How Sequestration and the Fiscal Cliff Went Missing in the 2012 Campaign


Glad we didn't have to talk about THAT! ||| Pete Souza,
Pete Souza,

Is there anything worse than the political and journalistic discourse we've been hearing about tomorrow's sequester? Yes–it's the political and journalistic discourse we didn't hear about crucial fiscal issues during the interminable 2012 presidential election.

Consider the three 90-minute debates between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, in which more than 50,000 words were spoken (for perspective, Obama's State of the Union address this year clocked in at just over 6,400). With a deadline looming just seven weeks after the election, how many times did the candidates or interlocutors mention the looming "fiscal cliff"?


OK, surely they mentioned the "debt ceiling," right?


In fact, the word fiscal did not once pass through any participant's lips: Not the president who in 2010 said "we're facing an untenable fiscal situation," not the standard-bearer for the alleged party of limited government, not the newly emboldened, fact-checktastic press. Even long-term fiscal buzzkill Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) did not utter the F-word once during his debate with the equally reticent Vice President Joe Biden.

Sequestration may be all the rage this month, but it got mentioned in precisely one exchange during the presidential debates. Here it is:

Honey I'm laughing ALL the time! ||| Pete Souza,
Pete Souza,

ROMNEY: […] We need to have as well a strong military. Our military is second to none in the world. We're blessed with terrific soldiers and extraordinary technology and intelligence. But the idea of a trillion dollars in cuts through sequestration and budget cuts to the military would change that. […]

Our Navy is older — excuse me — our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285. We're headed down to the — to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.

Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We've changed for the first time since FDR. We — since FDR we had the — we've always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we're changing to one conflict.

Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the president of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people. And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is the combination of the budget cuts that the president has as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my view, is — is — is making our future less certain and less secure. I won't do it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bob, I just need to comment on this. First of all, the sequester is not something that I proposed. It's something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen. The budget that we're talking about is not reducing our military spending. It's maintaining it.

These aren't the droids you're looking for. |||

So the press never asked one debate question about the sequester, Romney demagogued it (inaccurately) as a crippling hit to the military, and Obama lied about not proposing it (that is, if you believe the reporting of Bob Woodward), while predicting, wrongly, that it "will not happen." And the next day's headlines concerning this exchange had to do with Obama's follow-up joke: "you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets."

That pretty much sums up contemporary Washington, D.C.

In the July 2012 issue of Reason I pre-emptively declared the presidential campaign as "Stupid Season." After the election, I marveled at how "economic policy did not dominate the campaign season," and made this observation about the fiscal cliff:

Although this deadline of doom went all but unmentioned during the general election, it is the public policy issue going forward. Two days after the election, a banner headline on the front page of The New York Times proclaimed, "Back to Work: Obama Greeted by Looming Fiscal Crisis." It would have been nice if the candidates (or the press) had talked about this impending disaster during the previous two years.

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  1. I was amazed at how the panic that came last time–credit downgrades, major fiscal disaster looming–absolutely vanished from the conversation once the election got into full swing.

    That’s beyond reprehensible, since this isn’t some minor issue. It’s the issue. The media is worse than useless as a whole, present company excepted.

    1. Binders Full of Women, Birth Control, War on Women. These were the issues the press chose to take on, when they weren’t making everything into some stupid fucking meme.

      1. Don’t forget the War on Big Bird.

        1. And the War Against Drinking Water.

    2. You can certainly blame Romney for not being aggressive enough about those issues. He should have been.

      But suppose he had done the right thing and gone after Obama? The media would have portrayed him as a nut scare monger. We will never know how well that would have stuck. But it is pretty clear the fear of being portrayed that way is why Romney made the tactical decision not to be more aggressive.

      The media was out to protect Obama and it did that by making sure no subject that was embarrassing to Obama ever got mentioned. So the election was about big bird and birth control.

      1. I said at the time that I thought Romney should have refused to discuss anything but the economy, saying that he’d focus his administration almost entirely on getting our fiscal mess straightened out.

        That said, the media did everything it could to keep the conversation off of economics.

        1. For Welch to rip Ryan for not mentioning the “f-word” in the VP debate is way off the mark. The moderator intentionally steered the questions toward areas other than the budget and fiscal situation because that was Ryan’s strength.

        2. “the media did everything it could to keep the conversation off of economics.”

          Yet we will still hear how it’s the evil right-wingers who are trying to distract the voters from economic issues by dealing with cultural issues – even though it’s Obama and his fluffers who distracted from the economy with his talk of birth control and gun control, the War on Women, cuts to Planned Parenthood’s (non-existent) breast exams), etc.

          1. BO never breathed a word about gun control before the election.

      2. You can certainly blame Romney for not being aggressive enough about those issues. He should have been.

        Jesus, will you people give up this canard? The limited govt side of that issue is an electoral loser. MR would have lost bigger if he pushed that line. He WON among people who thought the economy were the biggest issue.

        1. Since when is “limited government” the same as “economy and debt”?

          1. We’re talking fiscal stuff, not economic stuff. Related, but not the same.

            The ltd gov side is less spending. Not popular.

        2. He didn’t pound the message that last year’s fiscal mess gave him every opportunity to win votes on. If he lost doing that, fine, but he didn’t do it. And when he did do it, he would back away if people reacted badly.

          One thing that can work is telling people bad news, whether they want to hear it or not, then tell them you know how to fix it. He did that to some extent, but not consistently and not without allowing his message to be refocused on whatever the opposition was throwing at him.

      3. Well, it didn’t help that Romney has balls the size of amoebas and despite choosing Ryan decided to first and foremost stress how he refused to actually make the choices that would keep us from being downgraded again and take on Social Security and Medicare.

        As it was, Romney went down the worst way possible- not swinging, but with a glass jaw.

  2. talevizos
    I’ll bet anything that this is a sign of mental deterioration on Woodward’s part — early onset something or other. The poor guy, he’s not going to exit gracefully.

    You have to be cray-cray to oppose Obama!

    1. It’s weird how he became a racist overnight like that.

      1. Actually put that on the wrong thread, but it still works.

        Here’s the link.

    2. What’s funny is that some Obamaniacs think that him getting reelected proves that he’s a great president. Forgetting, of course, that that other awful president, George W. Bush, was reelected. Election results and quality do not correlate.

      Obama is just about the worst president we could have right now. Good work, America!

      1. Nixon won re-election in a 49 state landslide. Obama has his supporters in a vice. He managed to make supporting him a badge of personal worth, a fashion statement. Now his supporters can’t stop supporting him without questioning their own personal worth and superiority.

        It is doubly clever because the worse he fucks up, the harder the reckoning his supporters will face once they admit the truth and thus the less likely they are to do so.

      2. ROMNEY WOULD HAVE DONE IT TOO!!!! [/tReason]

        1. Cytotoxic? Are you out there? See above for the actual definition of “butthurt.”

        2. Dude, you need to let go. I’d rather have Romney in office than Obama–most of us would–but I don’t know that he’d have done much to seriously rein in government, either. We need a true fiscal rebel, not someone who is more statist than not himself.

          1. “I’d rather have Romney in office than Obama–most of us would–but I don’t know that he’d have done much to seriously rein in government, either…”

            This is #1 on my list of most annoying things to a libertarian. Someone saying “Yeah, I know my guy’s terrible but at least he isnt’t the other guy.”

            If you know he’s not better, why would you rather have him? Stop being part of the problem.

            1. I voted for Gary Johnson, so I don’t see how I’m being part of the problem, thanks.

              1. My apologies. I meant my post to be about people who generally make that statement, not you.

                Through my years of lurking, and occaisional posting, I was pretty sure you’d said you had voted for Gary Johnson.


    3. It’s all bee downhill for poor Bob since he stopped looking like Robert Redford.

    4. I imagine most of the hardcore Obama supporters, the ones that aren’t young and “hip”, are a lot like my neighbor: Drives a early 2000’s Subaru, lots of bumper stickers (some of which are now contradictory), foams at the mouth if you mention fox news or even the word fox or anything else that MSNBC is currently hating on, hasn’t actually worked in 10 years since he retired from teaching middle school and spends all day making non-sensical comments on our local news paper’s website.

  3. Obama’s “joke” is stupid, point-missing, and irrelevant — exactly what I’d expect from him when he doesn’t have a teleprompter.

    Ships are still the basis of naval operations and MR said “any time since 1917”, not 1917. Meaning 1927, 1937, 1947, 1957, 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997, 2007 etc. Indeed he’s saying we have the SAME number of ships as in 1917.

    1. But it was witty and got a lot of laughs from people who don’t know history.

    2. Poor little feller. The teleprompter is such a hassle to pack around. Not to mention he has to read it and stuff.

  4. Shit pisses me off. We even had some fat cat executive tell us that “sequestration” mean that instead of a HUGE pile of defense dollars to compete for, there would be an ever so slightly smaller HUGE pile of defense dollars to compete for. Then yesterday I get a letter saying that we’ve done such a good job that the two year long pay freeze will continue thanks to fears related to “sequestration.”

  5. Well, good news about the sequester. We don’t need it at all. Everything is really just rosy.…..itics.html

  6. A Haiku to honor our dear leader:

    Budgets, one so far
    Golf, more than one hundred rounds
    Priorities, What?

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