Rhetoric to Reality Ratio High

03/14/2012 05:36 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2012
  • Jared Bernstein Fmr. Obama administration economist; CNBC and MSNBC contributor

Often politicians pack so many misleading strains into a sentence that I step back in awe, almost impressed by the linguistic gymnastics.

In that regard, and speaking exclusively in policy terms, I found this framing by Gov. Romney to be deeply troubling, though potentially effective.

"The test is pretty simple. Is the program so critical, it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" Romney said of federal programs. "And on that basis of course you get rid of Obamacare, that's the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I'd eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities."

Let's unpack this. First, there's the reference to the feared other, China. This should be considered in the context of this type of analysis, particularly the graph showing the positive correlation between altruism (WITT) and relatedness. It's a classic, divisive YOYO (you're on your own) framing... oh, and I should mention that China holds 10% of our sovereign debt.

Then there's the signal around borrowing -- always bad! Except it's not by a long shot. I don't suppose any politician would defend it, but substantively, government borrowing is an essential tool for offsetting demand contractions or supporting investments with long-term returns. The problem is not budget deficits -- it's structural budget deficits, the one's that keep growing even when the private sector is back up and running. And in this regard, Gov. Romney's fiscal policy is itself implicated.

Then there's the slap at the inefficiency of government programs. But "Obamacare" isn't close to being fully implemented yet -- states are now setting up the health care exchanges at the core of the law. So we really don't know how well it will work. What we do know is that the path to fiscal reform must incorporate a new approach to financing and delivering public and private health care (remember, cost pressures are worse in the private sector).

Though conservatives refer to its implementation as somehow optional, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land! I don't know how well it will work and neither does Gov. Romney (though his similar plan in MA is working pretty well). If it fails to meet its goals of coverage and cost containment, we'll need to get under the hood and try to fix it. Or try something else. But tearing it down before it's up makes no sense

Oh, and as a colleague pointed out, the ACA is paid for and doesn't require borrowing (h/t, PVW).

Then there's the usual signaling re Planned Parenthood, the National Endowments (I'm not going to defend Amtrak -- though as a former VP Biden employee I should -- there's a solid rationale for the service which I'll try to visit in a forthcoming post).

Get rid of "the other!" -- don't borrow! -- fear the Chinese dragon! -- take down Obamacare! The rhetoric to substance ratio in there is disturbingly high.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.