Opinion » Ted Rall

GOP's Election Bet

Voters focus on spending at just the wrong time

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SAN DIEGO--Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, thinks Republicans have overreached in their showdown with President Barack Obama over the debt ceiling.

"[The Republicans'] inability to make even symbolic concessions has turned a winning hand into losing one," he says.

Of course, Obama had already agreed to begin dismantling Social Security and Medicare. If he pulls off this "victory," Obama will have done more damage to the Democratic Party and its core values than any president in our lifetimes.

Back a few pages, Times reporter Jesse McKinley writes: "Indeed, the drama of whether the government will raise the debt ceiling (to the chagrin of some conservatives demanding tighter financial belts) or allow it to remain as is (to the horror of the administration and economists who predict financial ruin) seemed largely lost on a populace involved in more pressing--and more pleasant--summer distractions," asserts McKinley.

Among the few political geeks who understand what's going on, much less have an opinion, the tide is allegedly turning in favor of Obama because he's willing to compromise and the Tea Party-led GOP isn't.

Conventional wisdom floggers like Douthat say that if Congress can't strike a deal and economic consequences follow--a reduction in the ratings of U.S. government-issued securities and a panic in the securities market--voters will hold Republicans accountable in 2012. Even if things don't turn that far south, the GOP will pay for their intransigence. Obama wins in a cakewalk. I'm not so sure.

Without a doubt, the Republicans' willingness to imperil the pure platinum credit of Treasury notes and bonds is reckless and irresponsible. There is also no denying their naked hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty. These so-called "deficit hawks" voted 19 times to raise the debt ceiling by $4 trillion.

If Republicans were serious about balancing the federal budget, they'd start by slashing the military, which accounts for 54 percent of discretionary spending. The Department of Homeland Security should be eliminated.

Moreover, the middle of the biggest economic meltdown since the industrial revolution is no time to be cutting debt. Read your Keynes: Governments are supposed to spend their way out of downturns and pay down debt during upswings.

Republicans, it seems, are trying to finish off an economy that is already gravely wounded. Politically, however, I think they're onto something.

The American people are finally, genuinely alarmed about the pace and scale of government spending. The current national debt of $14 trillion isn't the magic number that flips some sort of switch in the public.

Win or lose on the debt-ceiling showdown, GOP strategists are betting that voters will reward them for taking an uncompromising stand on spending against a president who has increased the national debt faster than any of his predecessors. It's not 100 percent--but I'd say it's a pretty safe bet.

This is the worst possible time for the American people to start worrying about out-of-control federal spending. But it's good for the GOP.