PITIFUL HELPLESS KNOW-NOTHINGS: Pitiful helpless know-nothings are us!


Part 1—King in charge: Is your country a pitiful helpless giant, the way Dick Nixon once said?

Well yes, it pretty much is! One example: As surveys are constantly showing, we the people don’t have a clue about the way the federal budget works.

We believe all kinds of crazy things. We’ve done so for many years.

Why are we the people so pitifully helplessly clueless? Consider what John King did at last Wednesday's GOP debate!

King was moderator for the debate. After a bunch of silly piddle, he kicked things off in the manner which follows. To watch these proceedings, click here:
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.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: 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.
Did Gilbert from Gilbert’s question make sense? In order to bring down the national debt, we will have to start running an annual surplus. That would take enormous changes. Is that what he meant?

At any rate, King quickly threw to Santorum. He blathered at great length from there:
SANTORUM (continuing directly): Thank you, Gilbert. I put together a specific plan that cuts $5 trillion over five years, that spends less money each year for the next four years that I'll be president of the United States. So it's not inflation-adjusted, it's not baseline-budgeting. We're actually going to shrink the actual size of the federal budget, and we're going to do so by dealing with the real problem.

And here's where I differentiate myself with everybody else, including, obviously, the president. I actually have experience on tackling the toughest problems that we have in this country, and that's the growth of entitlement spending.

Obviously, the first thing we need to do is repeal Obamacare. That's the one entitlement that we can get rid of.


And that's a couple trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years. But there's bigger issues.

When I was born, less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60 percent of the budget.

Some people have suggested defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It's now 17 percent. If you think defense spending is the problem, then you need a remedial math class to go back to.

Defense spending will not be cut under my administration, but we will go after all of the means-tested entitlement programs—Medicaid, food stamps, all of those programs—and do what we did with welfare.

We cut the welfare—we cut spending on welfare, froze it and then we block-granted it to the states and gave them the flexibility to run that program the way they saw fit with two provisos. Number one, there would be a time limit on welfare and a work requirement. We were going to say that poverty is not a disability, that these programs need to be transitional in nature. We need to do the same thing with Medicaid. We need to do the same thing with, with food stamps. All of the other means tests of entitlement programs.

And unlike the Paul Ryan plan—I see I'm out of time, but unlike the Paul Ryan plan, we also will deal with Medicare and Social Security, not ten years from now. But we need to start dealing with it now because our country is facing fiscal bankruptcy.
Santorum went on and on, describing his plan to “cut $5 trillion over five years.” For ourselves, we’ll come right out and admit it—we don’t understand that part of his answer!

Santorum said that he would cut $5 trillion over five years. Did he mean that spending in each of his first five budgets would be (roughly) $1 trillion lower than is currently projected?

Given the size of the annual budget, that would be an enormous change. Is that what Santorum meant?

From that starting point, Santorum went on and on, rattling off all kinds of points. Trust us! No one in the room, including Fidler, had any idea what the solon was talking about. But did he mean what he seemed to say? Did he mean that would cut projected spending in next year’s budget by (roughly) $1 trillion?

That would be an enormous change. Is that what Santorum meant?

Santorum gave a long, detailed reply to a somewhat murky question. Luckily, we had a professional journalist on hand! He was right up there with the candidates!

John King was in charge of this debate. Why do we live in a country where no one know squat about the budget? What makes us such pitiful helpless know-nothings?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at what King said. When we do, you’ll start getting your answer.

Tomorrow—part 2: What King said


  1. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch:
    We recently learned the Barack Obama should apologize to other countries if he hasn't done so, and he should not have apologized to other countries (if he ever did.)

  2. Reading Santorum's text, I see exactly what he's saying. It's insane, but I see what he's saying... Translated: "I want to dramatically cut federal spending on the poor, elderly, and infirm but maintain spending on our military. I will make the states deal with social security, medicare, etc. and just dole out the money in block grants. I will add means-testing and various other hoops for the poor and disadvantaged to constantly jump through to maintain any level of support."

    Absolutely terrible plan. Few if any states are in any sort of position to handle these programs. Cutting support for the poor and needy is just outright cruel and hugely economically damaging to the country. Adding means-testing is just the icing on the cake, that little bit of extra cruelty and hate.

    On top of all this, there is no problem with the federal deficit. So not only are his proposals counterproductive and awful, the very rationale for them is flawed as well.

    1. Ah, didn't come out right--I meant to say that he will add additional stipulations and oversight to the means-tested programs, not that he would "add means-testing." Sorry, need to proofread. Points still stand.

  3. As Bolo says, Santorum's plans are terrible. They also would still not cut $5 trillion over 5 years unless he completely did away with Medicare, Medicaid, most federal government activities, and radically slashed military spending. Oh, and raised taxes to Eisenhower-era levels.

    Not a single one of these things is going to happen if he were elected, which he won't be.

    It's necessary to say this till we're blue in the face, but: if we rescinded the Bush tax cuts and returned to Clinton era rates, that alone would nearly eliminate the federal budget deficit because it would bring in $3.7-4 trillion in revenues over 10 years.

    Morever, if the US then cut military spending by winding down the endless global wars, and implemented the Affordable Care Act fully, that would begin to lower the costs of medical care, especially once the state insurance pools were in place. We would not have a deficit, and if the economy were to begin growing, we might even have in...wait...wait...a surplus! Bill Clinton achieved one.

    What I simply do not understand is why high-profile Democrats keep refusing to remind people of this, and are now agitating to cut the social safety net and do the GOP's bidding. WHY? Are they that beholden to the billionaires and plutocrats who will do anything not to pay Clinton-era federal marginal tax rates?

    1. >>>What I simply do not understand is why high-profile Democrats keep refusing to remind people of this, and are now agitating to cut the social safety net and do the GOP's bidding. WHY?

      Obama has yet to meet a fight he wouldn't run away from, given any chance to do so. It sets a tone for the entire rest of the party -- it makes little sense for, say, Pelosi to take a forceful stand when Obama will not back her up, or will even actively undermine her. This same dynamic ends up defining the Democratic Party. Presidents affect things in many ways, not just through the legislation they support or oppose, but through the tone they set. Granted, the Democrats weren't exactly Rocky even before Obama, but Obama has taken their fecklessness to the extreme.

    2. "What I simply do not understand is why high-profile Democrats keep refusing to remind people of this, and are now agitating to cut the social safety net and do the GOP's bidding. WHY? Are they that beholden to the billionaires and plutocrats who will do anything not to pay Clinton-era federal marginal tax rates?"


      This has been another edition of "Simple Answers to Simple Questions."

  4. Arguing about what kind of budget the Republicans will propose is like arguing about haw many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    1. True, but calling out insanity when you see it is always worthwhile

  5. Santorum displays everything you would expect from a religious fanatic, except perhaps for a beard.

    The man is a turd.

  6. Rick Santorum was puzzled that some people thought he was weird for smuggling a 20-week old stillborn fetus out of the hospital to pass around the family dining table.
    There must be another word for it.

    1. I don't know whether gravymeister ever had to deal with the loss of a fetus. I do know first hand that there is a degree of grief. The Santorum family's method of dealing with this grief is by no means unheard of. In fact, I have read that some professionals recommend it.

    2. DinC.
      I have not lost any children or fetuses. I will concede that the loss of a child is the worst emotional experience a person can undergo.
      I won’t ask for a professional’s name. I assume you are referring to some kind of grief counselor.

      “Diamond said that 20 years ago, around the time that the Santorums suffered their loss, professionals encouraged their response.

      I would like to know if there are any child psychologists that recommend that children of tender ages be subjected to the Santorum’s version of grief counseling?

      "Upon their son's death, Rick and Karen Santorum opted not to bring his body to a funeral home. Instead, they bundled him in a blanket and drove him to Karen's parents' home in Pittsburgh. There, they spent several hours kissing and cuddling Gabriel with his three siblings, ages 6, 4 and 1 1/2. They took photos, sang lullabies in his ear and held a private Mass."

      "We recommend taking into account the ages of the other children and their maturity if you are going to expose them [to a corpse]," he said. "Others in the family need to have their own choices also [on] how to handle it.”

      I ask: Was Rick Santorum offering family grief counseling, or was he showing his kids, a captive audience, what an abortion would do to a viable fetus?

      "The issue came up again the following spring. Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, appeared on the Senate floor with oversize illustrations of fetuses in various stages of delivery. He described the process by which a physician 'brutally kills' a child “by thrusting a pair of scissors into the back of its skull and suctioning its brains out.” He asked that a 5-year-old girl be admitted to the visitors’ gallery, though Senate rules forbid children under 6. 'She is very interested in the subject,' Santorum said, explaining that the girl’s mother had been a candidate for a late-term abortion when doctors advised her during her pregnancy that the child was unlikely to survive.
      Sen. Barbara Boxer objected, saying it would be 'rather exploitive to have a child present in the gallery' during such a debate. Santorum relented, bemoaning Boxer’s objection as proof that 'we have coarsened the comity of this place.'

  7. I wonder at the accuracy of a claim considering the dinner table as the specific location of the area where the corpse was displayed , adored , and given comprehension . Considering it a dining room for purposes of emphasizing the insane combination of autopsy and nourishment may be a little unfair , if it is an exaggeration .
    The difficulty of maintaining an idea of the purpose in presenting a corpse , either as a stillborn or live but momentary visitor in this life , a brief moment before succumbing to fatal weaknesses as a family activity is fairly dense , but not unfathomable .

    1. This story went viral for a time, and was repeated in a number of sources
      I have no eyewitnesses.
      You be the judge.

      This is a guy who brought a dead fetus home in a jar to show his children, plunked the thing down on the dining room table. Try to imagine the salutary effect that had on the appetites of the Santorum family at the evening meal thereafter, images of dead babies floating in their little minds. I’m surprised he didn’t braise it and bake it and serve it up with a little catsup as an object lesson on cannibalism.

  8. Anybody got a problem with Santorum's 17 percent claim on Defense? Can this be right?

    1. According to the Office of Management and Budget's Table 3.1 in this 350+ page pdf, Rick Santorum's numbers are pretty close. You can quibble about whether Veteran's Affairs, the Department of Energy, NASA, and other expenditures should be seen as part of National Defense spending but they are excluded from that category in these OMB numbers.

      That said, Santorum was born in 1958 and, according to the chart on page 49 of the OMB document, frame 53 of the pdf, expenditures for National Defense accounted for 58.8% of federal outlays that year.

      The 2011 figures are given as estimates so I'll cite the 2010 number found on page 55 of the document, frame 59 of the pdf. For that year OMB says National Defense expenditures accounted for 20.1% of federal outlays.

      In 1958 National Defense expenditures were 10.2% of GDP and in 2010 4.8% of GDP. National Defense expenditures were down at 17.3% of federal outlays as late as 2002.

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    3. (I removed a previous comment which contained a math error. Fixed it here).

      As far as I can tell, he's roughly on target. However, the US of 2012 is not the US of 1958. We had about 2.5 million people in the armed forces in 1958 with a total national population of about 179 million, for a ratio of 1.4%. Today, we have 1.4 million people in the armed forces with a population of about 310 million, for a ratio of 0.45%.

      In other words, its not surprising that the military is a smaller total fraction of government spending today--it's a smaller fraction of our country. It's gone from 1.4% of the population to 0.45%, a decrease to roughly 1/3rd of the 1958 level. What's 1/3rd of 58.8%? 19.6%

      I know--simple analysis, probably missing a lot of other factors. But you'd think someone would at least bring this up on the national scale!

      Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States

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