America, The Debtless

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Talk of a balanced budget, and perhaps one in the black, would have been pure fantasy as recently as fiscal 1992, when the annual federal deficit hit $290 billion. Even now, with budget “surpluses” of $69 billion and $124 billion the past two fiscal years and expectations of larger overflows to come, it seems premature to ponder a national life of budgetary bliss when the debt is at $5.74 trillion and climbing.

That said, imagine an America free of public debt. Assume that President Clinton was right to predict in his Jan. 27 State of the Union address that with a little fiscal discipline, “we can pay down the debt entirely in just 13 years.” How would that circumstance alter the political and policy realities in Washington? And how long would the luxury of governing in a debt-free world last?

While it is impossible to answer such questions with any certainty, America’s history may offer some clues. Only once — during the second term of President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s — has the nation balanced its books and had to decide how to dispose of true budget surpluses.

Extinguishing the ‘national curse’
Jackson deserves much of the credit for helping America achieve what he, in his Dec. 3, 1833, annual address to Congress, anticipated would be “the rare blessing of a revenue sufficiently abundant.” Eliminating the national debt ranked high among Jackson’s goals as early as his unsuccessful 1824 presidential bid.

In that campaign, Jackson called the debt, which had climbed from a low of $45.2 million in 1811 to a record $127.3 million after a second war with Britain, “a national curse.” He vowed to pay the debt “to prevent a monied aristocracy from growing up around our administration that must bend to its views, and ultimately destroy the liberty of our country.” And when he won the presidency in 1828, Jackson made debt “extinguishment” a core principle of his agenda of “reform retrenchment and economy.”

A president remembered for his unprecedented use of the veto, Jackson constantly reinforced to Congress his desire for a debt-free America. In virtually every address to lawmakers, he lectured them about the need for fiscal discipline. And he sent perhaps his strongest message with a string of vetoes in 1830.

Near the end of its session in May that year, Congress sent Jackson several bills to fund “purely local” projects like the Washington Turnpike, lighthouses, beacons and other “internal improvements.” The bills, Jackson biographer Robert V. Remini wrote, “drove Jackson into a genuine fit of anger” because of the $1-million price tag and because Congress “knew the treasury was exhausted by former appropriations.” Jackson vetoed four bills, including one by pocket veto.


Alan Keyes’ Crusade Against Big Media

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Alan Keyes finished a solid third place in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 24, doubling his vote tally from his 1996 presidential race, but you never would have known that from reading a Washington Post editorial headlined “The Iowa Results” two days later. To hear the Post tell it, the former U.S. ambassador and multilingual Harvard graduate with one presidential campaign under his belt was not even in the race.

Never mind that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., finished a good 10 percent behind Keyes in the caucuses and that publisher Steve Forbes, who quit the race after a third-place finish in Delaware on Feb. 8, would prove to have less staying power than Keyes. The Post opined that “the upshot” of Iowa’s Republican caucuses was the transformation of the presidential battle into one involving three men: McCain, Forbes and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

That editorial is but one of many examples that Keyes might cite in his repeatedly pointed attacks against The Washington Post and other national media.

The flaws in Keyes’ argument
Keyes renewed his longstanding criticism of the press in a Feb. 7 appearance at the National Press Club, accusing journalists of abusing and excluding him from their presidential coverage because his conservative views do not fit their “black [political] stereotype.” He even boldly suggested that today’s journalists are “as guilty of bigotry and prejudice as any of your racist forebears were.”

Keyes urged the media to “simply do your job” in reporting the candidates’ views rather than acting “as the censors and pre-selectors of the political process.” And he scoffed at a suggestion that an affirmative-action program to place more blacks among the journalistic ranks might alleviate the bias. “Just tell the truth. … That’s all I would ask,” he said. “Just tell the truth. No special favors, no special treatment of any kind.”

On the surface, Keyes’ complaints about poor coverage of his campaign, whether the result of a “black out” or a less sinister but equally biased media judgment that Keyes cannot win, seem specious at best and self-delusional at worst. A look at the news and transcripts on the candidate’s own Web site confirm that he has garnered plenty of media attention.

Combining Work And Family

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Early in his State of the Union address Jan. 27, President Clinton sounded a theme familiar to his administration. “We need a 21st-century revolution to reward work and strengthen families,” he said, “by giving every parent the tools to succeed at work and at the most important work of all — raising children.”

The president then listed an array of initiatives that he said would help the nation achieve that goal: a major expansion of the earned-income tax credit, enactment of his $21.7 billion child-care plan, a tax credit for long-term care, more money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, pay equity for women in the workplace and more.

The work-and-family pitch served as the perfect closing battle cry for a president who signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act within days of his inauguration. But it also renewed a “family friendly” debate that has continued throughout Clinton’s two terms.

The same questions linger: Should employers make it easier for dual-career, single-parent and other non-traditional families to balance competing demands? What approaches work best? Should government intervene if employers do nothing? Or do attempts to make the workplace family friendly actually encourage parents to stay in the workforce continuously rather than making more time for their children?

A workforce in transition
Today’s workforce is unquestionably different from the one of the past. The employee of the past was male, and he worked full time and year round, said Kathleen E. Christensen, program director of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Family-Work Research Program in New York. Temporary and part-time work, self-employment and telecommuting all are fairly modern creations, many of them geared toward women.

Women with children comprise the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. And The Families and Work Institute provides plenty other evidence of the changes underway in its 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce. Among the findings of the survey, the first comprehensive one of its kind: