We were fighting two wars and had tax cuts at the same time. A very unusual confluence, and a really powerful way to accelerate debt. Usually wars are times of sacrifice, with rationing and high taxes, compulsory service. Even so we emerge from wars usually (if we win) with huge debts to pay off.
Why were we in these wars? It wasn't very clear. In the darkest moments of the Bush presidency I was thinking he should go to Iraq, because every rationale he offered for what we were doing was that it was good for Iraq. But that was American money he was spending. Shouldn't it be good for Americans? Isn't that what matters? We can wish Iraq well, but shouldn't we take care of ourselves first? What am I missing.
Reality: No matter who's in power, what we as a country spend money on should always be an issue. Whether we go into debt or not is moot. There will be times when we will go into debt. It's as natural as the ebb and flow of the tides.
If the decision is spending our grandchildren's money on blowing up Iraq, or making them healthier or better educated -- I don't think it's much of a choice -- do you? Yet the Republicans seem to spend freely to kill Iraqis and fight against investing in America. We build new infrastructure in Iraq, and then blow it up, but we won't build new infrastructure in the US, at all. This is lunacy. We are collectively out of our minds if we let this happen.
Meanwhile our competitors invest in the health and education of their grandchildren. The next generation of Americans won't thank us for not investing in their future, they'll be the menial labor of their generation -- they will curse us.
"Running a deficit" is just another way of saying "investing." The hype is that we have to balance our budgets at home, so the government should too. But that's not true -- most of us run deficits, esp when we're young. If you have a mortgage, you're "running a deficit." And it's a good idea. When you're young you haven't had the time to accumulate enough money to buy a house, so the financial system lets you buy it a little at a time. Really, there's nothing imprudent there. If you're young and you're against debt, and don't have any -- you probably had rich parents.
Student loans are also a good idea if it means you'll earn $120K instead of $30K per year. You can pay off the loan with part of the higher salary. If you don't invest, the only way to grow is by windfall -- and our windfall in America has run out. We don't have great natural resources, we're a resource-importer. That means unless we want to spiral downward, we must invest. And that's why we have deficits.
We grew up thinking it was our birthright to run everything and own everything. The truth is, that was a bubble that had a lot to do with geography, and our advantage is largely over. That's not any party's fault, much larger forces are at work. Now we have to think to keep going, and think very well. And at just this time, thinking is something it seems people don't want to do.
PS: As with deficits, there's nothing wrong with earmarks. If the government decides to spend money, either the executive branch or the legislative branch decides how to spend it. (Occasionally the judicial branch makes spending decisions too.) If it's the legislative branch deciding, that's an earmark. If it's not an earmark that just means an employee of one of the departments, likelly not even an elected official, is making the decision. To campaign against earmarks, as the Republicans are preparing to do, is to assume the people have no idea how government works, and that no one (i.e. the press) is going to clue them in.
PPS: Love this story about the newly-elected Republican from Maryland, who campaigned to repeal health care reform, pissed off that his health care (free with his new job) doesn't start for a month after he's sworn in. It's okay for the rest of us to pay for his health care, but if we want help with the insurance companies, that's too expensive! These Republicans are such greedy hypocritical and heartless assholes.