I fear the fear of the fear mongering more than the fear mongering itself

Recent TV ads try to manipulate viewers into believing either that government spending alone will lead to a terrifying future or that entitlements and the national debt are nothing to worry about.

Illustration / Chin Wang / Orlando Sentinel / MCT / Newscom / File
Which is scarier? The ads telling you that runaway government spending will lead to a terrifying future, or the ones that reassure us that Social Security and the national debt are nothing to worry about?

I’ve recently seen this commercial produced by Citizens Against Government Waste on prime-time TV. I think it’s what those who oppose efforts to reduce the deficit refer to as “fear mongering.” I think it does qualify as “frightening” and if not a total exaggeration is at least overly dramatic in its depiction of the Chinese as an evil enemy. What bothers me about the motives of CAGW in putting out this ad is that they’re trying to scare people into supporting… NOT less borrowing, but really lower spending and lower taxes. As CAGW themselves explain (emphasis added):

The new ad is part of an ongoing communications program in CAGW’s decades-long fight against wasteful government spending, increased taxes, out-of-control deficit spending, and a crippling national debt that threatens the future and survival of our country.

In other words this is intended to scare people into supporting the false notion that we can reduce the debt by reducing spending–and only “wasteful” and the vaguely-defined “out-of-control deficit” spending at that–alone. This is delusional.

Yet I think I fear the anti-fear-mongering ads put out by the “Our Fiscal Security” folks even more. These ads poke fun of the fiscal hawks and essentially bully people into not believing the “scary” facts (yes, facts) that fiscal hawks emphasize, by exaggerating how the facts are presented. Their bottom line: “It’s only scary if you believe it.” This group wants to scare people into opposing any cuts to entitlement spending. They want to reduce the deficit by tax increases alone. But they are going about it by suggesting the whole claim that large deficits are a problem is a false one. This “fearing of the fear mongering” troubles me a bit more. The first type of “fear mongering” is delusional in perpetuating the notion that tax cuts can be consistent with deficit reduction. But this second type of “fear-the-fear-mongering fear mongering” is more dangerous because it encourages people to ignore the facts and live in denial about not just how to solve the fiscal challenges facing our nation but there being any problem at all.

So you have one side trying to fear monger you into the contradictory positions of supporting deficit reduction but opposing any tax increases, and the other side trying to fear monger you into ignoring the facts about the deficit so that you’ll oppose any cuts to benefits. This isn’t helpful. I can’t wait until the election is over and the fear mongering on both sides dies down a bit. For now, if you don’t already fear this fear mongering, then at least be very wary of it.

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