By CHARLIE MITCHELL
OXFORD – It’s a little scary to come out and say it, but here goes: It appears Americans might be awakening to the reality of the national debt.
The important folk in media – those with their own TV shows – might be seeing this, too. But so far, they’re skirting the precise point and coming up with all sorts of reasons why non-party candidates are winning primaries and elections from coast-to-coast.
One popular explanation, especially as it pertains to the South, is that the debt and deficit spending were never issues until America elected a black president.
True, but it doesn’t explain why voters, even in diehard liberal districts, are voting in droves for candidates who make one simple promise: they’ll shut off the tap.
In Mississippi, debt-motivated voters will decide the outcome in two of the congressional districts on Nov. 2.
In north Mississippi’s District 1, one-term incumbent Democrat Travis Childers is taking body blows from the national Republican organization. They call Childers a big spender who votes “81 percent of the time” with uber-liberal Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
In his campaign, Childers and the Democratic TV ad machine are depicting Alan Nunnelee, a leader in the state Senate and the Republican nominee, as being a lying tax-raiser.
There are too many independents in that race for any of them to emerge from the pack, but here’s the gist: District 1 will go to the candidate who does the best job of convincing voters the other guy is a spendthrift.
In District 4 along the Gulf Coast, Democrat Gene Taylor is a true common sense conservative member of the House. Taylor’s voters have been loyal to him despite favoring John McCain by 14 percentage points over Barack Obama two years ago.
But Republican Steven Palazzo is making inroads against Taylor by accusing him of one sin: being an incumbent. Palazzo says – guess what – he’ll cut spending.
District 3, a swath across central Mississippi, is not in play because Republican incumbent Gregg Harper is a highly vocal tightwad. “I never believed the way to get out of a hole was to dig a deeper hole” was his theme in voting against the $787 billion federal stimulus legislation.
District 2, composed mostly of Delta counties, is not in play because Democratic incumbent Bennie Thompson is tops in “constituent service,” which mainly consists of piping more and more giveaway programs to people already so poor and so deeply dependent on public dollars that emergence of a working private economy seems impossible.
Now in defense of Washington, members of Congress have a reason to be cynical. Yes, some of their constituents have fretted aloud about the government allocating more dollars than were coming in. Those pleas, however, were muted by louder appeals for money. Saying “yes” to programs led to re-election; saying no led to unemployment.
In recent years, there’s been a perfect storm resulting in citizen shock being seen at polls today.
n A favorable economy and “peace dividend” gave President Bill Clinton the ability to say a budget surplus was foreseeable. With a surplus, the debt might actually be reduced.
n A souring economy became even more sour after the terror attacks of 2001. That, plus two wars and a go along to get along posture, allowed Congress, under President George W. Bush, to double the debt in a mere eight years.
n Congress under Obama, well-insulated from criticism because Republicans who now “see the light” were such big spenders, has doubled the debt again in less than two years and plans deficit spending for at least 10 years to come.
Observers who for years have pointed out that both Republicans and Democrats have ignored deficits have some reason for solace. November looms as one of the broadest “throw out the bums – all of them” events in national history.
There are questions, however. One is whether “outsiders” can numerically prevail against a two-party, entrenched system of “insiders.” Another is whether voters’ new zeal for fiscal responsibility will last through excruciatingly hard times sure to come if Congress ever does, in fact, match allocations with income (as the Mississippi Legislature is required to do every year).
The analyzers will continue to analyze. The rationalizers will continue to rationalize. It’s what they do. At the core, however, what we’re seeing is a grassroots “stop the spending” movement. Lots of observers thought it would never come. Now the question is whether it’s real and will last.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.