Part 2—Just like the other reports: At CNN, they like to make us viewers feel that we’re important too!
For that reason, John King didn’t ask the opening question at last Wednesday’s Republican debate. He gave that honor to Gilbert Fidler of Gilbert, Arizona.
How wonderfully democratic! A highly-paid professional journalist deferred to one of us rubes! Following King’s instructions, Fidler told us who he was. He then proceeded to pop the first question of this last GOP debate:
KING (2/22/12): Gentlemen, it's good to see you again. Let's get right started on the important issues with a question from our audience. Sir, please tell us who you are and state your question.Fidler advanced a somewhat murky question. King asked Santorum to answer.
FIDLER: My name is Gilbert Fidler from Gilbert, Arizona, and I'd like to ask this question to all the candidates if I could.
Since the first time in 65 years our national debt exceeds our gross national product, what are you going to do to bring down the debt?
KING: Thank you, sir. Senator Santorum, let's begin with you.
What made Fidler’s question seem a bit murky? He wanted to know what the hopefuls would do to bring down the national debt. To do this, we will have to start running an annual surplus. Since we’re currently running annual deficits of well over $1 trillion, this will be extremely hard to do.
How hard would it be to “bring down the debt?” One example may offer some context: The proposal which emerged from the Bowles-Simpson commission wasn’t designed to “bring down the debt.” It would have reduced the amount of additional debt accrued in the next ten years. But even under its ballyhooed provisions, the national debt would have continued to grow.
Whatever! When journalists defer to us the people, confusion may ensue. Santorum proceeded to give a long, detailed, rambling apparent response, in which he seemed to say that he would cut $5 trillion in federal spending over the next five years. Or did he mean that he would cut $5 trillion from projected annual deficits?
We don’t have the slightest idea. And John King didn’t ask.
Yesterday, we showed you Santorum’s rambling statement—a statement he offered in response to a somewhat murky question (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/28/12). We said we’d show you how King reacted to Santorum’s rambling “answer.”
In our view, King should have stepped in to help at this point. For decades, national surveys have made it clear—we the people are deeply confused about federal budget issues. We believe all kinds of crazy shit, often with a lot of help from trained professional dissemblers. We rarely have any real idea what we are talking about.
To amend some famous language from Nixon, we tend to be pitiful helpless know-nothings concerning the federal budget!
In a rational world, we’d get a lot of intellectual guidance from our trained professional journalists. But we don’t live in that sort of world, and King provided very little guidance at this debate. Before we look at what he said in response to Santorum’s rambling claims, let’s get clear on how strange it was to hear Santorum say that he has “put together a specific plan that cuts $5 trillion over five years, that spends less money each year for the next four years.”
Santorum’s answer may have sounded good to Fidler. To our ear, this answer was a bit unclear—and it sounded highly implausible. Consider a news report which appeared in Friday’s Washington Post, a news report which amplified the newspaper’s prior reporting.
Lori Montgomery wrote the report; it appeared on page A6. If Fidler is concerned about deficits and debt, its headline and its opening paragraphs may not seem reassuring:
MONTGOMERY (2/24/12): Report: Debt will swell under top GOP hopefuls’ tax plansSay what? Fidler asked the candidates what they were “going to do to bring down the [national] debt.” But uh-oh! According to this new report, the national debt would grow by about $4.5 trillion under Santorum’s policies! That certainly wasn’t the way it sounded as Santorum gave his rambling reply.
The national debt would balloon under tax policies championed by three of the four major Republican candidates for president, according to an independent analysis of tax and spending proposals so far offered by the campaigns.
According to the report released Thursday by U.S. Budget Watch, a project of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former House speaker Newt Gingrich would do the most damage to the nation's finances, offering tax and spending policies likely to require trillions of dollars in fresh borrowing.
Both men have proposed to sharply cut taxes but have not identified spending cuts sufficient to make up for the lost cash, the report said. By 2021, the debt would rise by about $4.5 trillion under Santorum's policies and by about $7 trillion under Gingrich's plan, pushing the portion of the debt held by outside investors to well over 100 percent of the overall economy, the study said.
Let’s be fair! Montgomery’s report appeared two days after this final debate. As John King threw to Gilbert Fidler, the study on which Montgomery reported hadn’t yet been released. But people! Similar analyses had already appeared in the national press, and John King surely knew this. Example: On January 30, the Washington Post editorial board discussed this same situation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/2/12):
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (1/30/12): The Republican presidential candidates claim to abhor debt, yet propose tax cuts that would add trillions more.Please note: According to this earlier study, Santorum’s proposals would add $900 billion to the deficit in 2015 alone, even after you allow for extending all the Bush tax cuts!
The case for continuing the George W. Bush tax cuts, at a cost of $3.7 trillion over 10 years (including interest), is shaky enough. The cuts for the wealthy alone, which President Obama would end, would cost with interest about $1 trillion over the next decade. But the GOP candidates want to continue all those cuts—and add many more, the vast bulk of which would again go to the wealthiest taxpayers.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney proposes additional cuts that would drain $180 billion from the treasury in 2015 alone, according to calculations by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. The nonpartisan center has not calculated the 10-year cost of the plan. But merely multiplying by 10 illustrates that Romney is talking trillions.
And Mr. Romney's is the most modest of the GOP proposals. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich's plan would cost an astonishing $850 billion in 2015 on top of the Bush tax cuts. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum's would cost $900 billion in 2015 alone.
This is the journalistic framework which existed at the time of last Wednesday’s debate. King threw to Fidler for the first question—and Fidler asked about “bringing down the debt.” In a rational world, John King would have swung into action after Santorum’s rambling reply. He would have imposed some clarity on the unfolding pseudo-discussion. He would have asked Santorum to explain the analyses which were already on the public record.
You can’t expect the average rube to understand such matters. In our society, we have trained professional journalists to provide such clarification! And in the realm of cable news, such professionals get paid in seven figures! Surely, these giants work long and hard to justify such pay!
How did King respond to Santorum? Don’t worry, we’ll show you—in time. But let us leave you with this for today:
When it comes to the federal budget, we the people are pitiful helpless know-nothings. It has been that way for a very long time—and our paid professional “journalists” rarely provide any help.
Tomorrow—part 3: The vastness of Barbaro’s clowning