The First Broken Promise of Hillary Clinton’s Presidency

Why her vow not to “add a penny to the debt” is an impossible pledge to keep

“I also will not add a penny to the debt,” Clinton said toward the beginning of her final presidential-debate performance. She made a similar pledge two more times that night

.. “She had to have misspoke. The alternative would be absurd,” Dean Baker, a liberal economist who co-founded the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said in an interview Thursday. “Clearly, she is going to add to the debt.”

.. “Whoever is president will actually be adding $9 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years unless they make changes,”

.. Aides on Thursday said she was simply talking about her “pay-as-you-go” approach to fiscal policy, which they characterized as a middle ground between the austerity budgets proposed by Republicans in Congress and the budget-busting tax cuts that Trump has championed.

.. Clinton would be on stronger footing if she had used the word “deficit” instead of “debt.” President Obama, for example, can credibly claim to have presided over a sharp reduction in the annual budget deficit even as the national debt has nearly doubled during his tenure.

Trump’s Revolt Against Vows

Even those of us most worried about a Clinton presidency need to wield a plausible exit threat, else what influence can we really exert over any party? And if Donald Trump is not reason enough to follow through on this threat, what possible Republican candidate would be? David Duke?

.. Trump’s policies, such as they are, usually come down to America breaking its promises. In the debate, he doubled-down on his previous pledge to back out of defending our NATO allies (who came to our defense after 9/11). Later in the debate he casually said we can’t defend Japan, another nation with whom we have a mutual defense treaty. This promised perfidy is of a piece with his rhetoric about tearing up deals and starting trade wars. He then brushed off the idea that stop-and-frisk policing was unconstitutional—not by taking the chance to give us any sense of how he understands the Constitution, but with flat denials. It seems that, like America’s treaties, the Constitution is just another document waiting to be renegotiated.

.. But conservatives who spin this as simply “shaking up the corrupt norms of a stale political class” are being naïve or willfully obtuse. Trump does not care from where a norm comes. His consistent approach—as a businessman, as a showman, as a Democrat, and now as a Republican—is to violate whatever norm is in place, as a demonstration of his own power.

.. What were most disturbing in his first debate performance were the times he chose to acknowledge his past dishonors brazenly, to frame them as matters of pride. This was how he reacted when confronted about his refusal to release his tax returns (“that makes me smart”), his bilking of contractors (“I was unsatisfied with his work”), and his tax-dodging (“it would have been squandered”).

.. Donald Trump seems to think that backing out of agreements is laudable, as long it helps him get ahead. But any churl can break a vow. What takes character, in politics, business, or marriage, is to make a vow and keep it, come what may. Trump left open for Clinton a line that should by rights be a conservative rallying cry, “It is essential that America’s word be good.” Alack the day the GOP lost the right to say that!

.. This year is a chance for conservatives to demonstrate that we actually care about America’s honor.