Viewpoint

America deserves the 2016 field full of deadbeats

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama last week.
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama last week. GETTY

There’s a certain demographic in this country – it’s unseemly to mention the specific population by name – that has no sense of personal responsibility.

I don’t know whether their problem is cultural or biological. But these people refuse to acknowledge bad decisions they have made, or the many times others have bailed them out. They want everyone else to pay for their failures, and sometimes their successes.

By now I think you know which deadbeats I’m talking about: the people running for president.

I’m not saying they’re all bad; there are a few personally responsible outliers to cherry-pick from an otherwise mooch-y bunch. But, as a whole, this group is unusually adept at ducking deserved blame, claiming unearned credit and hoovering up other people’s money.

First, there’s Hillary Clinton, who refused to answer questions about whether she had her e-mail server erased before handing it over to the FBI. Perhaps laying the groundwork to later throw some poor underling under the bus, she shrugged and feigned ignorance about what it means to “wipe” a server.

Then there are Republican governors who promise blockbuster economic growth, despite denying responsibility for the busted economies in their own home states.

Asked in the presidential primary debate to justify holding himself up as an economic sage when, under his leadership, his state has undergone nine credit-rating downgrades and ranked 44th in private-sector growth, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie responded: “If you think it’s bad now, you should’ve seen it when I got there.”

Likewise, when prompted to explain why he’d delivered less than half the jobs he’d promised in his gubernatorial campaign, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also shirked. He said voters elected him because he “aimed high, not aimed low,” declining to acknowledge that low was where he eventually landed.

On the other side of the spectrum lies former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who likes to take credit for a state job boom created by a gigantic housing bubble, which conveniently burst after he left office.

But by far, the leader of the personal responsibility deadbeats is Donald Trump, a welfare queen if there ever was one.

This is a man who has proudly “used the laws of the country to [his] advantage.” That means racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatements – that is, government subsidies – to finance his real estate empire. It means borrowing lots of money that he never paid back, because it was discharged in four (corporate) bankruptcies, which he looks back on with pride. That means trying to use eminent domain to seize an elderly widow’s property so he could build a limousine parking lot.

None of this is illegal, of course. But it’s also not the track record of someone who wants to lead the party that has fashioned itself the party of personal responsibility, of freedom from government dependence, of the makers rather than the takers. Yes, Trump’s been “making,” but that making has been enabled by a fair amount of taking, too.

At least Trump’s business record provides a useful lens for understanding the few concrete policy proposals he’s offered: (1) force Mexico to pay for a border wall he wants to build and (2) force Middle Eastern countries to pay for U.S. military operations he wants to engage in. “Get someone else to pay for it” has been his business strategy all along, now newly applied to public policy.

To be sure, there’s a long and storied American tradition of shunting responsibilities, and costs, onto other parties (most creatively, though not exclusively, through the tax code). So maybe this crop of candidates is just what we deserve – if not exactly what we need.

Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist for The Washington Post.

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