Ben Carson Isn’t Alone In Having Utterly Silly Ideas About The Debt Ceiling

Yes, Ben Carson's comments about the debt ceiling are silly, but it's the fact that a lot of Republicans agree with him that's dangerous.

Debt Ceiling

Pundits are insisting that Ben Carson doesn’t understand what the debt ceiling is, or how the Federal budget process works. In reality, though, Carson is simply reflecting what many of his fellow Republicans believe, and that poses a problem for the immediate future.

GOP 2016 candidate Ben Carson appeared unable to give a straight answer when asked repeatedly about whether he would raise the debt ceiling during a Marketplace interview posted Thursday.

At one point, Carson said he would urge his administration to “cut where you need to cut” when asked if he would let the government default on its debt, suggesting he didn’t understand that the debt ceiling authorizes payments on debts the government has already incurred.
When Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal first asked Carson: “As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple of days and said, we’re going to run out of money, we’re going to run out of borrowing authority on the 5th of November. Should the Congress then, and the president, not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?”

“Let me put it this way. If I were the president, I would not sign an increased budget, absolutely would not do it,” Carson responded. “They would have to find a place a cut.”

Ryssdal repeated variations of the question two more times, clarifying that he was asking about 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?”

“No, I would provide 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 said.

Here’s the relevant section from the interview transcript:

Ryssdal: 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?

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.

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: 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.”

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?

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.

Reading through the transcript, it seems apparent that Carson continues to make clear that he believes that the Federal Budget process and the debt ceiling are the same thing. If he had only responded this way to one question, it would be easy to dismiss this as him misunderstanding the question and moving on, but Ryssdal repeated the same question three times and, correctly, made the point that raising the debt ceiling is a matter completely unrelated to the Federal Budget itself since you can’t eliminate the Federal Government’s obligation to pay its debts by cutting the budget. Notwithstanding those clarifications, though, Carson continued on the track he had started out on and insisted that the way to deal with the debt ceiling is to cut the budget, and refusing to say whether he would support an increase in the debt ceiling that could cause the United States to default on its obligations. Carson’s campaign issued a statement this afternoon in an effort to clarify these remarks:

In a statement on Thursday, Carson told NBC News, “Critics have blown this way out of proportion, or more correctly, don’t appreciate my resolve to get our fiscal house in order.”

Carson did assert that he understands the concept of the debt limit, but again repeated his argument that government spending is the real issue.

“While raising the debt ceiling is about paying for obligations the federal government has incurred, I made clear in my interview that unless we get our debt under control, we will be back having the same argument about the debt ceiling on a regular basis,” he said.

But Carson offers no stance on raising the upcoming debt limit, and a spokesman did not respond to a request for clarification on whether Carson opposes a hike in November.

In the wake of Carson’s statements, many political observers have called the comments problematic for him and his campaign. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump called the interview “awkward” and went on to provide a fairly detailed analysis of why Carson is wrong to conflate the question of raising the debt ceiling with issues regarding the Federal Budget. Jordan Weissman does the same, and goes on to detail other parts of the interview that he says show that Carson knows very little about how the government or economy works. While that may be true, it’s worth noting that what Carson is saying about the debt ceiling isn’t exactly an uncommon view among conservative Republicans, and it’s the reason why the upcoming fight over raising that ceiling is likely to be even more contentious than the one we saw in the summer of 2011.

On the right, the prevailing view among conservative activists and the Tea Party crowd regarding the debt ceiling seems to be that the debt ceiling is the primary example of the nation’s fiscal profligacy and that raising it will only encourage the same budgetary behavior that led us to a world where, as of today, the National Debt now stands at $18,150,557,110,995. These are the same people who brought the Federal Government to the brink of default in the summer of 2011, and many of them at least publicly stated that they believed that the debt ceiling shouldn’t be raised at all. In reality, of course, the debt ceiling, which probably shouldn’t exist at all, exists simply to pay for obligations that the government has already incurred and which could lead to the ultimately financial crisis of the United States failing to pay interest on government debt. As I noted when the debt kamikazes that led us down the road to a near crisis in 2011 reappeared two years later, though, that’s not the only potential consequence of a failure to raise the debt ceiling:

Interest obligations on the national debt and paying off redeemed bonds is only one of the many payments that the Treasury Department is required to make on a regular basis. In addition to those payments, there’s everything from salaries for Federal Employees, Social Security payments to beneficiaries, Medicare payments to providers, obligations owed to contractors who have provided services and supplies to the Federal Government, and any number of other obligations that the Federal Government owes that come up on a regular basis. As a simple matter of mathematics, it is quite often the case that the money that the Federal Government owes under all of these obligations is more than the amount of revenue (from tax payments and other sources) that comes into Federal coffers. Under ordinary procedures this isn’t a problem because the Treasury Department regularly floats new bonds to cover ongoing obligations.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, the Treasury Department’s authority to issue new debt to cover these already-incurred obligations would would be in serious legal doubt to say the least


So, that leaves us with the probability that tens of thousands of Federal obligations that don’t fall under the “sovereign debt” category would go unpaid if the nation went along for an extended period of time without raising the debt ceiling. That means, potentially, Social Security and pension recipients not being paid, Federal employees not being paid or being paid late, and Federal contractors and suppliers not being paid. For better or worse, the Treasury Department will be forced to make choices about who gets paid and who doesn’t, and those who don’t get paid are going to suffer real economic harm even if it just means that there is a delay in receipt of payment. The economic implications of this should be blindingly obvious. Cut off payments to the contractors, and they won’t have money to pay their employees, who won’t have money to pay their own bills or spend money in their community. Delay or cut off payments under Social Security, Medicare, or to Federal employees to cover salaries, and the same thing will happen. The economic chaos would, to borrow a phrase, “trickle down” and, absent a quick resolution, would quite obviously do real harm to the economy.

This is the reality of what would happen if we failed to raise the debt ceiling, and it’s one that many on the right seem to either not believe at all or be willing to allow happen to prove whatever ideological point it is they think they’re proving by being intransigent. Republicans in leadership positions know this to be nonsense, of course, but as we’ve seen quite well over the past two weeks alone, leadership on Capitol Hill has very little ability to control rank and file members. With the debt ceiling approaching it maximum within the next month, that becomes a serious concern and the probability that we will face a showdown, and even a government shutdown, because of it is something that now has to be considered as a realistic possibility.

So yes, Ben Carson’s views on the debt ceiling, and his refusal to acknowledge the necessity that the debt ceiling will have to be raised, are utter nonsense. The fact that they are being made by someone who is current in second place in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination is utterly depressing. He’s not alone in these views in the Republican Party, though, and that, combined with the impending fiscal deadlines the country faces, makes for a very bad recipe.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Tea Party, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. anjin-san says:

    Silly? No.

    Radical, dangerous and irresponsible? Yes.

    Doug – why are you a water boy for these people?

  2. I believe I made clear how dangerous I think this idea is, not only in this post but in the dozens of posts I did on this subject in the summer of 2011. So, how you can think I’m being a “water boy” is beyond me.

  3. JWH says:

    They’ve forgotten the real purpose of the debt ceiling. The REAL purpose of the debt ceiling is to give fiscal hawks a chance to grandstand for a little bit, then sit down and allow an increase to go through. It’s also there so that a few fiscal hawks, especially if they’re in trouble back home, can record a “nay” vote against increasing government debt, secure in the knowledge that others will push the increase on through.

  4. Jc says:

    The debt ceiling is silly. Why do we even have it?

  5. anjin-san says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Because you constantly (constantly!) use “silly” in the headlines when talking about idiotic, dangerous things Republicans do, and the headline, as I think we both know, is often the #1 take-away, or the only take-away. The use of misleading headlines by the right wing media has become something of an art form.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    Why is this surprising?
    Republicans are so delusional you cannot find one…going back to and including Reagan who has had or has a viable economic plan. Maybe Bush 41 and look what the base did to him.
    Their economic ideas are based on unicorn tears. They have failed everywhere they have been tried.
    So you expect….what?

  7. grumpy realist says:

    Well, maybe we’re going to have to go over the cliff. If I were POTUS, I’d say “ok, we’re going to not have enough money for everything. So I’m going to continue paying interest on Federal bonds, because if we default on that we’re totally screwed, and start slicing down on everything else. Within 7 days I want Congress to figure out exactly how much to default on, and how. Cut back Medicare? Cut back paying out Social Security benefits? Cut money to the military? Your call.”

    “Oh, and if you don’t come up with a plan within seven days I’ll just start axing everything equally. So here’s your chance to come up with the ideal payment plan. Get cracking.”

  8. @anjin-san:

    I’m not going to argue this point any further since it is beyond the subject matter of the post, but I do hope you realize that there is more to a blog post than just the headline.


  9. anjin-san says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Of course Doug. All just boyish hijinks on your part, I am sure. Pure hoohaw…

  10. michael reynolds says:

    When you believe things which are not true. . .

    When you close your mind to facts. . .

    When you hew to a discredited ideology. . .

    When you are driven mad by the color of the president’s skin. . .

    Then you get a day like today: the House GOP in a meltdown, the leading Republican proposing ethnic cleansing, the second leading candidate trashing murder victims and calling for the destruction of the economy, virtually all demanding yet another war, placing at risk the economy of this country, our standing in the world, and our position as a beacon of liberty.

    Republicans are dangerous. The Republican Party is dangerous. These are not simply people who disagree with liberals, these are delusional, deranged, hate-fueled fanatics who hurt this country.

    The Republican Party needs to die. Republicans with an ounce of patriotism left need to quit this party. Form a new party, a real conservative party. Because if you’re still calling yourself a Republican you’re either a straight-up moron or a traitor to everything this country stands for.

  11. DrDaveT says:

    In the wake of Carson’s statements, many political observers have called the comments problematic for him and his campaign.

    What, with the 11 Republican voters who both understand the distinction and care?

    If Hillary had made such a gaffe, then yes — it would be huge news.

  12. Kylopod says:

    In my personal experience I have found a great deal of ignorance about budget matters among rank-and-file conservatives. Recently, for example, I encountered someone who thought Obamacare couldn’t be revenue-neutral because the CBO projected it to cost a lot; I’ve also run across conservatives who don’t understand the difference between the debt and the deficit, or who think deficits are just another word for problems in the economy.

    I’m not saying this tendency is exclusive to the right; far from it. Many liberals I know are fuzzy about these concepts, and I doubt anything close to a majority of the country could correctly define what the debt ceiling is, assuming they’ve ever even heard the term. But the right-wing media and even the establishment GOP is up to its neck in economic crank theories, from supply-side to gold-buggery to inflation-phobia. Their entire economic program is based in large part on advancing policies that serve the interests of the wealthy while claiming against all available evidence that it will benefit the middle class. The notion that it has anything to do with fiscal discipline comes from long-outdated frames about the right; the rhetoric is still there, but without an ounce of substance to back it up. And it depends on keeping the rank-and-file in abject ignorance.

    Putting aside Carson’s brilliance as a neurosurgeon, there really is no indication that he knows anything about economics more than the average right-wing troll who gets all his information from the fever swamps of talk radio, Fox, and wingnut sites.

  13. Ben Wolf says:

    A default will tank the dollar in FOREX markets. With a combination of collapsed domestic spending and rising inflation from a depreciating currency you’ve got the makings of a nice inflationary depression on your hands. Being who they are Republicans will respond to the inflation by demanding ineffectual spending cuts, austerity, rinse-and-repeat.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate how seriously they plan to damage our economy. Repellent as I find many Democrats and their policies, any Democratic candidate is better than this alternative. The Republicans are in government solely to destroy everything they can lay their hands on.

  14. anjin-san says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    And when we are surrounded by the wreckage, we can be sure of one thing. The message from the right will be “Thanks, Obama…”

  15. MikeSJ says:

    Can the president parcel out where the cuts are going to if congress defaults on the debt?

    Lets say if 51% of the congressmen of a state, for example Utah, voted against raising the debt then that state would be targeted for cuts. All social security checks sent to Utah would be halted.

    All Medicare payments would be frozen. The federal air traffic control system for SLC would be shut down. All federal farm payments would stop.

    The problem is these morons think their will be no consequences from their actions…lets let them feel some pain and see how they like it then.

  16. Lenoxus says:

    I built an intelligent robot to help me lose weight. It regularly scans my body and if I remain above a certain weight for too long, it is programmed to do anything necessary to immediately reduce my weight to that limit, no exceptions.

    Hypothetically this could entail chopping off a limb or two. But I implicitly trust the robot to achieve the goal solely by cutting my hair and other nonessential bits, and possibly by spontaneously developing some kind of nanotechnology that eats away the individual fat cells. And if I’m wrong about that, well, potentially lethal bodily harm is all the more incentive for me to start being serious about getting into shape, right?

    The weight limit is on an easily-accessed touchscreen on the robot’s front. Every once in a while some paranoid do-gooder increases the number when I’m not looking, for my “safety”. Some folks have even suggested I turn the robot off completely, but that would be recklessly indulgent. Sometimes a little mortal fear is what it takes — not that there’s anything to be afraid of, of course. In fact, letting the robot take control would the best thing that could happen to my health, so please, hands off the screen. Ignore the AI experts who say otherwise — I know what I’m doing, okay? What, are you pro-obesity?

  17. anjin-san says:

    When I think about the damage inflicted on our country by the Bush administration, and then think about the potential for harm the radical wing of the Republican Party represents, with their dysfunction growing exponentially represents, a bit from Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown” comes to mind:

    Well my daddy come on the Ohio works
    When he come home from World War Two
    Now the yard’s just scrap and rubble
    He said “Them big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do.

  18. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    My hope is the Republicans are heading for a 1964 type crackup. Only if something like that happens will the Republicans come back to sanity. If they blown out like in 1964 and lose the Senate and maybe even the House, the craziness will stop.But right now that’s a long shot
    The hope is that the Democrats will be be united, composed, confident and ready to pick up the pieces. That’s kind of a long shot too.
    BTW, remember all that handwringing about Hillary’s email “scandal” and how poorly she handled it? We are now looking at what a real shipwreck is.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @Lenoxus: well, once you’re finished snarking, what’s your suggestion to solve the problem?

    (I honestly think only if all those dratted “get gummint outta mah Medicare!” types actually have their SS payments go to zero will they every start admitting that the U.S. government actually is good for something.)

    Oh, and for those of you who think that shutting down the government is a grand idea? You’ve just managed to throw a total money wrench in our intellectual property pipeline, guys. It’s now FIRST TO FILE, so good luck in trying to claim priority, boys….A lot of companies in China and the EU will be thanking you from the bottoms of their hearts….

  20. Kylopod says:

    @stonetools: I’m not sure a 1964-type crackup is what you’re really hoping for, given that 1964 was pretty much the beginning of the right-wing takeover of the GOP.

  21. Lenoxus says:

    @grumpy realist:

    well, once you’re finished snarking, what’s your suggestion to solve the problem?

    Turn off the killer robot. Eliminate the debt ceiling. Falling short of that (because politically, it looks “soft on debt”), restore the Gephardt Rule and make it increase automatically. Falling short of that, have a de facto Gephardt Rule with as little fanfare as possible.

    Regarding national debt, I don’t actually see it as a crisis at this point, though obviously it could become one if interest payments started to take way too much out of the budget. Keeping debt low in proportion to GDP is reasonable, but the current rhetoric treats zero debt as the optimum, which would be ludicrous for an actual modern national government to maintain — a bit like someone’s target body weight being 0 pounds.

    In fact, if I added some more snark, I would have given my character a totally normal, maybe only slightly above-average weight, such that actually doing anything significant about his weight would be a waste of time and energy.

    (I honestly think only if all those dratted “get gummint outta mah Medicare!” types actually have their SS payments go to zero will they every start admitting that the U.S. government actually is good for something.)

    No, an end of SS payments would, for them, be the perfect demonstration of the damned government gridlock getting in the way of Social Security, a program which (as with Medicare) is a natural process, like the water cycle, and can be credited to no institution. As famously put in one instance: “I was on welfare and food stamps. Did anyone help me? No.”

  22. C. Clavin says:

    If that analogy or metaphor or parable or whatever you think it is…was even close to accurate…it wouldn’t have been a total waste of time to read it.

  23. Tony W says:

    The man Is a doctor – there is no way he is this stupid, even if his paycheck depends on being this stupid. But somehow that makes it worse. Since Reagan it seems republicans want their president to (pretend to) be a complete idiot, presumably so they can feel smarter themselves.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @Tony W:

    Bobby Fischer was the greatest chess player ever. He was also nutty as a fruitcake.

    IQ ≠ Sanity.

  25. Todd says:

    @Tony W:

    Since Reagan it seems republicans want their president to (pretend to) be a complete idiot, presumably so they can feel smarter themselves.

    That used to be something of a comfort. It was not only plausible, but likely that Republican politicians would give a wink and a nod to their crazy constituents, but made actual decisions based on reality. What’s so scary now is that the farce that is right-wing media seems to be the primary information source for even the most mainstream Republican politicians. I remember watching the 2012 Presidential debates and being amazed that some of Romney’s answers seemed to be straight off the pages of Breitbart. It was both amazing and scary.

    It’s one thing to have politicians who are beholden to delusional constituents, but it’s a whole new ball game when those in power believe the bullshit themselves.

  26. Kylopod says:

    @Tony W: @michael reynolds: I’m going to have to disagree with both of you on this. One thing I find annoying about some liberals is a tendency to throw around words like “stupid” and “crazy” in a narrow and simplistic way. I’m well aware that the modern American right is mired in ignorance and fantasy. In fact, being a Gen-Xer who came of age in the Clinton era, this situation is practically all I’ve ever known; I don’t have any direct memories of a time when American conservatism was a rational, thought-based movement (though I know it once was).

    However, I’ve known many conservatives in my life, and while it is definitely true that the majority of them have a distorted perception of the world, that doesn’t mean they’re actually stupid people. There is absolutely nothing novel to me about someone with a high IQ holding stupid or foolish beliefs. Furthermore, there are different types of intelligence, and different areas of knowledge. I know many people who are brilliant on one subject but who sound like drooling morons on another. And it definitely is possible to be “stupid” or ignorant about politics while being a fairly intelligent person in general.

    Bobby Fischer isn’t a good example, because my impression is that he was probably mentally ill, which I do not think is the case for Ben Carson. And my major problem with Michael using that example is that he’s equating “nutty as a fruitcake” with anyone holding ridiculous, extreme, and/or ignorant views.

    Ben Carson isn’t “crazy” in a psychiatric sense, and he isn’t “stupid” in an IQ sense. He holds some crazy (i.e. irrational) ideas, he has made some very stupid (i.e. poorly thought out) remarks, and he’s phenomenally ignorant about public policy–but he isn’t actually a stupid or crazy person. A lot of liberals find this baffling, but I never have, since I’ve long realized that the colloquial meanings of stupidity and craziness often do not coincide with their literal meanings.

  27. James Joyner says:

    My reading of the transcript is slightly different: Carson is simply an ignoramus. Sure, he has a high IQ. But he clearly doesn’t follow the news closely enough to understand a fairly basic, recurring issue in American politics.

    Even the Tea Party types don’t want to default on the debt. They want to use the threat of default as leverage to get a second bite at the apple, gaining further spending cuts on budgets and/or appropriations that have already been passed. That’s mildly dangerous and exasperating but not nutty.

    If Carson understood what he was advocating and still advocated it, it would be nutty.

    The concept of the debt ceiling is silly.

  28. gVOR08 says:

    @Tony W: Doctors are the best trained monkeys in the world. And they are not trained in critical thinking.

  29. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Pet peeve – the actual hard debt is nowhere close to $18 trillion. It’s around $10 trillion. The rest is meaningless intragovernmental debt, which is little more than a placeholder indicator for the amount of excess OASDI / etc. revenue which has been spent in the past.

    Those are pay as you go programs. One could wipe the entire intragovernmental debt off of the books and you’d still be left with making the same payments out of incoming revenue, so including it as if it were something which actually has to be repaid is disingenuous.

    The horizon of that debt stretches as long as 30 years, against a revenue base over the same period (assuming zero economic growth even) of hundreds of trillions. The average person holding a mortgage is in a worse position from a debt versus income standpoint than the federal government is, but we keep getting this hyperbolic garment rending.

    Now the deficit, which is problematic, needs to be addressed. How does one address that? Sensible cuts where they make sense and unavoidably tax increases for the rest, but that had nothing to do with the debt ceiling.

  30. gVOR08 says:


    It’s one thing to have politicians who are beholden to delusional constituents, but it’s a whole new ball game when those in power believe the bullshit themselves.

    I’ve said many times in these threads that conservatives always believe their own bullshit. It’s the easiest way to relieve the cognitive dissonance between their view of themselves as moral exemplars and their constant lies.

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: People should remember 1992. Ross Perot ran for president on the idea the deficit was a crazy uncle in the attic that was going to come down and kill us all, and he had the pie charts to prove it. His whole campaign was based on the idea we had to do something drastic about the deficit. Instead we elected Bill Clinton. He, as you say, raised a few taxes (with help from his predecessor, HW) and cut some spending here and there@Kylopod: . Mostly he allowed the economy to grow and we had a little inflation. Next thing you know, we had a surplus.

  32. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod: I forget which lefty blogger years ago had to come up with the concept of “functionally stupid” to describe W Bush. No one thought he had a low IQ, yet he kept doing stupid stuff. At some point you have to realize that whether he was unable to think things though, or just didn’t bother to, the end result was the same. Ben Carson may not be crazy in a psychiatric sense, and I expect he loves his wife and is kind to his dog. But what difference does that make? If he keeps saying crazy things, can we not describe him as crazy?

  33. Lenoxus says:

    @C. Clavin: Could you clarify your issue? The point of my piece there was to argue against the debt ceiling, not for it.

    @gVOR08: I’m having flashbacks to English class now — was Hamlet merely feigning madness, as he claimed, or did his experiences actually unhinge him?

  34. Avid sportman says:

    @HarvardLaw92: While mostly true, your statement is a bit misleading. 1) The numbers I’ve seen have intra-gov debt at less than $6 trillion and debt held by the public closer to $13 trillion (source: Does this matter? Maybe, maybe not, but I find it’s best to be as accurate as possible and let everyone make their own conclusions. 2) Intra-Gov dept was basically taken from excesses elsewhere so that deficits wouldn’t be as large, not really a problem except at-least two of those than had surpluses (social security and medicare) are expected to have revenue shortfalls in the future that are fairly significant. If these programs are modified so that revenue meets expenses then it doesn’t matter. If not, then intra-gov debt is essentially a measurement of debt in the forum of future liabilities, but not treasuries that need to be paid back with interest. You could cancel it out without any issue to current payments but it will need to be paid at some point. Not necessarily bad policy, if rates are lower in the future than they were when you borrowed that money then it was a good idea. if they’re higher then we would have been better off issuing debt then rather than having to issue it in the future.

  35. anjin-san says:

    @James Joyner:

    Even the Tea Party types don’t want to default on the debt. They want to use the threat of default as leverage to get a second bite at the apple, gaining further spending cuts on budgets and/or appropriations that have already been passed. That’s mildly dangerous and exasperating but not nutty.

    No one really wanted the sequester either, it was supposed to be a tactic, not a policy. Look how that worked out. Events have a way of taking on a life of their own.

  36. HarvardLaw92 says:


    People tend to approach the federal disc as they would their household bookkeeping, which I suppose is understandable given that’s likely the extent of their knowledge of & experience with finance. I don’t judge them based on that.

    What I do judge them on is their failure to grasp how phenomenally unqualified they are to voice an opinion on federal finances as the result of that financial ignorance. The federal treasury is not the equivalent of their checkbook, and they can’t expect that it will be managed in the same way.

    But they do, just the same. I’m not sure if Carson misunderstands the debt ceiling, or if he’s pandering to the people I alluded to above, but in the end it’s immaterial. It renders him unfit to lead.

  37. DrDaveT says:

    @C. Clavin:

    If that analogy or metaphor or parable or whatever you think it is…was even close to accurate…

    Looked pretty accurate to me. Which part did you think wasn’t?

  38. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08: I don’t think you can just flat out make the statement that Bush was “functionally stupid” or that Carson is “functionally crazy,” because you’re still vastly oversimplifying what those concepts mean. We need to get out of our political-junkie mindset for a moment and recognize that these are human beings with wives and kids, and I doubt if you knew them personally you would consider either man to be stupid or crazy.

    And remember, Bush didn’t have anything close to the level of policy illiteracy that we’ve seen in Carson or Palin. I doubt he’d ever be confounded about what the debt ceiling is. I do think he had a shallow, simplistic, and anti-intellectual outlook, and that he deliberately cultivated a country-bumpkin image as part of his political persona. (I think this last was partly in reaction to a Congressional race he lost in 1978 to an opponent who painted him as out of touch with rural Texans. I always imagine him having said, “I will never be out-rednecked again.”) But none of that makes him “functionally stupid,” a characterization that would suggest a lot more than how he conducted himself as a politician.

    The same goes for Carson and “craziness.” The word “crazy” covers a broad range of traits, and colloquially people use it as more-or-less an informal synonym for “irrational.” The problem is that this equates irrationality with mental-health problems, when the two don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other. It’s true that mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can lead people to hold Alex Jones-type paranoid beliefs. But not everyone who holds such beliefs is mentally ill, and in any case those illnesses are characterized by a lot more than simply delusions; they affect the mind in ways that make it hard to function as an independent adult.

    That’s why I objected to the Bobby Fischer example. Fischer was never officially diagnosed with a mental illness, but there has long been speculation about it. See the following article:

    (I should note that I base my views not just on what I’ve read; my great uncle–a chess enthusiast himself–knew Fischer as a young man.)

    Fischer’s beliefs, in any case, almost make Carson’s seem reasonable by comparison. Sure, comparing Obamacare to slavery is stupid and absurd, but it isn’t “crazy” in anything approaching the sense of believing that an international Jewish conspiracy is plotting to destroy you–especially if you’re Jewish yourself! Carson’s brand of right-wing trolling–and that’s what it is basically–strikes me as more of a tribal solidarity kind of thing, coming from spending too much time in the fever swamps of right-wing media. In short, Carson really needs to get out more often–but that doesn’t mean he needs a psychiatrist. “Functionally crazy” doesn’t seem an accurate description for someone who (as far as we can tell) functions fine in his personal life, but who simply holds irrational beliefs.

  39. James P says:

    The only “silly” idea would be unilateral disarmament by raising the debt ceiling without extracting any concessions from the jack-hole in the White House.

    That would be as insane as agreeing to a deal with Iran in which Iran can conduct their own inspections.

    My inclination would be to lop 40% off of government overnight by refusing to raise the debt ceiling – period. Barry doesn’t want to negotiate. Great, nothing to negotiate – no debt ceiling increase.

    The issue of default is the reddest of herrings. I agree that default would be catastrophic but it would be more than worth it to defund the murderers at Planned Parenthood.

  40. James P says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The Republican Party needs to die.

    This is the first time you have ever said anything with which I agree. I guess a broken clock does indeed give the correct time twice a day.

    Yes, the GOP does need to go the way of the Whigs.

    It needs to be replaced by a conservative party. Right now we do not have an opposition party – the GOP has never once confronted Obama on any issue of substance.

    The GOP does need to die — just as a dead branch on a bush needs to be pruned in order to clear space for something productive. By getting rid of the GOP we create room for a conservative party which will be an actual genuine opposition party.

    The GOP will eventually cave and raise the debt ceiling. However, if we got rid of the GOP and replaced it with the Freedom Caucus, maybe they would stand firm and refuse to raise the debt ceiling.

    Default is a red herring, but even if it hypothetically ooccurred (which it wouldn’t) I’d be OK with it because the catastrophe would occur on Obama’s watch.

    Quick, who was the Speaker during the Great Depression? Don’t know, do you? However, everyone knows who the president was. If the economy crashes people will blame Obama.

    If we have a Great Depression (which would be a very likely cause of default) my guess is that would be politically favorable for the Republicans in 2016.

    The people who would be most hurt would be Obama’s voters and I’m just fine with that.

    Yes, let the GOP die — replace it with conservatives and don’t increase the debt ceiling.

  41. Mikey says:

    @James P: I have just stopped believing you are for real. You HAVE to be a Poe. Nobody is this utterly, banally stupid. Nobody hits every ridiculous stereotype this directly without intending to.

    I’m not sure what your objective is, but bravo, good sir, you have attained whatever the Troll Pinnacle is.

  42. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Since we don’t even have any evidence these people understand what sort of laws will get tossed out on Constitutional ground (“anti-Sharia law”, hello?), it’s not surprising they don’t understand math, either.

  43. grumpy realist says:

    @James P: What “murderers at Planned Parenthood”? State your cause of action, and show your work.

    Getting an abortion is (still) legal within the US, thus no “murderer” exists. If you have evidence of an actual murder and it’s not just hyperbole on your part, I suggest you contact the police.

    Have you contacted the police yet?

  44. Tony W says:


    Ben Carson isn’t “crazy” in a psychiatric sense, and he isn’t “stupid” in an IQ sense. He holds some crazy (i.e. irrational) ideas, he has made some very stupid (i.e. poorly thought out) remarks, and he’s phenomenally ignorant about public policy–but he isn’t actually a stupid or crazy person

    You presume he believes what he says. I don’t.

  45. DrDaveT says:

    @Tony W:

    You presume he believes what he says. I don’t.

    That’s certainly one possible explanation. My personal impression, wholly subjective, is that Carson doesn’t read like a panderer. He seems to actually buy into his inconsistent, ill-considered, uninformed, smug, arrogant, ignorant world-view. That this mishmash of trite cliches and mythology resonates with so many potential voters is tragic, but I don’t think Carson deliberately crafted it with that in mind. It just happened.

  46. Kylopod says:

    @Tony W:

    You presume he believes what he says.

    No, I don’t presume any such thing. There are issues where the evidence suggests he’s pandering–on fetal tissue research, for example. And there are moments where it sounds like he’s trying to have it both ways, as in his comments on vaccines during the last debate, or his recent remarks on the Confederate Flag.

    However, his embrace of creationism is nothing new; he was saying it over 10 years ago, long before he entered the political scene. There’s no reason to assume he’s anything but a true believer on that subject, at least. His education and professional background should strongly preclude such a position (what does he think’s happening when contagions become resistant to antibiotics, for example?), but apparently they don’t.