And maybe we are.
A week from Tuesday, Arkansans will go to the polls in a primary election. In the 2nd Congressional District race (which covers central Arkansas), three Republicans are vying for the chance to face Patrick Henry Hays, the former longtime Democratic mayor of North Little Rock, in November's general election.
The Republican candidates are French Hill, a banker who founded Delta Trust & Bank (soon to be sold to Simmons) and who is the "establishment" GOP candidate; State Rep. Ann Clemmer, a UALR political science professor who lives in Benton; and military consultant Col. Colonel Conrad Reynolds of Conway. That last bit isn't a typo. Reynolds legally changed his first name to "Colonel." I am fairly certain that makes him the wacko candidate, but his presence adds a little color to an otherwise boring race.
Hill has a large lead in both fundraising and the polls, and he's almost certain to earn the nomination without a runoff. His main television ad is a nice piece of political theatre. In it, over some pleasant banjo music, his kids talk about how cheap he is--relating the story of "Ol' Blue," the car Hill drives, which is falling apart. Hill ends the ad by saying that he doesn't spend money that he doesn't have, that the government shouldn't either, and that Washington is bankrupting the country.
Look, even though French Hill is a banker who lives in Little Rock's tony Heights neighborhood, he seems like a fairly nice, down-to-earth guy. I am naturally suspicious of someone who hangs on so tightly to a dollar when he obviously doesn't need to--that kind of person tends to treat the people who supply him with goods and services very poorly--but I have no direct or indirect knowledge of Hill's character in that regard.
The problem with Hill, besides the fact that he's a Republican, is that I expect him as a banker to understand how money works. His sound-bite approach--at least as he puts it in his ads--is that Washington is "bankrupting" us. It's not. It's irresponsible for someone who ostensibly understands money to suggest that it is.
The federal government cannot become bankrupt. First, it is unconstitutional for the federal government to default on its obligations. Second, the federal government has the capacity and legal authority to create money at will, even if it does so only for the purpose of paying off those obligations. Third, the appropriations process is controlled by the House of Representatives, which has been in GOP hands since the 2010 election. If Hill joins the House, he will be a rank-and-file Republican, at best, who will be unable to do anything to prevent the runaway spending he supposedly derides.
I suspect that Hill knows all of these things. If he doesn't, that makes him essentially incompetent in his profession. If he does, that makes his campaign fundamentally dishonest and reliant on a strategy of fooling people. And maybe we're collectively easy to fool. People frequently respond to financial analogies between a family budget and the federal government's budget that are superficially attractive but ultimately ridiculous in practice. That doesn't make it right to offer those analogies.
If you drill down into Hill's comments, you'll see how utterly ridiculous they are. Hill is a banker. Bankers make money by taking in deposits and by lending those deposits to others for interest. It may well be that Hill personally doesn't spend money that he doesn't have. But most Arkansans do--they borrow money to buy houses and cars and other expensive items, and to cover unexpected expenses. Virtually everything that Hill has can be attributed to a business model that fundamentally depends on other people's borrowing.
That undermines the only business case for his candidacy that Hill has yet articulated and makes him a hypocrite. Arkansans deserve better.