Columns

Brundage ’15: When I say ‘fiscal responsibility,’ you think what?

By
Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

 

Lately, every time I hear the phrase “fiscal responsibility” my stomach turns over, and I picture things like Ann Coulter, a balanced budget amendment and Paul Ryan’s smug grin. This previously apolitical phrase has become entirely associated with economic conservatism and the GOP in my brain, even though I am both a liberal and an enthusiastic supporter of fiscal responsibility.

It could just be my perception of the political vocabulary, but I am fairly confident that conservatives are winning the battle for the term “fiscal responsibility.” President Obama tried to win the words, but we all know that attempt was a joke, and the Tea Party said it louder anyway. Setting aside my frustration that neither mainstream party candidate on this November’s ballot has a true commitment to fiscal responsibility backed by a shred of evidence from past performance, it is completely unfair for either Republicans or Democrats to claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility. Both have different ideas of the best means to the same end – a balanced budget – with liberals tending to endorse higher taxes on the wealthy and conservatives tending to support lower government expenditures. Neither approach is inherently more fiscally responsible than the other if both balance revenue and outlays.

I understand that because President Obama is the sitting president and has made unimpressive changes to the size of the yearly budget deficit, the opposition has some justification in running on a platform of fiscal responsibility. The underlying implication of such a platform, though, is that the opposition is not just President Obama, but all liberals and Democrats. 

Conservatives have already been fairly successful at painting a picture of liberals as wasteful spenders of our tax dollars and the ones to blame for the rising national debt, which is a dishonest accusation if we look to the past.

My fear is that conservatives and the Republican Party will successfully claim fiscal responsibility the way they claimed morality, personal responsibility and God.

Callings dibs on “fiscal responsibility” is, I imagine, a reaction to liberals’ hefty and costly promises to students, the poor, the elderly and such, unmatched by the taxes required to balance the federal budget. Still, using “fiscal responsibility” as an appealing term to sway voters is exactly the sort of misrepresentation of reality that brought the nation into such a fiscal mess in the first place.

Both parties want to appeal to the widest audience, so they are constantly scrambling for factions of the populace. Who gets to be seen as pro-education, pro-job creation or the party of new taxes? It is a childish game of winning an election without regard for the consequences on our national debt. It’s why Paul Ryan won’t tell the AARP that he wants to cut spending where it will hurt them, and it’s why Barack Obama wants to talk about all the benefits you’ll miss if Romney is president, instead of the reality of the tax hikes necessary to avoid trillion dollar yearly deficits.

Americans seem to get this now more than ever, but we still aren’t responding. We still want to make our political choices without recognizing that our collective economic decision-making based on colorful political advertisements amounts to a national deficit the way our eating habits based on shiny McDonald’s advertisements amount to a body fat increaase

Thinking about this election in terms of fiscal responsibility versus implied fiscal irresponsibility is exactly how we would have done it if we were voting the way we have been for the past decade. We are deciding our future on the basis of seven-second media sound bites, out-of-context candidate slips and yes, attractive slogans like “fiscal responsibility,” which creates an unfair dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats – responsible versus irresponsible.

Republicans correctly recognize that shiny promises and meaningless words are a problem with politics today, yet their attempt to call themselves the party of fiscal responsibility is a solution that perpetuates the fundamental problem with such horrific irony that Shakespeare himself couldn’t have written it better. 

Still, the party of personal responsibility and morality is accepting this behavior and vocabulary as something of an inevitability of our political culture, instead of accepting personal responsibility for their actions and recognizing the complete lack of morality in claiming this term for themselves. It is a gross oversimplification of the ideological debate our nation now faces, thus making it all the more difficult to arrive at a conclusion that the majority of Americans can support. That, my fellow voters, is anything but responsible. It is our duty to discuss these issues with more integrity.

 

 

Matt Brundage ’15 suggests that the Democrats claim “monetary responsibility” in case inflation becomes an issue again. He can be reached at matthew_brundage@brown.edu.