Conservative spin-doctors have most Americans believing that they reduce our National Debt. Nothing could be further from the truth. The exact opposite is true. Every Democratic President since Harry Truman has reduced the National Debt, while only Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, in his first term, reduced the National Debt.
Let us first understand that the National Debt is the sum of previous federal deficits. As one might expect, our National Debt mushroomed by the end of World War II to 117.5% of Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”). Harry Truman certainly understood the risk of such high government spending, and reduced the National Debt to 71.4% of GDP. He was certainly helped by the demobilization of our World War II combat veterans as the Army and Navy were dramatically reduced in size.
Dwight Eisenhower, being a logistics expert and numbers man, continued Truman’s success in reducing the National Debt. The total was down to 60.4% of GDP by the end of the Korean War, in spite of the mobilization. It was further down to 55.2% by the end of Eisenhower’s second term.
Despite the run up of our Armed Forces for the Vietnam War, both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson continued to reduce our National Debt to 38.6% of GDP by the end of Johnson’s full term in 1968. President Richard M. Nixon continued the trend down to 35.6% of Gross Domestic Product during his first term. President Gerald Ford presided over a slight up-tick to 35.8% at the end of his term.
President Jimmy Carter continued the trend of Democratic Presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt, bringing the National Debt down to 32.5% by the end of his term. That was the lowest point our National Debt reached since World War II.
When Conservative President Ronald Reagan took over, he immediately began to run up our National Debt. What was so expensive during his term? We had already faced down the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union for 35 years by the time he took office. By the end of President Reagan’s first term the National Debt had increased to 43.8% of GDP, and by the end of his second term it was up to 53.1% of GDP. Who was getting all of that money? Was it the fat cats on Wall Street? Was it the Defense Industry? Whisper who dares!
President George H.W. Bush continued the trend, increasing the National Debt to 66.1% of GDP. In 12 years the Conservatives had more than doubled the National Debt as a percentage of GDP.
President Bill Clinton managed to hold the line and get the National Debt down to 65.4% of GDP in his first term, and down to 56.4% during his second term. Where is the profligate spending that the Conservatives keep blaming on Liberals? Not here!
President George W. Bush reversed the trend, running the National Debt up to 83.4% of GDP before he left office. I am sure that Conservatives will argue that those increases were necessary because of two wars being run in the post-9/11 time frame. Perhaps so, but the record is pretty consistent between “Conservatives” and “Liberals.” It is exactly opposite of the story Conservatives like to tell.
We won’t know President Barack Obama’s results for another two years, but who will be surprised if the National Debt is increased during his first term? George W. Bush left office with our national economy collapsing. The Conservatives want you to forget that President Bush insisted upon and got an emergency stimulus package of about $1 Trillion during his last months in office. Yes, President Barack Obama asked for a matching sum, immediately after he came to office. They were both right! If that $2 Trillion plus had not been pushed into our economic system during those months, our economy would have truly collapsed. Most of us are still feeling the pain, and will be for many years to come. Based on what seems to be happening in the housing and mortgage industries, we may yet face bigger economic problems.
Yes, it is true, our National Debt is too large, and needs to be brought under control. But, the next time the Conservatives want you to believe that the National Debt history shows them as the reducers, don’t you believe it! They have consistently added to the National Debt from the time that President Richard M. Nixon was still a respected figure on the world stage. It’s been four decades!
The statistics in this article come from the National Debt Wikipedia site.
Skip Conover is an International Executive, Author, and Artist. He has written a novel, a published current affairs book, and a published journal. He turned his long time interest in Jungian Archetype into the Archetype in Action™ Organization.