Time to go for broke on debt

Earlier this year when the “budget crisis” was just starting to boil over and a “government shutdown” loomed, I said in this space something like, “Let it happen.” As a Republican pollster, I was not convinced that voters would fault Republicans and mete out punishment in the polls just because we might have caused a shutdown, which we didn’t, in the end. I still feel the same way about the approaching “debt-ceiling crisis.” Let it happen.

Know for certain that I am speaking of all this as a pollster and analyst of voter opinions. I’m not an economist and concede that there might be decent financial arguments for raising the debt limit. I just don’t know. Economics is not my area.

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I’m making a political judgment and believe there might be, in fact, good reasons to risk the alleged political chaos that some say will ensue from a failure to raise the ceiling. 

As I argued about the shutdown, many voters just don’t follow these issues that closely. More people know more about the details of the Casey Anthony trial than they know about potential impacts of a failure to raise the debt ceiling.

So the notion that there will be a sudden, vicious, broad-based electoral response to Republican intransigence is nonsense. Even the small minority of voters that is following the issue might be impressed, at last, that the Republicans finally showed the backbone to say no, forcing the country to be humbled by the recession the same way that most other big companies, small businesses, organizations, state and local governments and even families have been humbled by the past few years. Time for a little fair and balanced impact, they might mutter.

Voters just don’t panic like the timid souls on Capitol Hill. And if they do get nervous angst, it’s not going to be about this mess. 

There are all sorts of reasons this just won’t create chaos in the polls. For one thing, the whole business is too abstract. If an airliner crashed into the Potomac, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, the electorate could grasp that there was a tragedy. But questions about the full faith and credit of the nation aren’t so gripping. For one thing, the numbers here are too large. The Chicken Little brigade would be better served to talk about the debt per family or household to make the whole affair more accessible to ordinary folk, but it’s too late to scale this down from a trillionaire affair. The story is remote, too. Unless you live inside the Beltway or on Wall Street, this might as well be like someone in Middle America pondering the London gold fix or the price of a barrel of West Texas crude. 

The intelligentsia knows it’s crucial, but everyman doesn’t see any local relevance. 

And the local angle is what matters when it comes to news impact. Skillful reporters could go out and gin up some local impact if the government tanks, but, again, it’s too late, and who has the staff resources anyway to figure it all out? Those stories are not going to get written.

So just pooh-pooh the doomsayers who claim that Republican obstructionism to bigger debt will torpedo the party’s image when it comes to polling and electoral appeal of our candidates. If we don’t look guilty, it’s the big spenders who will ultimately take the big fall. 

Look at this as one big Jubilee Year to cancel out Republican responsibility for much of the overspending that created this mess. Let the Democrats inherit the whole thing. Those who know will give us kudos. Those who don’t won’t care anyway. So go for broke. And pardon the pun.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.