Meet Jon Stewart, high priest of Hogwash Hill.
On Saturday night in Washington, the liberal comedian and host of “The Daily Show” went toe-to-toe with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in debate. The event was entertaining and lighthearted, but ultimately demonstrated a wide ideological gulf between O’Reilly and Stewart.
In his opening statement, Stewart suggested conservatives live in a bubble, or as he put it, on “Bullshit Mountain.”
“What is wrong with this country is not that we face problems that we have not faced before, we face a deficiency in our problem solving mechanism,” Stewart said.
“And the reason we face a difficulty in our problem solving mechanism is that a good portion of this country has created an alternate universe. … I call this place where these folks live Bullshit Mountain.”
He argued that on Bullshit Mountain, conservatives are animated by non-existent issues, or at least exaggerate the seriousness of certain issues.
“And on Bullshit Mountain, our problems are amplified and our solutions simplified,” he said. “And that’s why they won’t work. We face a debt crisis that we’ve never faced before. We are merely weeks from being a failed state, or even worse, Greece. And the way to solve it is to kill Big Bird. Now, let me say this, that is not a solution. And I believe tonight we will take you down from the mountain and you can come live amongst the people once again.”
But the truth is, on America’s long-term debt problem, our most perilous domestic challenge, it is liberals who exist in an alternative reality. Let’s call it Hogwash Hill.
On Hogwash Hill, liberals believe George W. Bush is entirely responsible for America’s debt problem because of the wars he initiated and the taxes he cut. They believe that when Bill Clinton left office, America’s finances were hunky dory. They believe that if we only raised taxes on the rich today, everything would be just spiffy.
Stewart himself promoted much of this in the debate Saturday night.
“You believe that because this other president is out of office, the Republican Party sprang like Athena out of Zeus’ head newborn when Barack Obama was inaugurated,” he declared to O’Reilly.
“Here’s why it matters about our debt and our deficit under Bush. What he created was a society of entitlement that we could have two wars that cost $800 billion and cut taxes at the same time. So if you look at the debt as a measure of it, we have $16 trillion in debt. Ten trillion of it occurred under the Bush presidency.”
When O’Reilly objected, pointing out that Stewart had confused the debt and the deficit, Stewart persisted in his point with all the confidence one would expect from the high priest of Hogwash Hill.
“No sir that is not correct. We had a surplus under Clinton. A surplus … The debt had been X’ed out,” he said.
This, to use a technical phrase, is utter crap.
First, it is true that with a Republican Congress, President Bill Clinton presided over several years of surplus before leaving office. But the debt was not zero when he exited the presidential stage — it was nearly $6 trillion dollars.
Much better than today for sure, but we still faced a long-term budget problem. The real problem with our finances isn’t necessarily our current debt, but our long-term unfunded entitlement liabilities.
Indeed, at the end of the Clinton era, there still loomed in excess of $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities, primarily because of Medicare and Social Security. There is no two ways about it: Social Security and, especially, Medicare need to be reformed, something members of Hogwash Hill refuse to recognize in any substantive way.
Second, despite what Stewart claimed, neither the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, nor Bush’s tax cuts, are responsible for our current fiscal predicament. I know members of Hogwash Hill view this as received wisdom from the Almighty, but it’s just not true. The wars are a temporary expense. They added to the debt, but they will end.
As for the Bush tax cuts, Obama wants to keep the cuts for those making under $250,000 dollars, so you can argue that the tax cuts for the “rich” added about $800 billion over 10 years before Obama agreed to extend them for two more years.
This is not to argue that Bush was some fiscal saint. He wasn’t. But he is hardly solely responsible for our $16 trillion in debt. President Obama has already added $6 trillion to the debt in the first term and has trillion or near-trillion dollar deficits projected as far as the eye can see.
But most significantly, Obama has offered nothing on paper to fix our tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlement liabilities.
In fact, when his Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, testified before the House Budget Committee earlier this year about the president’s absurd proposed budget — which received precisely zero votes in the House and the Senate — Geithner admitted that Team Obama had no long-term entitlement plan. He told House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan that the Obama administration just knew they didn’t like Ryan’s plan.
“We’re not coming before you today to say we have a definitive solution to that long term problem,” Geithner stammered when pressed by Ryan and confronted with a chart that showed America’s finances hurtling off a cliff, based on Obama’s a budget.
“What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
Listening to Obama over the last several years, you might get the impression that if we just raised taxes on the rich and closed an apparent corporate jet tax loophole, we would be on our way to fiscal sanity. But that’s nonsense. You could tax the rich 100 percent and not even close this year’s deficit, much less reduce the debt.
Sure, there are conservative activists that have their fiscal misnomers as well, like Stewart suggested in the debate. Some believe that by ending foreign aid or subsidies to PBS, we can solve our debt problem. Whatever the merits of making those two cuts, it would do next to nothing to stave off fiscal ruin.
But conservatives in the House did vote on and pass real long-term debt plan in the form of Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity.” That’s more than the congressional Democrats residing on Hogwash Hill have done.
Stewart is very smart and funny as hell, but his suggestion that he and his liberal compatriots live in reality while conservatives live in an alternative universe may be his best joke yet. I only say “may” because Stewart did hold a “Rally to Restore Sanity” and invite Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam), who publicly endorsed the fatwa from the late Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the death of novelist Salman Rushdie for insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad in his book “The Satanic Verses.”
Hopefully Stewart will change course and stop leading more Jack and Jills to run up Hogwash Hill.