Is there anything worse than
journalistic discourse we’ve been hearing about tomorrow’s
Yes–it’s the political and journalistic discourse we
didn’t hear about crucial fiscal issues during the
interminable 2012 presidential election.
three 90-minute debates between President Barack Obama and
Republican nominee Mitt Romney, in which more than 50,000 words
were spoken (for perspective,
Obama’s State of the Union address this year clocked in at just
over 6,400). With a deadline looming just seven weeks after the
election, how many times did the candidates or interlocutors
mention the looming “fiscal cliff”?
OK, surely they mentioned the “debt ceiling,” right?
In fact, the word fiscal did not once pass through any
participant’s lips: Not the president who in 2010 said “we’re
facing an untenable fiscal situation,” not the standard-bearer
for the alleged party of limited government, not the newly
press. Even long-term fiscal buzzkill
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) did not utter the F-word once
debate with the equally reticent Vice President Joe Biden.
Sequestration may be all the rage this month, but it got
mentioned in precisely one exchange during the presidential
Here it is:
ROMNEY: [...] We need
to have as well a strong military. Our military is second to none
in the world. We’re blessed with terrific soldiers and
extraordinary technology and intelligence. But the idea of a
trillion dollars in cuts through sequestration and budget cuts to
the military would change that. [...]
Our Navy is older — excuse me — our Navy is smaller now than any
time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out
their mission. We’re now down to 285. We’re headed down to the — to
the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That’s
unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that
are required by our Navy.
Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was
founded in 1947. We’ve changed for the first time since FDR. We —
since FDR we had the — we’ve always had the strategy of saying we
could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we’re changing to one
Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the
president of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of
the American people. And I will not cut our military budget by a
trillion dollars, which is the combination of the budget cuts that
the president has as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my
view, is — is — is making our future less certain and less secure.
I won’t do it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: ;Bob, I just need to
comment on this. First of all, the sequester is not something that
I proposed. It’s something that Congress has proposed. It will not
happen. The budget that we’re talking about is not reducing our
military spending. It’s maintaining it.
So the press never asked one debate
question about the sequester, Romney demagogued it (inaccurately)
as a crippling hit to the military, and Obama lied about not
proposing it (that is, if you believe
the reporting of Bob Woodward), while predicting, wrongly, that
it “will not happen.” And the next day’s headlines concerning this
exchange had to do with Obama’s follow-up joke: “you mentioned the
Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in
1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”
That pretty much sums up contemporary Washington, D.C.
In the July 2012 issue of Reason I pre-emptively
declared the presidential campaign as “Stupid
Season.” After the election, I marveled
at how “economic policy did not dominate the campaign season,” and
made this observation about the fiscal cliff:
Although this deadline of doom went all but unmentioned during
the general election, it is ;the ;public policy
issue going forward. Two days after the election, a banner headline
on the front page of ;The New York
Times ;proclaimed, “Back to Work: Obama Greeted by Looming
Fiscal Crisis.” It would have been nice if the candidates (or the
press) had talked about this impending disaster during the previous
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