disingenuous. And she has governed very liberally, so I may presume she will in the future.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 29, 2006 2:28:46 PM
if you can point to where he says what yuo just said- fine. if not you are clearly with magical powers that i need some of. finally, flag burning is again an example. it's to make a larger point. you seem to think that someone who is too terrified to make a mistake is all of a sudden going to lead as a president to do the things you want. to do the things you want takes courage. that means de facto you can't be always be afraid of making missteps. I don't need your magical powers about edwards, to figure that out about HRC. I will vote for if she's the nominee, but what you expect of her is delusional because, if for no other reason, she will goveren as a centrist who wants to win a second term.
Posted by: akaison | Dec 29, 2006 2:35:21 PM
I think Edwards has plenty of time to continue to refine this answer, but I think the point is it's going to take more to answer this than what he's providing here. If he's not prepared to be candid about the fact that the money wants for UHC or poverty programs or other ponies of a new color has to come somewhere, and that he's prepared to make compensatory cuts (probably in defense) or raise taxes... then no, he's not really answering the question of the deficit much better than any other candidate. Answewring a question directly may be the low bar that's been created in this new era, but the substance of the answer also matters.
Bill Clinton was up front about the fact that, after examining the budget, that some painful trade-offs were needed to get spending and taxes back in better balance. 8 yesra of George Bush have reversed the progress made on that issue. I think it is folly for any Democrat, after pounding Republicans, fairly, about profligate spending, to turn around and say that deficits don't matter, and promise cake and ponies of a different color without some medicine too. Deficits do matter, they matter to voters, and that needs to be addressed. And if there's one thing that I think Hillary Clinton gets, this may be it - doesn't mean I want her, but this is something she will defnitely lay claim to as the Clinton legacy. I have no idea what Obama will say on this, and I assume he'll have to say something. And I think Edwards needs to keep refining his answer - I like the stuff about attacking poverty and healthcare problems, I just need to know he's serious about the deficit, too.
Posted by: weboy | Dec 29, 2006 2:43:42 PM
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