Republicans Kick Off the Convention by Showing They've Failed to Reduce the Debt

A national debt clock inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, ready for the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Photograph by Tim Boyles/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Isaac is turning out to be little more than a drizzle here in Tampa so far, but the possibility of severe weather still to come has the Republican National Committee playing it safe and prepping for the main events to start tomorrow. Today’s only official business is at 2 p.m. That’s when RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will call the convention to order, then click the start button on a giant “national debt clock.” (After that, he’ll call a recess until tomorrow.)

Mounted above the main stage, the clock will start at $15.9 trillion, and tick…tock…tick…tock … count out how much the national debt grows during the four-day convention.

“Every American’s share of the national debt has increased by approximately $16,000 during the current administration,” Priebus said in a statement. “This clock reminds every delegate and every American why we are here in Tampa—because America can and must do better.”

Mitt Romney often points out that the national debt has increased by $5 trillion under President Obama. According to the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, it’s not fair to pin the entire increase on the president’s policies. (Check out Kessler’s chart-filled analysis here.) Although there was an explosion of spending when Obama took office, most of it, like the $787 billion 2009 stimulus package, was meant to rescue an economy in free fall—an economy inherited from a Republican administration. President Bush initiated tax cuts that added $1.7 trillion to the national debt, and launched two wars that increased spending dramatically (current tab: $1.3 trillion). Both parties had a chance to resolve the debt crisis last summer, and didn’t.

Convention stagecraft is carefully calibrated to convey a message about the state of the country, and show how the nominee will fix the nation’s problems. If the debt clock is supposed to remind Americans of why Republicans are in Tampa, as Priebus says, it may also help people remember the party is partly to blame.

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