Deconstructing Salon: Raising the Debt Limit

(Credit: AP/Nati Harnik)

Here’s a link to an archived version of the article I am responding too, for everyone who doesn’t want to give Salon revenue from site traffic: click here

The following is a rebuttal to Sean Illing’s article on Salon.

‘In my of the last Republican presidential debate, I pointed out that Ben Carson appears to know absolutely nothing about politics and policy. I’m now happy (and a little sad) to report that I was right. On Wednesday, the retired neurosurgeon spoke with Kai Ryssdal of the American Public Radio Program “Marketplace.” The conversation was wide-ranging but focused mostly on debt and the federal budget. One segment in particular is making the rounds.’

This article isn’t in defense of Ben Carson, who is, in this author’s opinion, better than most of the other GOP candidates. It is rather an analysis of a Salon article posted by the notorious Facebook page “Being Liberal”, and a showing of how they either manipulate words or depend on their user’s selective reading in order to distort context and opposition arguments.

In this case we’ll see the claim that Ben Carson doesn’t know what the debt limit is. The title alone is all people are really going to see. Granted, it errs on clickbait by hiding the rest of the title in thumbnails shared by pages like Being Liberal. “Try this” is also a very common clique of clickbait, but that isn’t the purpose of this article. The purpose is to examine its errors and, being a first article, show Liberal tactics in regards to distorting or manipulating information.

At the end of each commentary analyzing an article shared on Facebook, I’d like to personally analyze the top comments to that share. You’ll see most of them are ad hominem, which basically shows the intelligence level of the conversations taking place in these echo chambers.

‘Near the beginning of the interview, Ryssdal raised the issue of the debt limit. Specifically, he asked Carson whether he would support raising the debt limit. Carson’s answer was revealing to say the least:’

I would honestly consider responding to that original article, as it provides many examples of purposeful smear-tactics used by journalists, and sound bites for future analysis. This is what Ryssdal asks (take note that it was absent from the Salon article):

All right, so let’s talk about debt then and the budget. As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple of days and said, “We’re gonna run out of money, we’re gonna run out of borrowing authority, on the fifth of November.” Should the Congress then and the President not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?’

The question is aimed at getting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response from Carson. They are loaded questions that avoid other possibilities. Ryssdal is giving Carson two options: raise the debt limit or default. Although there are more possibilities, such as greatly cutting the budget, Ryssdal is loading the question to trap Carson. How Carson responds is actually an expected response. Considering it’s part of the Republican platform to balance the federal budget, his answer should be fairly expected. So, as predicted…

Carson: Let me put it this way: if I were the President, I would not sign an increased budget. Absolutely would not do it. They would have to find a place to cut.

I could go on about how Carson could possibly do this. For the sake of brevity, I won’t.

The point is, he is answering the question. “They would have to find a place to cut” directly implies he would not raise the debt ceiling because he would balance the budget and eliminate a possible deficit. To be fair, “increased budget” was very likely a bad choice of term. It sounds to most like Carson is saying that if the budget increased (which it does, almost every year), he would not sign it. So if they decreased it, he would be willing to sign it.

The Federal budget is formulated by the President and sent to Congress. Carson fails to say this, but it is still a budget signed by the POTUS. In a positive view, he’s saying his administration would create balanced or cut budgets. In the negative view, he has basically said he would sign off on the budget congress resolved on, which is NOT what happens. However, either way he’s saying he would not sign an increased budget and thus an increased deficit, meaning more debt. Carson certainly could have responded more specifically, but the answer he gave acknowledged our deficit-ridden budget.

Ryssdal: To be clear, it’s increasing the debt limit, not the budget, but I want to make sure I understand you. You’d let the United States default rather than raise the debt limit? 

Carson literally did not say that. He did not mention defaulting on the debt or raising the debt limit to Ryssdal’s loaded question. Ryssdal is closing in on Carson with his authority as a journalist. Carson didn’t answer the question in the two ways provided by Ryssdal, and he’s taking time to point that out.

Carson: No, I would provide the kind of leadership that says, “Get on the stick guys, and stop messing around, and cut where you need to cut, because we’re not raising any spending limits, period.”

Carson, as much as I dislike him, has a damn good point on the US debt and deficit. He fails to properly respond to the words “debt” and “default”, and instead uses the phrase “spending limits”, like that of a credit card. Carson does have a valid point. The debt limit is basically a spending limit on how much the deficit can add onto the debt. If you reach that limit, the government defaults. According to many neo-Keynesians, we could continue raising the debt limit and be fine… sure. Let’s just continue adding onto the pile of money that will never be paid back by taxpayer money until we start producing surpluses with a budget that isn’t in the red and actually generates revenue… On a personal note, these people are truly selfish in my eyes. They expect a consistent IOU note to be the best way to help the people, when in fact it means we have more liability to other countries. Defaulting would be bad, but it has to happen eventually and when it does, it won’t be pretty.

 Ryssdal: I’m gonna try one more time, sir. This is debt that’s already obligated. Would you not favor increasing the debt limit to pay the debts already incurred?

Contextually, I see where Ryssdal is coming from. The debts already incurred for FY 2015 and beyond are beyond presidential control. Realistically, President Obama will be seeing the debt limit increase, and Carson, if he’s president. Carson is saying that if he was elected, he would not approve of a non-balanced budget. That’s fairly clear by now, and his next explanation makes it clearer.

 Carson: What I’m saying is what we have to do is restructure the way that we create debt. I mean if we continue along this, where does it stop? It never stops. You’re always gonna ask the same question every year. And we’re just gonna keep going down that pathway. That’s one of the things I think that the people are tired of.

Carson words this poorly, but his second sentence gives clarification. Ryssdal and other liberals perpetuate this idea that we will always be raising the debt limit, something Paul Krugman is fond of noting. And Ryssdal may not be asking the same question every year, but NPR as an organization certainly will with a quick search on article history regarding raising the debt limit.

Ryssdal: I’m really trying not to be circular here, (NOTE FROM REBUKE: This is a subtle accusation that disguises itself as self-examination) Dr. Carson, but if you’re not gonna raise the debt limit and you’re not gonna give specifics on what you’re gonna cut, then how are we going to know what you are going to do as President of the United States?

Ryssdal is now backtracking to a previous question regarding the balanced budget amendment Ben Carson has touted. Carson stated that for what he would cut:

Well, first of all, recognize that it’s not that difficult. If we simply refuse to extend the budget by one penny for three to four years, you got a balanced budget. Just like that. So this is not pie in the sky, very difficult thing to accomplish. Having said that, one of the bugaboos that has kept us from reducing government in the past is sacred cows. What I would do is first of all, allow the government to shrink by attrition. Don’t replace the people who are retiring, thousands of them each year. And No. 2: Take every departmental head, or sub-department head and tell them, “I want a 3 to 4 percent reduction.” Now anybody who tells me there’s not 3 to 4 percent fat in virtually everything that we do is fibbing to themselves.

This is what a “Balanced Budget” amendment would do, comparable to the 2013 sequestration. We restrict how much deficit could be made by Congress. It’s authoritarian to many libertarians, but to his credit, that’s what the sequestration did, and didn’t cause all hell to break lose as claimed by both the GOP and Democratic Party and actually cut the budget. I really advise those reading this rebuttal to read the NPR interview. Carson points out that restricting what could be spent, basically requiring cuts for bloated government bureaucracies.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ben Carson, one of the frontrunners in the race to become the Republican nominee for President of the United States. And he has no idea what the debt limit is. When you’re asked a question you don’t understand, you have two options: ask that the question be repeated while you think of something clever to say, or pretend that a different question was asked and answer that. Carson adopted the latter approach.’

Only in the land of Democrats are there two answers Obama, Clinton or Bernie Sanders could give to any economic question. Joking aside, he answered the question, just not in the loaded manner the interviewer asked it – and he should have pointed that out. Methinks a liberal would say that that’s like using the word bananas to describe coconuts. Certainly not. To be more exact, he answered the question but with words and phrases which were reversed or somewhat mirrored. So, when asked if he would approve of a raised debt ceiling, Carson responded by saying that he would not approve of a higher budget. Raising the debt ceiling would be due to a “higher budget” (which in context of the previous comments is taken to mean a non-balanced budget creating a deficit), and instead of saying what he would approve of, he responded with what he would not approve of.

So, he wants to default the US debt – even though this is a current situation under the Obama administration. Ok. So we raise the debt ceiling and continue to do so until it finally becomes clear we are unable to pay the near 18.5 trillion dollar debt when the gap between debt and GDP has closed, it will be much worse than defaulting on our current obligations at the moment. Carson also notes that citizens are tired of seeing the national debt rise. I wonder what all those twenty-something year olds voting Democrat think compared to the employed who are currently paying taxes and seeing them go towards a humongous deficit and thus debt.

As of 2015, the US debt to GDP ratio is around 105%. That means our debt outruns our current GDP. In others, if we took the entirety of the value of the US economy at work and attempted to pay off the debt with it for one year, we would still have debt to pay off. And considering we keep our social services and do not balance the budget as Carson is suggesting we should, we simply run deficit after deficit and more money to the debt. Quite literally, we are no way in hell going to pay off the debt anytime soon. The debt is growing faster than the GDP, and in the end it is the taxpayers’ money being spent to keep the rising deficit down. Regardless of what Carson specifically meant, he goes against the very norm Ryssdal attempts to set; that the US debt and deficit is perpetual and we can do nothing but raise the ceiling.

‘To be clear: this wasn’t one of those “gotcha” moments. Carson was asked a very simple question about a very relevant issue. Republicans have already brought the U.S. to the brink of default with their opposition to paying U.S. bills. This isn’t an obscure topic. And there are real consequences if we decline to raise the debt limit. As Ryssdal politely reminded him, the debt limit has nothing to do with current or future budgets; it’s about honoring the debts we’ve already incurred. How is it possible that a man running for president doesn’t know that?’

“Republicans have already brought the U.S. to the brink of default with their opposition to paying U.S. bills. This isn’t an obscure topic.” I guess it’s easy to blame the Republicans now, given they hold the majority in the legislature and not the Democrats. I need not remind Mr. Illing that Democrats controlled both the House and Senate up until 2010 when the House was lost to the Republican Party and stalemates ensued. I am not excusing the GOP members of Congress of all blame. Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin. And once again, the debts incurred are under the Obama administration. Mr. Illing could have asked specifically what Carson would do if he was in the same situation. Subtly poised as a rhetorical question, Carson answered the question in a rhetorical manner; if he had his way, there would be a balanced budget and Congress would be forced to cut.

‘Carson’s rambling ignorance, disturbing as it is, isn’t really the problem here. The problem is that his ignorance doesn’t matter, not in this campaign and not in that party. Carson, much like Trump, has catapulted to the top of the polls without even a passing knowledge of relevant issues. If you listen closely, in the debates and in this most recent interview, Carson never really says anything. If there’s a difference between Carson and, say, Sarah Palin, it’s that Carson looks more dignified when saying stupid things, but that’s about it. If you cut through his demeanor and reputation and just listen to what he says, you’ll hear nothing but air.’

I have to say, as the author of this rebuttal, I’m cutting some corners with my evidence here, but that has been nothing in comparison to that ad hominem paragraph.

‘The point, of course, is that he’ll never pay a price for this in the Republican Party. This interview won’t hurt him in the polls for the same reason his vacuous debate performances didn’t: The demand on the right for pleasant-sounding ignorance is too strong. I’m sure there are still a few adults left in the GOP, but they’ve lost control of their party. The base has won, and they’re getting exactly what they want: an empty vessel onto which they can project their idiocies and grievances. So Carson may be clueless, and this interview was truly embarrassing, but none of that matters. He’s still a frontrunner in the Republican race, however depressing that may be.’

Sort of like the fact that much of the media remained uncritical and complacent when the United States recently bombed a hospital in Afghanistan killing 19, the national debt is outrunning the GDP,  there is a consulate attack under review where President Obama is unwilling to fully acknowledge the possible issues brought up by opposition , a single Socialist candidate wrote an essay claiming women “fantasize about rape”, and there is a former Senator hiding emails within a server located in a bathroom, whose husband lied under oath while POTUS (no relation, and all readers should understand the reference).

Also, here are the top comments from Being Liberal’s post regarding the article of which is being rebutted:

Carson Comments
The seem to be full of critical thought and intolerance…
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Alex Baker

Born in Provo, Utah, to a Spaniard mother and American Father. Now resides around Seattle, Washington. Alex is a huge military history and armor enthusiast, major in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in electronics/programming. A devout practicing Mormon, he will be serving his mission from late 2016 to 2018 and will be resigned from the site for that time. A Romney supporter in 2012, he became a Libertarian in 2014 upon realizing that Romney and many Republicans weren't all that better than democrats, and found Libertarianism to be a better fit for his own theology, as Mormonism teaches the fundamental importance of "agency" or choice, as well as liberty and freedom. He can tell you anything about tanks and trivial and important facts of WWI and WWII, as well as biblical and scriptural concepts unique to Mormonism and Catholicism. He is fluent in English and Spanish, and knows German well enough to hold a conversation.