It seems to me that if you want to talk about the political economy of the national debt you need to look at this chart:
And when you look at this chart, you need to think of Ronald Reagan. It’s not that all deficits are Reagan’s fault, or that all deficits are Republicans’ fault, or even that all deficits are bad. But people generally think that the 1980 election was a big deal in American political history. As best I understand it, conservatives generally think that the 1980 election was a big deal in American political history. And one of the things that made it a big deal is that it inaugurated a structural shift from a politics of small deficits linked to the business cycle and shrinking debt burdens to the deficit politics we know today. Post-Reagan politics sometimes cares about the deficit, but it cares much more about low taxes and somewhat more about lavish military spending.