Victor Davis Hanson

Republicans and Democrats are still name-calling in their arguments over the government shutdown, out-of-control federal spending and the implementation of Obamacare.

Yet if both sides would agree to just follow the earlier advice of President Obama, tempers might cool and a deal could still be reached. And had President Obama himself just listened to earlier guidance from Barack Obama, his opponents might have had no cause for either a government shutdown or another debt-ceiling crisis.

In 2006, Obama rightly called for an end to the Bush administration's intemperate deficit spending that had resulted in an annual deficit of $250 billion that year. Accordingly, Sen. Obama voted to shut down the government rather than automatically to extend the debt ceiling. He explained his resistance this way: "Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."

Obama rightly added an additional warning in forcing an impasse over further borrowing: "Every dollar we pay in interest is a dollar that is not going to investment in America's priorities. Instead, interest payments are a significant tax on all Americans -- a debt tax that Washington doesn't want to talk about."

The next year, Obama voted "present" rather than to approve another $160 billion in annual borrowing that would add to the debt. Then-Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi agreed with Obama's worries over serial deficits, at various times voting no to President Bush's requests to raise the debt ceiling to allow more annual deficits.

Unfortunately, the calls of Obama, Biden and Reid for fiscal restraint were largely ignored by now suddenly deficit-obsessed Republicans -- and the 2006 shutdown effort failed 52-48 on a close but strictly partisan Senate vote. While President Obama has repudiated his earlier "political vote" against raising the debt ceiling, then-Sen. Obama was mostly right in trying to shock the Bush administration into curtailing unwise expenditures.

In 2008, candidate Obama returned to the issue of profligate spending again. He went so far as to call the continued Bush deficits "irresponsible" and "unpatriotic," even though the deficits at the time had been far smaller than they are at present, and the national debt was trillions less than it is now.

Nonetheless, Obama was right again. Even in the period before the present five consecutive $1 trillion deficits, the U.S. government was already courting danger.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.