For those of you here in Texas watching the David Dewhurst for Senate ads — I get it, cutting spending to solve a deficit makes perfect sense. I balance a checkbook, too. When I lost my job last fall, my family had to make a number of spending changes and shift our budget.

Substitute in any GOP candidate for public office, and you get the same budget strategy rhetoric: slash spending, cut federal spending, eliminate unnecessary spending.

It sounds good, sure, but is it actually a solution?

No, it’s not. Then again, soundbyte-friendly rhetoric rarely ever is.


Say my favorite phrase ever, “What does that even mean? No, seriously, what does that even mean?”

Let’s walk through a few critical thinking points to consider when we hear this rhetoric:

  1. WHAT is being cut? The ads say “federal spending–cut to the bone.”
  2. Conversely, what spending will increase?
  3. How will citizens offset the added expense of fewer services due to spending cuts or deal with cut jobs? What long term effect will spending cuts have?
  4. Will the cuts affect EARNED BENEFITS (these are things you pay in for and expect to receive as services — often mistakenly referred to as entitlements)? If so, how will this be offset?
  5. Can cutting spending truly solve all of the problems or does it potentially create greater issues? Ask Ben Bernanke. He and other experts like him will say no: cutting spending too dramatically will impede the recovery. That should resonate with you if you’ve ever had to handle money and a household budget.

Here’s a generally good rule of thumb: the more extreme it is, the better it may sound in dire times, but the less likely it is to work.

Watch for absolutes and big number claims. For example, Dewhurst claims, “Repealing ObamaCare will save American taxpayers at least $540 billion over the next ten years.” Really, but how much will it cost them? A lot more. We already know this — it’s why health care reform was on the table in the first place. Let me qualify that for you from the OECD: the US spends 2.5 times more than the average on health care and still we are a very unhealthy nation, largely due to the uninsured issue, which leads to more advanced and egregious diseases that cost more to treat, which leads to more spending, and places burden on local budgets (i.e., cities).

Cuts — whether small in a personal budget or large in a complex government — go somewhere. They create a negative impact somewhere. It’s a matter of rationally evaluating whether it is more of a pro or a con.

It’s election time. Both parties are going to promise to fix it all. I’m listening for candidates and parties to make sense, not sound dramatic. I need sound policies and plans that appeal to my head, not my emotions. I appreciate emotions as much as the next guy, but they are not what I exclusively rely on when making a logical decision.

Personal afterthought: I work in communications. Sometimes this means doing outreach via social media. I know that if I put up a “thinking piece” it doesn’t get as much interaction as an “opinion” piece.

That’s because we all hold opinions and it is easy enough to opine. In fact, we want to opine, especially if it is a touchy issue that we feel strongly about. However, we do not all hold knowledge on all topics. This means it is easier (for want of a better word) to focus on broad-appeal social issues that require nothing beyond an opinion. Politics adheres to this like white on rice. That’s because we can whip emotions in to a frenzy and impel people to act based on frenzied emotions. I’ve never heard of whipping someone into a logic frenzy, whereby they feel compelled to do something.

We can be better than this. Impelling is a moral pressure, akin to peer pressure. Look for the compelling and logical information and conclude rationally based on information. Demand that from candidates. Weight that higher than “how you feel” about the person. Not I said weight it higher — yes, I believe in “the gut.” That’s fine. Just don’t let it lead. That’s like following the Three Stooges instead of Hercule Poirot to solve a mystery.