Maybe Von Drehle is right. Maybe it’s silly to be irked that Republicans—after putting trillions of dollars in tax cuts, two wars, a prescription drug benefit and an unprecedented earmark spree on the Visa card—are threatening to force the U.S. into default if President Obama doesn’t adopt their agenda. After all, that hypocrite Obama once used a debt-limit debate to make a speech about their irresponsibility! And like David says, “the government never patches its roof when the sun shines; long-term debt problems only get dealt with in the context of short-term crises.”
But wait. Never? In 1993, President Clinton (with zero Republican votes) patched the roof with a budget that ended up creating giant surpluses. And in 2010, as David noted, Obama (with zero Republican votes) patched the roof with death panels and other grandma-killing reforms to rein in health care costs. So, rampant fiscal irresponsibility seems less structural than, shall we say, contextual.
David says I’m “outraged that the GOP is using the debt ceiling debate as an occasion to highlight their views about excessive government borrowing.” No, I’m outraged by the GOP’s actual views about excessive government borrowing, which are: The more, the better, except when a Democrat is President, at which time we will pretend to be horrified by the hole we’ve dug for the country. David is correct that “error and hypocrisy have been part of politics since long before the GOP was founded.” (Come to think of it, that would make a great Republican bumper sticker for 2012.) Nevertheless, they’re still wrong, and they’re still hypocrites.
David’s larger point is that deficits are unpopular no matter what I say, and no matter what Democrats think but don’t dare to say. He might be right about that. People do seem to complain a lot about deficits, at least when the economy is bad. But it’s annoying that the party that alchemized giant surpluses into giant deficits—and recently gutted the House’s pay-as-you-go rules to clear the way for their next round of budget-busting tax cuts—is reaping the benefits of the clamor for fiscal responsibility. It’s like Milli Vanilli exploiting a clamor for originality.