Would you vote for Joe?

By Steve Brawner

Would the following campaign ads be effective with you? I’m really asking.

In all of them, the congressional candidate – call him “Joe” – faces the camera before an unadorned white background. There’s no stirring music, no slow-motion photography, no phony interactions with average Americans, and no rehearsed kitchen table scenes with the family. No narrator describes his opponents ominously.

In a calm voice, Joe describes a serious, ongoing national challenge. Let’s say it’s the national debt. He says the country is $17.5 trillion in the hole – equal to well over $50,000 for every American. He says we’re willfully passing on this debt to our children, and it’s time to be bigger than this.

Then he says you’ll have a different choice this time. He won’t promise what he can’t deliver. If you elect him, he will go to Washington and make hard choices. He’ll also tell you what those choices are beforehand.

That’s all Joe can squeeze into 30 seconds.

In another ad, he tells you he’ll treat the nation’s finances like he would treat his own if they weren’t adding up. Years ago when he was broke, he had to reduce spending on everything. If he’s elected to Congress, everything will be on the table, including popular programs like Social Security, Medicare and the military. Those three, plus interest on the debt, make up three-fifths of the budget, so they can’t just be ignored. “We’re past the point of just cutting waste,” he says.

Has he lost you yet, or will you still give him a chance?

In another ad, Joe says the government is awash in so much red ink, and it’s made so many promises it can’t get out of, that the budget can’t be balanced without more revenues. The American people have made it clear they’ll only cut so far, and it’s not enough to balance the budget. He won’t vote to raise tax rates, but he will support cleaning up the tax code. He’ll go after fat-cat loopholes first, but he also favors changing other deductions with widespread support. Those would include the mortgage interest deduction, which he says encourages homebuyers to go into too much debt the way it’s structured now. When the budget is balanced and the national debt is being paid down, he’ll start voting to cut taxes.

In both ads, he says he’ll listen to your concerns and be open to compromise. But you can trust that he will never pander to you, and he won’t vote to put our children in ever deeper debt. “Americans will pay our own way from now on,” he says.

Joe runs one more ad pledging not to run a single negative commercial, and if outside interest groups do so in his favor, he’ll denounce them. You’ll elect him for the right reasons, or he’ll just have to lose. His Bible taught him not to bear false witness against his neighbor, and his mama taught him that if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.

Joe has offered specific proposals for addressing a compelling national problem. You probably won’t agree with all of them, and some may even offend you.

But would you prefer a candidate who tells you nothing, offers “solutions” that don’t solve anything, and explains every problem by blaming the other party? The political professionals who produce most of today’s ads are certain you would.

Ross Perot campaigned for president sort of like what I’ve described using 30-minute ads, not just 30-second ones. In 1992, he used charts to lay out the country’s financial situation. Back then, the debt was $4 trillion – less than a fourth what it is now. He won 19 percent of the vote as a third party candidate.

But he was a billionaire. If Joe’s not rich, I’m not certain he could even raise the money to get on the air.

If he could, could you vote for Joe?

2 thoughts on “Would you vote for Joe?

  1. A question: what if these radical debt-reducing cuts you crave actually cause the economy to freefall? The federal government is no longer a net producer of jobs (thanks to the austerity policies put into place by the House) but it continues to be a dominant consumer of output. Remove this consumer and you cause a significant slowdown. Salaries vanish. Stocks tank. And, most important for the sake of your policy preference, so does revenue. The deficit your original cuts hoped to erase now climbs again.

    Federal austerity, especially if imposed in a time of anemic growth, will not solve the long-term deficit problem, and it will cause untold human misery in the process of your finding out. We need only look to the examples of Spain and Greece to learn this lesson. We don’t need to try it out here.

  2. Hi, Jeff. Thanks for reading and for writing. You make a lot of good points. I agree that the deficit requires a soft landing and that we have to move toward balance over the course of a few years. Too much austerity would land us in a recession, which would be counterproductive.

    However, when do we actually get around to balancing the budget? When we have another false prosperity like the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s? If you will look at the Congressional Budget Office’s predictions, we never get close to balancing the budget during the next few years and in fact will start increasing the annual deficit back to the $1 trillion levels. I encourage you to look at the growth of the national debt throughout the nation’s history at http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current. Since the nation’s founding, the debt has just grown and grown and grown. Under every realistic potential scenario, it will continue to do so.

    I agree: Austerity is a bad idea. But what is the moral justification for passing on this debt to our children?

    May I invite you to subscribe to my blog? It’s free, of course, and you would receive my column in your inbox. Regardless, please continue to write whether you agree or disagree. I have two main political beliefs. One is that we can’t keep adding to the debt forever. The other is that, on most things, I could be wrong.

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