A Rare Instance of Sanity on the Rachel Maddow Show

by James A. Bacon

Last night, for the first time in my life, I managed to watch the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC without my blood pressure shooting through the roof. Even more amazing, I maintained my cool while Maddow interviewed Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, the bilious co-author, among other dubious accomplishments, of the Fannie Mae-induced housing bubble. In commenting upon President Obama’s plans to radically downsize the U.S. military, Frank made the common-sense point that we can’t just cut spending and expect our men and women in uniform to maintain the same global-straddling commitments they do today. We will have to redefine America’s role in the world. We will have to make strategic choices. We can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman.

Unlike Maddow and Frank, I have spent the better part of my 58 years arguing for a strong national defense and have been unapologetic about America’s role in the world.  For all our fumbling and flaws, the United States has presided over the most benign “empire” in history. Under the Pax Americana global trade has expanded exponentially, lifting literally billions of people from poverty. As much as many people despise us, the world will miss us when we’re gone. Whoever fills the vacuum will make the world a far uglier and more dangerous place.

Be that as it may, we can no longer afford to maintain the military force it takes to support that empire. We are hurtling toward Boomergeddon. If, as seems likely, the federal government goes into default within another decade, it will be impossible to continue policing the world. But rather than make intelligent and rational choices about how best to defend our global interests in an era of constrained resources, we will face fiscal collapse, with wild and unpredictable consequences.

The fiscal condition of the country is getting worse, not better. Two years ago, the president’s Office of Management and Budget forecast that the U.S. would rack up an additional $8.5 trillion in national debt in the ensuing 10 years. OMB also thought the deficit this fiscal year (2012) would amount to a mere $828 billion. Today, the budget deficit is expected to be $1,201 billion. Meanwhile, the strong, 4.5% annual economic growth that OMB had anticipated two years ago, has failed to materialize; even the optimists are projecting only 2.5% growth for next year… assuming no unpleasant surprises from Europe. The under-performing economy has more than offset whatever meager spending cuts Congress has managed to pass.

The president’s policies are largely, though not exclusively, to blame. Obama refuses to cut domestic spending in any meaningful way, he has expanded entitlements rather than reform them, and his excess regulation and class-warfare rhetoric has chased capital to the sidelines. But he’s right about cutting defense. There simply is no way to close a budget deficit running at $1.1 trillion in the third year of an economic expansion without putting defense spending on the table… as his Republicans opponents are not inclined to do.

I don’t give Obama credit for much — I think he has taken a bad situation and made it far worse — but I have to go along with him on this. We must cut defense spending and then redefine our strategic priorities in the world.

None of this do we want to hear in Virginia, where our economy is more dependent upon federal spending — defense spending especially — than almost any other state in the union. But the alternative to closing the budget gap is fiscal collapse and economic depression that will bring defense cuts anyway. If defense cuts are all we can get out of Obama, let’s get on with it — and hope we can elect someone this fall who is willing to tackle domestic spending, entitlements, tax expenditures and to reverse Washington’s anti-growth economic policies.

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24 responses to “A Rare Instance of Sanity on the Rachel Maddow Show”

  1. clarke conservative Avatar
    clarke conservative

    If it is inevitable the US will not be able to protect its interests in the world without a strong military then we should set the #1 priority to become energy independent as soon as we can.

    Drill baby Drill. Frack baby frack.

  2. Very good point! I doubt the Obama administration has thought through the full implications of its military downsizing. That might be worth an entirely new column. Approving the Keystone Pipeline would be a very good start.

  3. Richard Avatar

    Gee – I was about to compliment you on how thought-provoking and informative your analyses have been lately. And then you write this? Typical Republican drivel criticizing the President – long on accusations, short on specifics and nonexistent on alternatives. Are we gearing up for the election?

  4. Aw, c’mon, Richard, I actually said something nice about Barney Frank and Rachel Maddow. I even said the president was right about defense! Don’t I get any credit for that?

    As for being short on specifics, how about these: “The fiscal condition of the country is getting worse, not better. Two years ago, the president’s Office of Management and Budget forecast that the U.S. would rack up an additional $8.5 trillion in national debt in the ensuing 10 years. OMB also thought the deficit this fiscal year (2012) would amount to a mere $828 billion. Today, the budget deficit is expected to be $1,201 billion. Meanwhile, the strong, 4.5% annual economic growth that OMB had anticipated two years ago, has failed to materialize; even the optimists are projecting only 2.5% growth for next year… assuming no unpleasant surprises from Europe. The under-performing economy has more than offset whatever meager spending cuts Congress has managed to pass.”

    As for alternatives, consult Paul Ryan… or my book “Boomergeddon.” You might not like the alternatives, but they do exist.

    But it’s nice to know that you have found some of my analysis useful. There must be a little bit of libertarian lurking in you somewhere.

  5. “Frack baby frack.”

    Easier said than done. I doubt the Clarke County BOS, like most others in the state for that matter, would share your enthusiasm for fracking once the drills show up.

  6. ” We will have to redefine America’s role in the world. We will have to make strategic choices. We can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman.”

    this is what many non-Republicans and non-NeoCons have been saying all along. Where were you Bacon? Have you changed your opinion? Why?

    You know – if you INCLUDE … ALL “national defense” expenditures which is MORE than just the CORE DOD – we spend more than take in in income taxes – about 1.3 trillion dollars.

    Obama spoke at the Pentagon yesterday. If you think he is clueless – you should go listen to that speech.

    This is truly nutty. If we had a Republican in the Presidency right now, we’d have boots on the ground in Libya and Egypt and getting reading to go into Iran….

    Why is it so hard to give Obama credit for pulling back from the NeoCon nightmares?

    And what did the Republicans say when we finished our mission in Iraq PER George Bush’s timetable? Well.. of course.. Obama is screwing up ….!!!

    we have hundreds of bases overseas..that’s WAY WAY MORE than JUST for oil….

    and you have more options than drill, baby drill for energy independence.

    for one thing you could give approval to the Keystone Pipeline BUT REQUIRE every drop to be sold in the US instead of exporting it like they want to do.

    but I’m worried about Bacon.. I think he’s going all wobbly on those Republican values….


  7. re: our fiscal condition. I’d like someone to tell me the specific things that Obama has done to ADD to the STRUCTURAL deficit. Not the one shot stimuls/tarp…but what has he added to the budget that has increased the structural deficit?

  8. LarryG, I’m a realist. When George Bush was elected, I totally agreed with him that “nation building” was a fool’s errand. When 9/11 happened, I was so shocked that I agreed with him that we had no choice but to try. After 10 years of experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve pretty well confirmed Bush’s original prejudices — nation building is a fool’s errand. Moreover, now we’re running out of money. When confronted with new facts, I try to adjust my thinking.

    Just remember, my steely-eyed realism also applies to domestic government spending, entitlements and tax policy.

  9. Name something that has added to the structural deficit? Obamacare! Under closer examination, nearly all of the 10-year putative budget “savings” have evaporated. We’ve been benefiting from the increased fees/taxes in the past couple of years. As the expenditures kick in, we’ll have to pay the piper.

    He’s “temporarily” expanded unemployment benefits, but the interest payments on the spending will become part of the structural deficit. The same can be said of the “one-time” stimulus plan.

    He’s also drawing down the Social Security “trust fund” to pay for the payroll tax break. Finally, he has resisted programmatic cuts tooth and nail.

    Do I really need to go on?

  10. re: structural deficit – OMB/CBO does not agree with you but in any event Obamacare has not added a penny to the deficit as of yet.

    but my question was what has he added to the STRUCTURAL DEFICIT that goes on every year that he inherited that is now at 1.5 trillion dollars?

    I’ll give you the one shot deals… whether you think they are needed or not but I’m asking what has he added to the annual costs?

    re: changed thinking

    okay.. you’re almost there. NOW.. give me a list of Republicans who think we need to do what Obama is proposing…slim down the military and reduce our footprint… who would you vote for – for President who would promise to reduce DOD?

    I mean of course.. who besides Ron Paul… do you think Republicans will vote to downsize DOD?

    if you think not – your options are clear! Do NOT vote Republican!


  11. Republicans (except Paul) don’t advocate slimming down the military. That’s their flaw.

    Obama doesn’t believe in cutting domestic spending or entitlements. That’s an even bigger flaw.

    As for Obamacare, you haven’t been following the fiscal debate very carefully. Obama has scrapped the CLASS long-term care program that would have injected a lot of cash into the government coffers near-term. There have been a number of smaller changes as well. You wait and see. It’ll blow up in our faces.

  12. “flaw”? how about a “fatal flaw”? you know that if the Republicans get control..that we’ll not only be where we are now but had they been in charge already, we’d be in Libya…and a bunch of other places, probably Iran…

    these guys have spent us into oblivion on their love for DOD and they justify it by saying we don’t need entitlements.. and you want them in charge of the country – like they were under Bush? lord.

    re: ObamaCare – I understand the divide but we pay twice per capita what every other govt-direct health care system in the world pays and ObamaCare looks a lot like systems in Germany, Singapore and the Netherlands which provide care to everyone for 1/2 what we do.

    The systems in Germany allow people to pick from a number of private companies who all offer a standard plan (plus premium extras)… it operates much like the plan that Congressman and Fed Employees have – and is very similar to the “Exchanges” that ObamaCare mandates and the states have to set up.

    At some point – the anti-Obama Care folks need to assess their ROLE in health care which to me is 99% Obstructionist …without viable alternatives…. unless you count “ideas” which have never been passed by the Republican Congress as a cogent alternative (even though they have seen fit to pass a symbolic REPEAL of ObamaCare) . WHERE’s the BEEF from the obstructionists….er… “opposition”?

    in other words.. they want the status-quo… which is unsustainable.

    you either got to get in the game or you got to admit you don’t bring anything to the game except obstructionism.

    re: entitlements – if not mistaken, they’ve been on the table all along.

    we have too many people getting subsidized health care that do not “need” it.

    When seniors who own two houses and 3 cars and have hundreds of thousands in retirement funds pay $100 a month for health insurance that costs taxpayers $400 a month.. we have a serious problem and as far as I know Obama is in favor of dealing with this – along with the military issue which is way more than you can say for the opposition which is more obstructionist than solution-oriented.

    the real joke here is that – by law – Social Security benefits can not be more than what FICA provides in revenues and yet not one Republican sees this as a unique benefit as compared to other govt spending – like on Medicare Parts B, C, D which are open-ended subsidized.

    and yet the naysayers say – kill SS. Why? if nothing at all is done – it will continue to pay benefits as long as FICA is collected. Yes.. it will automatically reduce but name one other program in the Federal budget that requires payouts to be no more than revenues.

    we can fix FICA/SS with some minor changes but right now SS has virtually no role in the 1.5 Trillion structural deficit… and yet.. the GOP focuses on SS. Why?

    when you look at the budget, we take in about 1.3 trillion in income taxes and about another trillion from other sources ( I’ve excluded FICA from this because FICA is not available for anything other than SS and Medicare Part A).

    here are the numbers:

    Medicare Part B = 210 billion
    MedicAid = about 350 billion plus what the states kick in
    DOD = 700 billion
    the “rest” of National defense = 500 billion (includes VA, spy satellites, homeland security, etc).

    do the numbers… we take in a total of 2.1 trillion and 1.3 of that is spent on National Defense…

  13. another way of looking at this is to assume we zero fund Medicare Part B and MedicAid…. what do you have left in terms of the structure deficit?

    well.. you reduce the 1.5 trillion to 1.0 trillion… you’re STILL a trillion dollars in the hole.

    what else would you cut?

    this is the question the Republicans will not answer. They say: “cut, cut, cut” but even if we zero out Medicare and MedicAid, we still have a trillion more in spending than we have in revenues.

    Answers Please. Who wants to respond?

  14. I saw the same interview by the way and I know this might be news to Bacon but Maddow, by far, is a more incisive interviewer than O’Reilley who strikes me as a bit of an arrogant buffoon much like a somewhat better version of Lou Dobbs.

    Maddow, unlike her colleagues like Ed, and O’Donnell manages to get to the root of the issues.

    Barney did not say anything different than what he has always said…

    So.. Maddow and Frank did nothing new… the only thing “new” is that Jim Bacon tuned in….


    but I’m still awaiting an answer to the question of what do you cut next after you’ve already cut Medicare Part B and MedicAid and STILL have a trillion dollar annual deficit.

    The Republicans, by the way, including Paul Ryan.. say that we cut the entitlements and then supply-side will catch up to the DOD spending…

    That’s what the Republicans supported. When you ask Eric Cantor – what needs to be cut besides entitlements, guess what his answer is? Vigorous hand-waving… and not much more…

    So the Republicans are total frauds on actually showing the cuts that are necessary to reduce the deficit which DO INCLUDE DOD.

    Bacon calls this a “flaw”.

    that’s like saying the Titanic had a “flaw”…..

  15. LarryG, You make many presumptions. — wrong ones My wife is as politically inclined as I, though she is a through-and-through Democrat. She is always tuned in to MSNBC. FOX is *never* on at our house. I know nothing of O’Reilly. I do agree that Maddow is more interesting to watch than the so-predictable-as-to-be-boring Schultz and O’Donnell, but that doesn’t save her from being hopelessly one-sided and deluded most of the time. At least Joe Scarborough makes sense on occasion.

  16. Scarborough? HA! that BORE is on Mica all the time.. he ought to be prosecuted for women host abuse! When he gets started, I keep hoping for Mica to land one upside his head. Ask you wife.

    Joe is one of the ones who ALSO does not truly understand FICA and SS by the way. He has no clue what he means when he says that SS “must be cut”. He clearly does not understand that by law – SS will be automatically cut if no changes are made but the man persists when talking about the budget.

    He too has no good answers for how what to cut after you’ve cut Medicare and MedicAid… he just blathers on…. like Lew Dobbs…. ugh!

    But I’m very happy to hear that your wife has you under control and amazed that you’ve never heard of that neanderthal O’Reilly!

  17. I”ve heard *of* O’Reilly — I just haven’t actually watched him.

  18. Maddow has a habit of beating a dead horse. But not until she has certain evidence it is dead.

    Like the bit where she showed dozens of Republicans repeating word for word the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves. Followed by the same people demanding to know how an Obama tax cut would be paid for.

    And she is sometimes entertaining.

    She is over the top, but compared to the unsubstantiated screaming that passes for journalism on the competing channels, it is little wonder she raises your blood pressure.

  19. Richard Avatar

    C’mon Jim – it’s Republican drivel full of loaded words and name-calling.

    So you’ve got a problem with Obamacare? And you don’t have a problem with the old system, which is worse and more expensive than anything that Obamacare will do? [Who do you think pays for all the uninsured people in the emergency rooms and beds of our hospitals under the current system?] Don’t you think coverage of dependents to age 26, and increased preventative care benefits will help get control of costs?

    And where were you when there was actually a new entitlement created for purely political reasons (look at the timing) – Bush’s expansion of the Medicare pharmacy benefit?

    I really find it amazing that there’s even consideration by thinking people of giving complete power back to the Republicans – the ones who pushed us into a disastrous and fiscally irresponsible war based on supposition and wishful thinking, who gave us the biggest new entitlement since Medicare (the aforementioned pharmacy benefit), and who ruined the economy for years to come.

    And BTW, as a defender of a strong military for so many years, I suppose you think Vietnam and Iraq were good ideas?

  20. Richard has identified the same problems that I have.

    1. – the critics of ObamaCare have nothing to offer in place of it except as Jim offers “some good ideas” that have been available ostensibly since they shot down Hillary Care but the only thing they did was add yet another subsidized program.

    Republicans in Va – could tackle this problem starting with those certificate of need and require all health care providers to post prices but instead they make laws on abortion and sending cadavers into space…

    So what do Republicans in Va actually do about health care? Well of course they fight the Fed version.. while they do nothing themselves .. Oh and they want to be Gov …

    2. – As Richard points out, eople without insurance still get health care and we still pay for it – through the nose. EMTALA forces hospitals to take non-paying patients and they turn around and add that cost to people who have insurance.

    People without insurance often qualify for MedicAid – which is the 600-lb gorilla these days in both Federal and State budgets.

    and the Republican solution? kill EMTALA and MedicAid… let them die in the streets…as long as there is a “free market” for health care…

    The status quo in health care truly sucks… we pay to treat people without health insurance but not until their disease has progressed to a very expensive stage so we willingly pay twice as much as other countries in the false believe that we have the best health care in the world – even as we rank 15th and worse in life expectancy and infant deaths.

    And the response from the anti-ObamaCare contingent? Well. of course the OCED statistics are biased and the true source of the truth is Heritage and company.

    The Republicans live in a self-constructed artificial bubble these days where their most common action is to deny the realities and to oppose any efforts to deal with them.

    Jim B does a little hat dance on this issue. He says he does not vote for the incumbent Republicans but instead others who have no chance to really get in the game….

    He cannot bring himself to vote for those who are really going to try to do something… because that “something” is not what Republicans would do…if they actually were going to do something…besides professional obstructionism.

  21. Wow, when Richard and LarryG gang up on me, it’s time to head out of town!

    You guys insist upon turning everything into Democrats vs. Republicans, as if I were some kind of die-hard Republican. If you’ve been paying attention to the blog, I have leveled a lot of criticisms at the McDonnell administration. I’ve raised substantive issues relating to transportation and economic development that, to my knowledge, no other reporter, editorial writer or blogger has.

    As for my accusations, or “Republican drivel,” as Richard calls it…. I said:

    (1) Obama refuses to cut domestic spending in any meaningful way. Do you dispute this?

    (2) He has expanded entitlements rather than reform them. Is not Obamacare an expanded entitlement? What do you call extended unemployment benefits?

    (3) His excess regulation and class-warfare rhetoric has chased capital to the sidelines. Would you deny that he has imposed, or attempted to impose, massive new regulations on health care (Obamacare), the financial sector (Dodd-Frank) and industry generally (EPA regs)? Would you deny that his attack on “millionaires and billionaires” amounts to class warfare? Would you deny that investment capital is sitting on the sidelines?

    C’mon, guys, get out of your reflexive Obama-can-do-no-wrong mode. I actually used this blog post to commend him for his defense policy. Did that even register?

  22. 1. – I don’t think this is true – he’s said everything is on the table but it has to include revenues also. He’s said that the entitlements have to be reformed.

    2. – he has passed ObamaCare but according to CBO it will save money so there is not agreement as to what it “costs” at all. CBO says those with OC will use the ER and MedicAid less and with earlier access to MedCare catch costly diseases earlier …saving money.

    again.. the GOP has been totally AWOL before and after OC in terms of a viable alternative. They pass a symbolic repeal of OC but where is their symbolic “REPLACE”?

    you quite easily blame Obama for OC and you totally give the GOP a free ride for doing nothing.

    unemployment? You say Obama did this? Didn’t Congress have to do this and doesn’t congress tend to to do this in most recessions no matter who is President? Why do you finger only Obama ? Isn’t this something that all Prez have done no matter the party?

    3. I’ve heard the hit on regs…but I’ve yet to see any definitive evidence of it.

    It’s mainly an unsubstantiated assertion – propaganda and again you take the side of the GOP even though there is no evidence to show the cost of the regs.

    is there a list of regs that Obama asked for, got passed and have a cost?

    Regs in general INCREASE jobs you know. It’s takes manpower to implement the regs. Labs that are required, for instance, to test for e-coli in meat – have to hire people to do this.

    this CREATES jobs…. right?

  23. DJRippert Avatar


    You know you can’t win with the Obama-pologists. The day that Obama made the 4.5% GDP growth claim every sensible commenter on this blog wrote, “wishful thinking”. All the Obama – pologists wrote, “See, he’s fixing the economy! He has a plan! He is not a member of the party of no!”.

    You can’t trust Obama. He will say anything in the furtherance of his political beliefs. He will tell any lie, make any false claim. He knows that an honest analysis of his French-style socialism will find it lacking in economic logic. So, he dissembles. He puts forth budgets with high levels of spending and imaginary economic growth levels. He knows how addictive government handouts are. He knows that if he can “lie” the increased spending into law then it will prove very hard to rescind. eventually, on the eve of Boomergeddon, all this spending will require what he really has wanted all along – a massive re-distribution of wealth.

    When Obama came into office the “European model” was the “in vogue” thing for liberals to tout. Big government socialism was the future for all developed countries. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the Politburo. The bottom fell out of the socialist European economies.

    The Democrats are right to say that the Republicans have no plan absent the somewhat nutty plans of Ron Paul. However, it is equally fair to say that the Democrats have only a bad plan.

  24. Well.. I don’t apologize for Obama. He’s made mistakes but it’s not “apologizing” to point out that we’ve had the worst recession since the depression and were in danger of a 2nd recession when he came into office.

    He made “promises” … when he should have said “goals” but he did not know just how deep and wide the recession was ultimately going to be when he made his “promises” which if you check back is pretty common for all Pols… for instance, Mr. Bush ran for election decrying the futility and expense of “nation building” then turned right around and did it not once, but twice and then instead of paying for it through tax increases as he should have – he came up with a cockamamie idea that “deficits don’t matter” because supply-side economics will pay for it.

    So..here’s the deal.. if Bush was going to run against Obama – given all we know about Bush – the Obama haters would vote for Bush again.

    that tells you a lot about the ObamaHaters who hated Obama even before he became President..

    When you ask for some evidence that Obama has increased the deficit – the ObamaHaters run away… to hide…

    finally, if you don’t like Obama’s budget – why doesn’t the opposition party propose their own – and put heat on Obama to justify his approach?

    After all..they’ve had a number of “symbolic” votes in the House to show their resolve on ObamaCare and a Balanced Budget but they don’t both to actually pass an “Replace” to ObamaCare nor do they pass a balanced budget proposal even as they voted for it as a symbolic gesture.

    The people I pay attention to the most are those who voted for Obama who have changed their minds. The folks who were opposed to Obama from the get-go don’t impress me.

    So you have the worst economy since the great Depression and Obama has dang close to a 50% rating… In other words 1 in 2 will vote for him again.

    not too shabby considering the awful economy and the relentless anti-Obama blather coming from the right.

    Oh.. and take a look at the quality of those who seek to oppose him for the Presidency… Calling it a Clown Show is giving it too much respect.


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