THE BLOG
01/07/2013 02:47 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2013

An Open Letter to President Obama on the Debt Ceiling

Dear Mr. President:

We are all rooting for you to keep moving the economy forward. You've been recently turning up the heat on Congress, by making more campaign-style events with real people. Using the "Bully Pulpit' of the presidency to get your message out. Trouble is, your message could be a lot simpler, clearer, and to the point. The coming fight over the debt ceiling looks like a giant distraction the other side will use to keep you from moving forward on many other important things. Their arguments begin and end with the deficit, describing it as if it is a looming apocalypse, and therefore we must drop everything and cut entitlements to stave off the end of America as we know it. So with that in mind, a few humble suggestions.

#1. Keep Explaining Where the Deficit Comes From. You have the truth on your side here in easy, explainable, and indisputable facts. But you have to keep saying it over and over to counter years of the opposite argument holding sway.

Remind us that the budget was balanced as recently as 2001, and what changed was not the number of people on welfare, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or even Social Security. What changed was two wars plus tax cuts. There are great, easy to read charts that you should have as your back drop every single time you speak. This leads to suggestion #2.

#2. Stop Letting the Other Side Define Our Problem As A Spending Problem that Comes From Entitlement Spending. Most Americans have a gut reaction to the term "entitlement." We are a nation of immigrants who did good, and it is easy to appeal to the notion that if we just stopped giving "undeserving people" so much money, we would have a balanced budget. This argument is now so firmly implanted in the national brain that it will take continued effort to combat it, but it is worth the effort. This leads to suggestion #3.

#3: Defend Deficit Spending. You have almost all of the world's best economists on your side. Stop conceding this argument, stop agreeing that the deficit is the biggest problem we have, and that you just have a different way to tackle it.

Most people think of the economics of a nation the way they think about their household budgets: This is completely natural and understandable. The other side exploits this, and their arguments seem to make sense. After all, what would happen in my house if we tried deficit spending? Never mind that practically every household in America uses deficit spending in the form of credit cards; deficits seem wrong and bad.

But deficit spending for nations is just another tool used to keep an economy going. The other side goes so far as to call deficits immoral, because they are supposedly burdening our grandchildren with debt. But that's not the way deficit spending works. Especially when coming out of a terrible recession, deficits are temporary tools. They are meant to keep the economy growing until the economy itself gets better, leading to increased demand, which leads to increased hiring.

For example, the deficits that were run up under the Reagan and first Bush administrations did not bankrupt the country. Eventually, they were cured by growth, and raising revenues (tax increases). They were not permanent burdens on America's grandchildren. And these deficits won't be, either, especially if the government uses its deficit spending to put Americans back to work doing necessary things that cannot be outsourced to India by corporations looking to squeeze the last penny of profit from their corporate budgets.

#4. Please Repeat These Arguments Over And Over. I know that probably bores you. But I don't care. People need to hear this over and over, to counter what the other side has been saying over and over and over yet again. We are now a short attention-span nation. You don't have to argue on the other side's terms if you don't want to, but it requires sustained effort to keep moving the message ball slowly down the court. Polls just show what people think is true at a particular snapshot in time; leadership is persuading people to think about things in a new way.

There's a lot riding on this fight. We will have your back, but you have to keep it simple, not because we are stupid, but because we are busy, and the arguments of the other side have been burned into the national consciousness like a McDonald's catch phrase. Trust me, if you will lead on this, future historians will be Lovin' It.

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