Deficit Nostalgia

During the 1980s, Sen. Pat Moynihan famously accused the Republicans of creating the federal budget deficit on purpose in order to inhibit government growth. In his memoir The Triumph of Politics, David Stockman, Reagan’s budget director, said, somewhat equivocatingly, that this wasn’t true. “[N]ot six of the six hundred players in the game of fiscal governance in the spring and summer of 1981 would have willed this outcome,” he wrote. “Yet caught up in the powerful forces unleashed by the dangerous experiment of a few supply siders who had gotten the President’s good ear, they let it happen just the same.”

Okay, so maybe most of them didn’t create the deficit on purpose. But they didn’t mind it once it came. Do they miss it now?

Chatterbox believes they do. In his Washington Post column today, George Will bitches (with some Swiftian irony, but not nearly enough) about “the nightmare of surpluses, which seem to guarantee growth of government services without the irritation of increased taxation.” Will, with Moynihan, believes that Reagan enlarged the deficit on purpose (with the difference that Will seems to approve, while Moynihan did not). Now he’s moping not just about the elimination of the deficit but about prosperity in general: “The longer America’s surge of wealth-creation continues, the lower the public’s pain threshold becomes, and the higher the public’s expectations for government guaranteed against uncertainty and compulsion by events.”

Chatterbox thinks thinks nostalgie de la deficit is the wave of the future in Republican politics, and that when it’s put forward by politicians (as opposed to commentators) it will be irony-free. This, in turn, will create a unique opportunity for bipartisan action. Grover Norquist, the Republican activist, has a campaign to name everything that moves after Ronald Reagan. How about naming the budget deficit after Ronald Reagan?

–Timothy Noah