[V]oters don't actually care about the debt. They care about whether they can get jobs, make investments, and get good services from government. And this is why Republicans are (so far) getting away with pledging to extend tax cuts that would worsen deficit projections -- because they have a supply-side argument that says people can pay less money to create more jobs, and the debt will eventually take care of itself. History suggests that this isn't true (the Reagan deficits were curbed by Clinton spending cuts and tax increases), but it means no sacrifice, so voters want to hear it.
What amazes me is that voters want to hear it despite saying they also want serious attention to the debt, and despite the fact that this supply side nonsense has been debunked inside and out. Catherine Rampell gives an international perspective:
A few months back I wrote about how some other countries have tried to realign the incentives of their politicians to force them to think about broader horizons. Does delegating fiscal responsibilities to unelected technocrats, who are not subject to the whims of angry voters, help? What about docking the pensions of retired politicians who voted for something fiscally foolish when they were in office?
Alas, the lesson from other countries seems to be that the best way to make politicians care about long-term problems is to collapse the long-term into the short-term. That is, have a crisis, in which that far-off fiscal doomsday is pushed forward to today.
And indeed, if you look at countries that have overhauled their political systems to promote long-term fiscal thinking, you’ll see that they seem to have done so either because a crisis was imminent, or one was fresh in their minds.
And the fiscal fragility revealed by the hideous debt now required to attend to a crisis like the financial collapse of 2008? It seems to have disappeared from Washington's collective mind. Do we really have to wrap fiscal sanity in the mantle of patriotism to have it stick? Or around cultural loathing of Obama? Can we not achieve long-term fiscal stability simply because it is clearly the most responsible thing to do?