Wisdom demands that we not expect too much from political candidate advertising. "Mis-leading" seems almost complimentary for most of them.
But, once in awhile an advertising attack campaign just simply is so ridiculous that even the cynical among us must complain.
Thus, we enjoy the spectacle of advertisements being run in Florida against Sen. Rick Santorum by the Super PAC funded by Mitt Romney supporters. 'Enjoy" because almost no other ads this season achieve the level of irony and cognitive dissonance of these spots.
Romney's Super PAC ad intones, "Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling five times, increasing spending and debt by $3 trillion."
As a factual matter, voting to raise the federal debt ceiling has nothing to do with increasing spending. It is merely allowing the government to pay the debt it has already run up and owes to millions of creditors. Increasing the ceiling has nothing to do with increasing the debt. The debt is created by the mis-match between revenues and spending outlays. One could increase the debt ceiling by $10 trillion, but if Congress didn't authorize policies increasing deficits in future years by that $10 trillion, it would be a debt ceiling without real meaning. Paying your already-incurred debt cannot increase potential debt you might run up in the future.
You might say, "that's kind of a budget geek observation." Pleading guilty.
But look at the source. Of all the candidates for the Republican nomination for president, no one knows the private sector, business, uses of debt, and the difference between the national debt ceiling and future spending better than Romney. He worked in some of the most rarefied financial atmospheres in the world. He used debt, all of which he told his creditors would be paid back, in literally scores of transactions in his private equity days.
Yet, he allows his supporters to cynically attack Santorum for voting to allow the government to pay its bills.
Does Romney know better. Of course. Can he respond innocently, "Oh, well you know that I cannot have anything to do with that Super PAC. It is completely independent and my campaign never coordinates or contacts them."
If he so responds, Romney will be taking the mealy-mouthed way out.
Why not just simply say, "take that ad off the air. I know the difference between the national debt ceiling and future spending. And, as President, I intend to guarantee that the debt of the United States will paid in full and on time, no matter what political pressures are brought upon me.
One hopes that in the upcoming South Carolina debate, the moderators asks the erstwhile Governor of Massachusetts, "Under what circumstances would you refuse to ask Congress to raise the national debt ceiling?" And perhaps a follow up: "As a very sophisticated investor who has used debt to buy scores of businesses, can you say that you don't know what would happen if the United States failed to pay it sovereign debt in full and on time?"
Indeed, every candidate for the presidency should answer that question.
The global investment community would listen to the answer very carefully.