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responsibility without antecedent

You know, if the broadcast media, particularly the news services, were genuinely economic liberals, some debate moderator or Sunday show panelist would start saying things like this:

What does fiscal responsibility mean? I keep hearing you say it, and the other candidates, it comes up a lot, but I don’t actually know what it means. Do you just mean debt reduction, and avoiding deficit spending? Is there somebody else the government is fiscally responsible for, or responsible to? Does having a weak dollar have something to do with fiscal responsibility? Does unemployment? There are an incredible number of foreclosures and bankruptcies; is it fiscally responsible to help those people, or to help the creditors, or neither? I’m asking, Senator (Mayor, Congressman, Governor, Mr. President), because I really have no idea what you or anybody else means by fiscal responsibility, and I’m hoping you can tell me.

And whoever that would be, Bizarro Mr. Russert, or Bizarro Mr. Lehrer, or Bizarro Ms. Clift, or Bizarro Ms. Roberts, would ask it again and again, until we either knew what people meant when they said it, or they stopped giving fiscal responsibility as an excuse to pass only the stuff they wanted to pass.

I’m not, by the way, completely against the idea that we should keep deficit spending down, particularly in good economic times, and I certainly think we should have some long-term economic plans (or, rather, long-sighted economic thinking, since plans are not useful long-term unless they have enough flexibility in them to no longer be plans), and I think the government should be responsible, fiscally and morally and bureaucratically and ethically and pragmatically and rhetorically. But it’s become far too easy to say that a candidate, a policy or a program is or is not fiscally responsible, without that phrase meaning anything at all. Education bonds, for instance, are fiscally responsible because of the long-term benefits that outweigh the costs. Or they aren’t, because bonds mean debt, and debt isn’t responsible.

Oh, there are plenty of words and phrases like that (security, diplomacy, leadership, terrorism, sacrifice, special interest, reform), but even in my fantasy world with socialist news anchors, there are limits.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,