If you get the chance, pick up a copy of Simon Johnson and James Kwak's new book, White House Burning. It is a balanced, non-partisan discussion of the national debt, and an even-handed assessment of what to do about it. Here is the single most important paragraph in the book:
Our national debt problem will be solved, one way or another. After all, even default is a solution, though probably the worst possible one. How we solve that problem will shape the role of government in twenty-first century America and the society that our children and grandchildren will live in. We could have a minimal federal government that protects our borders, runs the federal court system, and largely leaves people and companies to their own devices, regulated only by state and local governments. We could have a social-democratic welfare state, where the government ensures that everyone can meet her basic needs, including subsistence, housing, health care, and education, from cradle to grave. Or we could have something in between. Ultimately, any major deficit reduction strategy implies a vision of society. This is all the more reason why any discussion of the national debt must begin with basic principles, not just a list of numbers [italics mine].
Good policy wonks get this. They're willing to venture outside of their comfort zone of charts and equations to discuss basic principle and they recognize that economics does not possess the impartial objectivity of the natural sciences. Much of our confusion today stems from the fact that politicians don't really understand economics, and economists don't understand politics. Johnson and Kwak understand both--and describe how to bridge the gap in clear and understandable terms.
White House Burning is available at Amazon and better bookstores. From $15.85 + S/H.