Ross Douthat on liberal misconceptions of the religious right During George W. Bush's presidency, some liberals tended to see the rise of religious conservatives as more than a political threat. "Rather, it was an essentially illiberal force, bent on gradually replacing our secular republic with what Kevin Phillips's 2006 best seller dubbed an 'American Theocracy,'" writes Ross Douthat in The New York Times. Journalists are right to probe politicians who "wear their religion on their sleeves" about their beliefs, but they should keep in mind some points, Douthat writes. First, conservative Christianity is a large, complex community of diverse beliefs. "It's easy to succumb to a paranoid six-degrees-of-separation game, in which the most radical figure in a particular community is always the most important one," he says. Second, journalists should "avoid double standards. If you roll your eyes when conservatives trumpet Barack Obama's links to Chicago socialists and academic radicals, you probably shouldn't leap to the conclusion that Bachmann's more outré law school influences prove she's a budding Torquemada." Third, journalists should avoid the language of conspiracy. Just because Bush or others dropped Biblical language into speeches without citing it as such does not mean they were signalling with "code words" or "dog whistles". In fact, "all they're doing is employing the everyday language of an America that's more biblically literate than the national press corps." And lastly, journalists should remember that even when politicians successfully rally the religious right, they do not always follow their agendas once elected. The enthusiasms and excesses of the religious right are not the sign of the movement's success, Douthat reminds us, but in fact, "evidence of its persistent disappointments and defeats."
John Steele Gordon's primer on the national debt When discussing the national debt, people tend to cite different figures. "Some news organizations use the debt held by the public, others use total debt. Still others report total future liabilities of the federal government, without making clear what, exactly, that means," writes John Steele Gordon in The Wall Street Journal. The future liabilities reflect "the future pensions, health care, Social Security payments, etc., that are promised under current legislation." So a simple change in the law could instantly reduce those liabilities by trillions of dollars. While some do not count intra-government debt--Treasury bonds held by other Federal agencies--when calculating the national debt, Gordon argues we ought to. It is likely, he says, that as Social Security's surplus dwindles, that agency, holder of much of this intra-government debt, will redeem its bonds, and Treasury will have to reissue them in the form of public debt. The sum of the public debt and the intra-government debt in August totaled $14.587 trillion. But, he notes, "It's the debt's size relative to gross domestic product that matters, just as personal debts must be measured against a person's income before they can be properly evaluated ... Total debt is now 97.2% of GDP and climbing rapidly." The U.S. has supported higher debt as percentage of GDP in the past, but Gordon is most concerned with the rate at which our proportion is climbing. In the 1990s, the ratio was much lower. "But a president and a Congress committed to reforming Washington's ways face no insuperable problem getting the debt under control," he writes. "No one expects the United States to pay off its debt ... Even in a best-case scenario, the absolute size of the debt will not get smaller. But if we can summon the necessary political will, we can dramatically affect the measure of the debt burden that matters: the debt-to-GDP ratio."