Friday, May 30 2003
MORE ON TAXES: This Financial Times story seems to be causing a bit of a stir. And for someone who has been bashing the New York Times's brains in over their reporters' misrepresentations, Andrew Sullivan should be blushing.

Yes, deficits are looming. Are they entirely the Bush administration's fault? Of course not. They are the product of a post-bubble economic recession, a terrorist attack that crippled our economy, and the distribution of significant resources to fight back against terrorists. The first two items are unchangeable facts, and the third is also a more or less fixed cost resulting from 9/11.

One may argue that Al Gore wouldn't have increased our defense budget as much as Bush and wouldn't have spent billions on a war in Iraq, but the overall difference in defense spending between a Bush or Gore presidency would have been negligible. Not to mention I'm sure a President Gore would have diverted billions of dollars more than President Bush to states to equip first responders, etc.

So here we are, with the economy limping along. We have five basic choices: 1) Cut taxes and try to grow our way out of deficits 2) Increase taxes to raise treasury receipts immediately 3) Boost government spending on infrastructure to try and stimulate the economy or 4) Slash government spending to try and close the budget deficit or 5) Do nothing.

As a practical and political matter, it would be irresponsible for President Bush not to take action on the economy with unemployment continuing to rise and the economy continuing to bump along. He's chosen to try and spur economic growth by lowering taxes and Congress has responded by allowing the tax cut at the cost of some additional pork goodies.

I'm never one to buy into doomsday scenarios whether they come from the left or the right. Still, I'm a little surprised by the immediate hysteria by Sullivan and the rest over deficits and the supply-side idea that slashing marginal tax rates will help us grow our way out of deficits. After all, we've done this before. Twice.

And as for John Scalzi, whoever he is, I'm really happy that he makes enough money to afford higher taxes. But just remember that his lamentation over the dire situation of his local community comes after a decade of massive economic prosperity and unparalleled spending increases at the local and state level. It also comes while Bob Byrd (and Ted Stevens, et al. for that matter) has continued to ship millions of taxpayer dollars from all around the country home every single year to his beloved West Virginia. Personally, I'd rather starve Bob Byrd and pay twice as much in state taxes.

And even then, I'd be against taxes on principle. Yes, I want certain government services and I'm willing to pay for them just like the next guy. But I think we've all lost sight of just how pervasive taxes are in our society. And in many cases we don't derive the reasonable benefits we seek from paying taxes, our roads are still crappy, our schools still lack necessary items, etc. Why? Not because we don't pay enough, but because the money we send to government is lost, wasted, misappropriated, stolen, or diverted to other things - like bridges in West Virginia, for example. T. Bevan 7:56 am

Thursday, May 29 2003
TAX CUTS AND CLASS WARFARE: Bush's big win on his new tax cut has prompted another round of vicious hand-wringing on the left. This morning Bob Herbert ratchets up the class warfare rhetoric:

But yesterday it was high-fives all around as Mr. Bush signed the third-largest tax cut in history at a grand ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

I suppose if your income is large enough, there is every reason to celebrate. After all, the tax cut could save Dick Cheney $100,000 a year, or more.

But given the economic realities in the U.S. right now, I thought the East Room celebration was in poor taste. The enormous tax-cut package (which is coupled with budget deficits that are lunging toward infinity) is a stunning example of Mr. Bush's indifference to the deepening plight of working people.

First, just as a practical political matter, the idea that a president - any president - seeking reelection would exert all possible influence to pass a bill that would stick it to the vast majority of working people in the country and raise unemployment is...(give me a minute while I talk myself down from using a really harsh pejorative here)... counterintuitive. Sorry, I can't resist: it's an absolutely ridiculous idea that has no basis in reality.

Argue if you will about whether President Bush has come up with the right method for jump-starting the economy, but don't impugn Bush's motives by saying that this tax cut is designed to "inflate the portfolios of the very wealthy" at the expense of the poor. Again, if the tax cuts are truly only targeted at lining the pockets of the top 1 percent of American taxpayers, President Bush is committing political suicide. I know Bob Herbert thinks Bush is an idiot, but he's not that stupid.

Even more telling, however, is that Herbert fails to offer even one idea of how to go about providing new jobs for the middle class he says is being squeezed. He derides the fact unemployment has risen to 6%. He derides the fact deficits are ballooning. Yet he also derides the fact that the tax cut is now:

"starving the government of the money needed to pay for essential services and to maintain a safety net for the nation's most vulnerable citizens.

We are closing schools and libraries in America, and withholding lifesaving drugs and medical treatment from the poor."

In other words, Herbert doesn't want to cut taxes and he doesn't want to cut spending. His answer to the current trouble in the economy is - surprise! - to spend more money. But how can we do that without incurring those terrible deficits that Herbert loathes? We can't - unless we raise taxes.

In any case, Herbert's druthers wouldn't lead to any new job creation in the country. His obvious compassion for the poor and working class - measured in his mind solely in terms of how much money the government spends on programs to take care of them - prevents Herbert from accepting the idea that tax cuts will help spur economic growth and provide the jobs the middle class in this country needs.

MORE CLINTON AND THE DEMS: On the same day John Fund rehashes Susan Estrich's column from two weeks ago about Bill and Hillary Clinton sucking up all of the media oxygen to the detriment of the Democratic party, we find stories like this and this.

Combine this with Carl Cameron's recent reporting out of early Dem primary states of South Carolina and Iowa. Democratic primary voters are describing the crop of Dem presidential hopefuls as "Tweetledee and Tweetledum" and generally unimpressive. And then there was this from one Iowa voter:

Frank Strickland, a lifelong Democrat and family physician, said not only is he unpersuaded by the Democrats' current campaign push for universal health care, politically he may swing to the other side.

"I actually would think I would vote for George Bush. I don't like Hillary [Clinton], [former President] Bill Clinton was an embarrassment, so I might even become a Republican," Strickland said.

Clearly, this is the exception rather than the rule. But it doesn't bode well for Democrats over the next 16 months that they don't have a nominee with the charisma and star power to rival the Clintons and that the polarizing former president and his wife seem genetically incapable of keeping a low profile.

In the end, however, next year the Dems will finally produce a candidate standing alone, toe-to-toe in the limelight against Bush for the better part of three months with the country paying close attention. If the economy doesn't recover or the War on Terror goes badly the Dems have every reason to believe it will be a competitive election. But will the Clintons be able to hold their tongues from Labor Day until November?

THANKS: To all of you who were kind enough to send congratulations on the new addition to our family. My favorite email also contained a cautionary note:

"Just a word of advice from a father of four, don't ever let your wife hear of a reference to having a child as the easy way to do anything. Kipling's Female of the Species is relevant, especially the eighth verse. All happiness with the little one."

This is a wise, wise man. And Kipling's eighth verse does indeed hit the mark:

She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast May not deal in doubt or pity -- must not swerve for fact or jest. These be purely male diversions -- not in these her honour dwells. She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else.

Thanks again to all. - T. Bevan 7:51 am

Wednesday, May 28 2003
EASY MONEY: My wife and I gave ourselves a $1,000 tax break last week the easy way: we had a baby. This should help explain my absence from the blog these last few days, as well as provide a preemptive excuse for any sleep-deprived rantings or errors that appear in this space in the coming weeks.

Her name, by the way, is Abby.

CLINTON REVIVAL: Can someone please take DeWayne Wickham aside and explain to him the recency effect? Not to mention the furious, continuous and sometimes deceitful spinning employed by the public relations firm (specialized department of historical revisionism) of Clinton, Clinton & Associates.

BAD, BAD TIVO: If you don't have Tivo, buy one. If you do have Tivo, then you know it sometimes will record shows it thinks you may have an interest in watching based on your past taping patterns. Since I usually record all of the political shows on the weekends, the other day I ended up with a recording of To the Contrary.

No offense to any of our faithful female readers, but I wasn't thrilled by the show - it's difficult for me to get passionate about "a discussion of issues from a variety of woman's perspectives." The show's third segment, however, did serve to remind me why Carol Mosley-Braun and those who think like her are a walking disaster for Democrats:

Mosley-Braun: This administration has been pandering to fear and division so that the attention of the people is on issues of safety and security and the face we are losing our privacy and liberties in the process with this extreme right agenda. I mean, these people are using the tragedy we all suffered on 9/11 as a cover, a shield for an extreme right wing agenda.

Bonnie Erbe: How would you characterize the progress of women and minorities today in America - or lack thereof?

Mosley-Braun: We are hanging on by our fingertips. You know the worst story I've heard in recent times is that the state and states are so pressed on their budgets and their budget deficits that some states are holding on to child support payments in order to balance their budgets on the float. Now, if you can imagine, state governments taking money - taking food - literally out of the mouths of babes in order to deal with the fiscal crisis that this administration's failed economic policy have caused - that's pretty bad news. All of those issues go to the very, very, tenuous state for women in this country right now.

I want to make sure I've got this straight: Bush is the one who panders to fear, but Mosley-Braun says the president is "taking food out of the mouths of babes" across the country and that women and minorities are "hanging on by our fingertips." Women in the richest, freest democracy on the planet in the 21st century are in a "very tenuous state?"

Braun's rhetorical mix of demonization and vicitimology seems to me to be particularly toxic.

DEM SANITY: Braun's silliness is a nice segue to Donald Lambro's analysis in today's Washington Times. Al From and Bruce Reed of the DLC are two Democrats who seem to realize just how much of a train wreck the Dems could be headed for in 2004:

In a memo to Democratic leaders last week, Mr. From and DLC President Bruce Reed attacked the party's liberal, activist base, which they said was "defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home."

"That's the wing that lost 49 states in two elections [in 1972 and 1984], and transformed Democrats from a strong national party into a much weaker regional one," they said.

From and Reed are battling to save the future of the Democrat party for perhaps the next decade or more, but it's not at all clear whether they will win.

Of the current crop of candidates, only Joe Lieberman truly gets it. But Lieberman isn't even on the radar screen in Iowa and is doing little better in New Hampshire. He'll have to hope for a split among Dean/Kerry/Gephardt in those states and then hold off Edwards and Graham in South Carolina before taking Michigan.

It will be an interesting battle to watch unfold.

WMD'S CONTINUED: In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Rummy suggested Iraq's WMD's may have been destroyed prior to the invasion.

Austin Bay reminds us of his recent column on the subject of WMD's and the fact that finding and accounting for them does, in fact, matter a great deal. We agree. - T. Bevan 7:39 am

Tuesday, May 27 2003
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: The New York Post's lead editorial on Sunday was No WMD's? So What? I have also heard a number of other conservatives make this same argument and point to polls showing that the American people would be supportive of the war even if no weapons of mass destruction are found. But this rationale from the Post editorial I find troubling and a dangerous argument for conservatives to advance:

What if weapons are never found? Does it matter? Not really. After all, the world is clearly a safer place with Americans, and not Saddam, running the show in Baghdad these days. Iraqis are free. Saddam's games are over. As are the troubling uncertainties about whether he might ever have - and use - WMDs. Plus, Washington has huge new strategic leverage over this critical area.

Well, as someone who was strongly in support of the war, it matters to me. Lest we not forget the principal reason we went to war in Iraq was because of the threat Saddam's WMD created for us as well as our friends and allies. Now that the war is over, and was a great success, it is disingenuous to suggest it doesn't really matter whether we find weapons of mass destruction or not.

Now, I am more than willing to give our government plenty of time to figure our where the WMD might be or what happened to Hussein's weapons program. And I don't buy the hysterical arguments on the left from the likes of Joshua Marshall that the WMD argument was politically cooked up as an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq.

But while the protestations of Marshall, Senator Byrd, and others on the left regarding WMD border on ridiculous, that doesn't mean that it doesn't matter whether weapons of mass destruction are found. It does matter. While there was always more than one reason to affect regime change in Iraq, the threat from Saddam's WMD program was in many ways the only reason that mattered. In the post-9/11 world the public is willing to support preemptive military action if it is taken to safeguard the American people, and that is more or less the case President Bush made to the nation.

The fact that the Iraqi people are now free from the yoke of the brutal Hussein dictatorship is a nice side benefit of the war. And there are many other side benefits from our successful prosecution of this war as well, but lets not kid ourselves about the real reason for the war. Without the weapons of mass destruction argument there would have been no war in Iraq. Now that the war is over it is disingenuous for conservatives to suggest it doesn't matter whether we find WMD.

I believe Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, I believe we will find those weapons or at least find evidence of what happened to the weapons. But I would think this should be of concern to all Americans, especially Americans who were supportive of the President's action in Iraq. America's credibility is at stake here. We said this man had WMD, we used the threat of his WMD as the principal rationale in creating a coalition that would remove him from power.

I understand it is frustrating to hear those on the left accuse the President of deliberately misleading the nation and the world, but it is foolish and shortsighted for those defending the administration to suggest weapons of mass destruction do not matter. They do matter. And like the early cries of 'quagmire' that flowed from the left in the first days of the war, I suspect the hysterical protestations regarding WMD today will appear just as foolish with the passing of time. J. McIntyre 7:55 am

Monday, May 26 2003
DEFICITS AND THE ECONOMY: Bruce Bartlett responds to Andrew Sullivan's criticisms and my post last week regarding deficits and the Bush tax cuts:

The level of spending is important and the level of taxes is important. The difference between the two is not. Anything that lowers taxes or spending is good; lowering both is better. But we should not hold one hostage to the other, just as we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

The best way to handle our long-term fiscal problems is by having the strongest possible economy. Keeping taxes higher than necessary in the name of fiscal responsibility is penny-wise, pound foolish. The money will just get spent on prescription drugs or whatever. When the crunch comes, there will be no more money in the till than if taxes are not cut.

Finally, the entitlement problem needs to be solved on the benefit side. Only enormous political pressure will bring this about. Large deficits will help bring that about, I believe. Without them, it will be too easy for Congress to raise taxes a little at a time to keep the system going without major changes in structure.

Therefore, tax cuts help both by increasing growth and by increasing deficits.

The most important line here is "the best way to handle our long-term fiscal problems is by having the strongest possible economy." That's exactly right. Growth balances budgets and more importantly it balances budgets while growing jobs and wealth. Or you could try to balance the budget today with higher taxes and/or reduced spending which in turn would destroy the economy, throw the country into a depression, and this is the great part, make the budget deficit and the national debt considerably worse.

Bartlett is also exactly right in suggesting that the "entitlement problem needs to be solved on the benefit side. Only enormous political pressure will bring this about." The reality is barring extraordinary leadership only an economic crisis will create the political environment where real entitlement reform will be possible. In the interim deficits can actually produce positive secondary benefits by working as a brake on the government's insatiable desire to spend. J. McIntyre 9:47 am

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