Fox News host Bill O'Reilly celebrated the release of the White House budget by demonstrating on last night's program that there are a lot of things doesn't understand. Or at least pretends not to understand.
He started by making the same point many others in the press have seized on: Obama promised to cut the deficit in half in his first term, and he will fall short of that goal.
O'Reilly played a clip of his Fox colleague Chris Wallace putting this to White House chief of staff Jack Lew:
WALLACE: The president isn't close to keeping his promise to cut the deficit in half.
LEW: The plan that the president is going to be sending to Congress tomorrow will reduce our deficit to the point that over the period covered by this budget, the deficit as a percentage of GDP will be less than 3 percent, which means that we will stop having new spending adding to the deficit.
That is not that difficult to understand. Expressing the deficit as a share of the economy is a pretty conventional, as is paying attention to the budget deficit apart from interest payments, which is known as the primary deficit. But not to O'Reilly, who gleefully spluttered:
"What? What? With all due respect to Mr. Lew, I have no blanking idea what he just said. I have no clue."
He continued to be clueless throughout that interview, and in a subsequent discussion with Brit Hume.
But once upon a time, Bill O'Reilly did, in fact, understand this budget mumbo-jumbo. Here's O'Reilly speaking to Bush adviser Karl Rove (8/4/08):
ROVE: Yes. Well, look, first of all, let's--one point. I agree with you, over the long haul, big debts are difficult and dangerous. But let's also remember that we are--that what you need to do is look at it in terms of the entire economy. Our deficit this year, which is big, will be 3.3 percent of GDP.
O'REILLY: OK, I understand that, but the dollar is nowhere. And now there's less tax revenue because people aren't driving as much. And everybody's screaming. It's got to get under control.
So what's the difference? Simple: When George W. Bush was president, there was a need on the right to rebut arguments about the increasing budget deficit. Now some of the same people are really concerned about deficits. Bill O'Reilly is so concerned he's forgotten what he used to know.