But today’s Republicans just aren’t into rationality. They claim to care deeply about deficits — but they’ve spent the past two years putting cynical, demagogic attacks on any attempt to actually deal with long-run deficits at the heart of their campaign strategy.
Here’s a recent example. In his new book, Mike Huckabee — the current leader in polls asking Republicans whom they want to nominate in 2012 — attacks the Obama stimulus because it included funds for, yes, comparative effectiveness research: “The stimulus didn’t just waste your money; it planted the seeds from which the poisonous tree of death panels will grow.” Will others in the G.O.P. stand up and say that Mr. Huckabee is wrong, that Medicare needs to know which medical procedures actually work? Don’t hold your breath.
Of course, Republicans aren’t the only cynics. As the national debate over fiscal policy descends ever deeper into penny-pinching, future-killing absurdity, one voice is curiously muted — that of President Obama.
The president and his aides know that the G.O.P. approach to the budget is wrongheaded and destructive. But they’ve stopped making the case for an alternative approach; instead, they’ve positioned themselves as know-nothings lite, accepting the notion that spending must be slashed immediately — just not as much as Republicans want.
Mr. Obama’s political advisers clearly believe that this strategy of protective camouflage offers the president his best chance at re-election — and they may be right. But that doesn’t change the fact that the White House is aiding and abetting the dumbing down of our deficit debate.
And this dumbing down bodes ill for the nation’s future. Health care is only one of the large and difficult problems America needs to deal with, ranging from infrastructure to climate change, all of which demand that we engage in a lot of hard thinking. Yet what we have instead is a political culture in which one side sneers at knowledge and exalts ignorance, while the other side hunkers down and pretends to halfway agree.