The voters’ simple plea is to stop adding debt

Published 8:18 am Tuesday, September 28, 2010

OXFORD — Having written about this subject for more than 30 years, it’s a little scary to come out and say it, but here goes: It appears Americans might be awakening to the reality of the national debt.

The important folk in media — those with their own TV shows — might be seeing this, too. But so far, they’re skirting the precise point and coming up with all sorts of rationalizations about why non-party candidates are winning primaries and elections from coast-to-coast.

The most popular rationale, especially as it pertains to the South, is that the debt and deficit spending were never issues until America elected a black president.

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Sorry, but that just doesn’t explain why voters, even in diehard liberal districts, are voting in droves for candidates who make one simple promise: they’ll control spending.

In Mississippi, debt-motivated voters will decide the outcome in two of the congressional districts on Nov. 2.

In north Mississippi’s District 1, one-term incumbent Democrat Travis Childers is taking body blows from the national Republican organization as a big spender who votes “81 percent of the time” with uber-liberal Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In his campaign, Childers and Democratic organizers are depicting Alan Nunnelee, the Republican nominee, as being a lying tax-raiser while a leader in the Mississippi Senate.

There are too many independents in that race for any of them to emerge from the pack, but here’s the gist: District 1 will go to the candidate who does the best job of convincing voters the other guy is a spendthrift.

In District 4 along the Gulf Coast, Democrat Gene Taylor is a true commonsense conservative member of the House. Taylor’s voters have been loyal to him despite favoring Republican John McCain by 14 percentage points over Democrat Barack Obama two years ago.

But Republican Steven Palazzo is making inroads against Taylor by accusing him of one sin: being an incumbent. Palazzo says — guess what — he’ll cut spending.

District 3, a swath across central Mississippi, is not in play because Republican incumbent Gregg Harper is a highly vocal tightwad. “I never believed the way to get out of a hole was to dig a deeper hole” was his theme in voting against the $787 federal stimulus legislation.

District 2, composed mostly of Delta counties, is not in play because Democratic incumbent Bennie Thompson is tops in “constituent service,” which mainly consists of piping more and more giveaway programs to people already so poor and so deeply dependent on public dollars that emergence of a working private economy seems possible.

Now in defense of the Washington perspective on spending since World War II, members of Congress have a reason to be cynical. Yes, some of their constituents have fretted aloud about the government allocating more dollars than were coming in. Those pleas, however, were muted by louder appeals for. Saying “yes” to programs led to re-election; saying no led to unemployment.

In recent years, there’s been a perfect storm resulting in citizen shock being seen at polls today.

• A favorable economy and “peace dividend” gave President Bill Clinton the ability to project a budget surplus would occur after he left office. With that money, the debt might actually be reduced.

• A souring economy became even more sour after the terror attacks of 2001. That, plus two wars and a go along to get along posture, allowed Congress, under President George W. Bush, in a mere eight years to double the debt load each American carries.

• Congress under Obama, well-insulated from criticisms because Republicans who now “see the light” were such big spenders, has doubled the debt in less than two years and plans deficit spending for at least 10 years to come.

Observers who have for years pointed out that both Republicans and Democrats have ignored deficits have some reason to sense a bit of solace. If in November we see one of the broadest “throw out the bums — all of them” events in national history, there will be voices of cheer.

There are questions, however. One is whether “outsiders” can numerically prevail against a two-party, entrenched system of “insiders.” Another is whether this new public zeal for fiscal responsibility will last through excruciatingly hard times sure to come if Congress ever does, in fact, match allocations with income (as the Mississippi Legislature is required to do every year).

The analyzers will continue to analyze. The rationalizers will continue to rationalize. It’s what they do. At the core, however, what we’re seeing is a grassroots “stop the spending” movement. Lots of observers thought it would never come. Now the question is whether it’s real and will last.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail