Let’s talk about deficit hysteria for a second.
Here’s a wonderful example from Crossroads GPS:
(Pause for a moment and remember that it’s someone’s job to make those things. Somebody found the perfect sad piano music and filmed those kids playing basketball.)
Anyway, one of the charges most frequently leveled against the president is that he’s dramatically increased government spending. It’s the central theme of the basketball ad and countless GOP stump speeches.
While it’s true that federal deficits are growing, the federal spending has grown more slowly under Obama than any other president in 30 years.
Here’s the data visualized differently.
The perception of the president as a runaway spender is exaggerated, to say the least. Federal spending growth was nearly six times greater under George W. Bush than it is today, even when the first federal stimulus is re-attributed to Barack Obama.
Federal spending is higher under Obama than it was under Bush and the national debt has grown more quickly under Obama because of revenue lost to the Great Recession, but there has been no Obama boom where government spending is concerned.
The relatively sudden outrage regarding deficits and debt isn’t a reaction to any crazed presidential spending spree. As Steve Kornaki from Salon writes, deficit hawksmanship is a time-tested political tool.
Voters have a demonstrated tendency to express concerns about deficits only when the economy is bad. This is why, for instance, the Democrats during the 1981/82 recession reaped a political windfall while railing against Ronald Reagan’s massive deficits, but gained zero traction on the issue when the economy improved in 1984 – even though deficits were even higher (and still soaring) then.
The lesson is that most voters don’t actually care about the deficit itself, or really understand what it is. But it’s a scary-sounding word that conjures thoughts of government bloat and reckless spending, which makes it an irresistible weapon for a recession-era opposition party.