The Self Made Pundit
Friday, February 28, 2003
A BUSH LIKE HIS FATHER: While I think ABC's The Note is often excellent, it's political analysis tends to ricochet wildy from astute to a simplistic reworking of conventional wisdom. Look for some trenchant analysis on Monday, because its discussion today on why Bush II is in better shape for reelection now than Bush I was in February 1991 is laughably bad.
The Note engages in this exercise in response to the growing awareness that Bush the Younger’s presidency almost seems destined to track the trajectory of Bush the Elder’s presidency as a weak economy pulls stratospheric polls numbers down to earth. If this Bush get his way, he will also have a short and glorious war with Iraq, just as his father did. Some commentators (such as this one) have even speculated that this Bush could relive its his father’s unhappy discovery of how important the economy is to voters. The Note attacks such speculation with points that are as specious as they are ahistorical.
The Note’s very first point is the nonsensical assertion that for the current occupant of the White House, “There's more time for the economy to get better soon enough for voters to feel it.” While I realize the media have been bending over backwards for this Bush, I don't think they are going to be able to get the calendar to move any slower for Bush the Younger. What the Note really means to say is that there is plenty of time for the economy to get better – ignoring that there is also plenty of time for the economy to get worse. I see no reason to favor a rosy economic outlook given Bush the Younger's bone-headed economic program of throwing money not at problems, but at the rich.
The Note also says – without explanation – that “The war against terrorism has the potential to re-create the Cold War's electoral college lock.” This statement is fatuous on so many levels, it’s difficult to know where to start. The Republican’s so-called electoral lock of the 1980's was little more than a catchphrase devoid of any particular insight. The reason the Republicans received more electoral college votes than the Democrats in the three presidential elections of the 1980s is that they received more popular votes. Once the Democrats nominated a savvy enough politician (namely Clinton) to attract more popular votes, the Democrats won presidential elections by electoral landslides. Even Gore’s modest national popular vote margin in 2000 would have produced an electoral college majority if Florida’s electoral machinery had not broken down. (No intellectually honest observer can dispute that the plurality of Floridians tried voting for Gore on election day in 2000, but thanks to the infamous Palm Beach butterfly ballot and other snafus, the Florida election was close enough for the U.S. Supreme Court to hand the presidency to Bush.)
Moreover, since the Republicans’ supposed electoral college lock did not even materialize until the 1980 election, it makes no sense to attribute it to the Cold War, which was by then more than three decades old. To the extent that the Republican’s Cold War positions did help them attract some votes in the 1980s, however, it is not at all clear that the war on terrorism will be just as advantageous to Bush in 2004. The very fact that Bush is now trying to shift the blame for failing to allocate sufficient funds for anti-terrorism programs to his fellow Republicans in Congress (see “MAN BITES DOG; BUSH LIES” post below) indicates that Bush recognizes he could become vulnerable on this issue.
Proving that hindsight is indeed 20-20, the Note also posits that “At this writing, the Democratic field does not appear to have the kind of once-in-a-lifetime political heavyweight that was Bill Clinton.” Needless to say, as of February 1991, the Democratic field also did not appear to have the kind of once-in-a-lifetime political heavyweight that Bill Clinton proved to be. For those with short political memories, 12 years ago Bill Clinton was probably best known for giving a boring and overly-long nominating speech for Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic Convention. The delegates actually cheered when Clinton reached the words “in conclusion.” Even after sewing up the 1992 Democratic nomination, Clinton arguably appeared to be a political lightweight, coming in third, behind Bush and Perot, in some polls. Obviously, Clinton eventually turned his campaign around and trounced Bush. However, a year and a half before the election it was by no means obvious that Clinton would prove to be a political heavyweight. I think Kerry, Dean and Edwards all have the potential to be political heavyweights. Let’s see what actually happens in the campaign.
The Note again fails to remember the reality of the 1992 campaign with its statement that “There is currently no Ross Perot-like figure that will drain right-leaning votes away from him in the general.” When an incumbent is running for reelection, strong third-party candidates generally hurt the major party challenger who has to compete for voters dissatisfied with the status quo. It is overly simplistic to label Perot’s supporters as right-leaning voters. Clinton and Perot were both competing for voters who thought Bush’s economic policies had been disastrous. After the 1992 political conventions, Clinton was leading Bush in the polls by more than 20 percent. When Perot (who had pulled out of the race for several months) jumped back into the race, Clinton’s margin over Bush shrunk. Contrary to the Note’s view, there is at least a fair chance that Clinton would have beaten Bush by an even greater margin if Perot had not run. If, as appears likely, there is no strong third-party candidate in 2004, voters dissatisfied with this Bush will have only one serious contender for whom to vote – the Democrat.
The Note also buys into Bush’s apparent belief that the appearance of a domestic agenda is more important than substance with its comment that “He will continue to push a domestic agenda, even during war (reports today peg his Medicare unveiling to the period in which the CW has it that the attack on Iraq will begin).” As I have discussed in my previous posts this week, Bush’s domestic agenda is largely one of tax cuts for the rich and weakening Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Polls showing that more Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of the economy than approve indicate that Bush’s pushing his domestic agenda is not necessarily going to stop the slide in his reelection numbers.
Contrary to the Note’s glib analysis, there are strong indications that next year Bush could be just as vulnerable as his father was in 1992. Let’s wait and see what happens with Iraq and the economy in the coming months before coronating the man who was rejected by the majority of voters in 2000.
DOG BITES MAN; BUSH LIES: While I admit that it is debatable whether it is really newsworthy that Bush is again lying about his policies, Bush’s latest prevarication about the budget is noteworthy for its victim. Perhaps getting bored with lying about Democrats, Bush is expanding his horizons to include lying about his fellow Republicans.
As today’s Washington Post reports, Bush is now shifting to the Republican-controlled Congress the blame for failing to provide sufficient funds for domestic anti-terrorism programs.
Bush, accused by Democrats of shortchanging homeland security, is blaming the GOP-controlled Congress for underfunding programs to guard against terrorism. Mr. Bush told the National Governors Association this week that Congress “did not respond to the $3.5 billion we asked for – they not only reduced the budget that we asked for, they earmarked a lot of the money” for other unrelated programs.
Bush’s finger pointing at Congress was dishonest since the reduction in anti-terrorism funds was the result of negotiations between the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans. The article indicates that in these negotiations Bush never expressed any desire for more money for anti-terrorism programs.
While Congressional Republicans are engaging in some minor grumbling that Bush is now lying about them and not just about his policies and the Democrats, their basic response seems to be “Thank you sir, may I have another.” As the Post reports:
.... In his speech to the governors, Bush said he was “disappointed” that Congress did not provide the $3.5 billion he requested a year ago for counterterrorism programs.
A top GOP House official said the Bush administration was intimately involved in negotiating the details of the $397 billion omnibus spending bill the president signed into law earlier this month. White House officials and many budget experts said the measure provides $1.3 billion specifically to local governments to combat terrorism -- considerably less than the $3.5 billion that Bush said he wanted.
“If the president wanted the money, he should have asked for it. He never did,” said a senior House GOP leadership aide. “Bush will say what he needs to say, and we understand that.”
Now, consider for a moment that this is the best defense of Bush that a top Republican can come up with. The defense is not that Bush spoke the truth or that Bush misspoke, as is his wont. No., the defense is that “Bush will say what he needs to say.” In other words, Bush is lying only because he needs to.
Well, that’s a load off my mind. While I am not a political supporter of Bush, I had been worried about his mental health lately. As Paul Krugman noted a few days ago after Bush falsely claimed that a Blue Chip survey of economists had endorsed his economic plan, Bush’s recent “mendacity on economic matters .... has reached almost pathological levels.” I was getting concerned that Bush had lost his already tenuous grip on economic reality and was descending into madness.
What a relief it is to know that Bush is merely lying for political benefit and is not a raving lunatic. It is perhaps the only silver lining in the dark cloud of his certifiably insane economic policy of meeting the fiscal challenges posed by terrorist threats, a likely war with Iraq and a ballooning deficit with more tax cuts for the rich.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
OEDIPUS W. BUSH: I know Bush and his handlers have dedicated themselves to not repeating the mistakes of his father, but they seem to be working towards this goal with all the determination of Oedipus.
In the Tragedy of Oedipus, everything he did to escape his predicted fate led him to fulfill his doomed destiny. So it seems to be happening with Bush the Younger.
Bush is determined not to repeat the mistakes of his father. After leading the country to victory in a glorious little war with Iraq, Bush the Elder made the fatal error of ignoring the economy, which led to his humiliating defeat to Bill Clinton.
Although Bush has been pitching a drastic tax cut plan that he claims is an economic growth package, recent polls indicate that Americans are slowly awakening to the fact that this President Bush is truly his father’s son. Just as Bush the Elder was clueless about the economy, so is Bush the Younger.
According to a new Pew Research Center poll, Americans are becomingly increasingly dissatisfied with Bush’s handling of the economy. (Link via Daily Kos.) The poll, conducted Feb. 12 to 18, finds that:
President Bush's tax-cut plan is getting a tepid reception from the public and has failed to stem a steady erosion of his ratings on the economy. Barely four-in-ten Americans (43%) approve of his handling of the economy, while 48% disapprove. This marks the first time in Bush's presidency a Pew survey has shown his economic rating in negative territory. His approval mark on tax policy is equally low (42%), despite a high-profile campaign on behalf of his tax plan.
Bush's overall job approval rating has slipped to 54%, down four points since last month and seven points since December.
This poll, and other recent polls showing growing public dissatisfaction with Bush’s stewardship of the economy, are warning bells for the Bush administration. While demonstrating that he hears the sounds of the bells, Bush is proving himself to be as tone deaf about the economy as his father. Despite the reverses the economy has suffered since Bush took office, Bush is still peddling the same economic approach he campaigned on in the salad days of the Clinton era budget surpluses.
Bush, who lives in apparent dread of repeating his father’s mistake of ignoring the economy, certainly wants to be seen as focusing on the economy. That is why Bush and his sycophants are constantly trumpeting his economic plans as BOLD.
Unlike Bill Clinton’s focusing on the economy like a laser beam, however, Bush is focusing on the economy like a sledge hammer, with radical tax cut plans that will wreck the federal budget.
As Paul Krugman has discussed at length on The New York Times Op-Ed page, Bush’s obsession for cutting the taxes of the rich continually leads him to proposing massive tax cuts as the cure for the economy – regardless of the ailment. Back in the days of the 2000 campaign, Bush proposed huge tax cuts to shrink the Clinton budget surplus. Now, he proposes huge tax cuts for their stimulative effect to shrink the ever-expanding Bush budget deficit. For Bush the salesman, a tax cut for the wealthy is snake oil that should be taken for both its stimulative and its calming effects.
While Bush may be sociopathic enough to manufacture rationales to fit the political needs of the day, he cannot change reality. Even if purchased and consumed, Bush’s snake oil is not likely to help the economy much, if at all.
The Democrats’ proposal of an immediate tax cut directed at the poor and middle class – the people who are likely to spend any additional money right back into the economy – could give a boost to the economy. In contrast, Bush’s massive tax cuts for the super-rich spread out over years would do little to spur the economy now. What is more likely is that the specter of Bush's mushrooming budget deficits will increase economic uncertainty and continue to drag the economy down.
Bush’s economic policy has become so single minded in its tax-cutting mania, it is unlikely that Bush will deviate from this approach regardless of how poorly the economy fares. Bush is far too arrogant and close minded to admit a mistake of this magnitude.
Despite his BOLD approach, Bush’s fear of repeating his father’s mistakes is edging ever closer to being realized. Ironically, like Oedipus, Bush is attempting to escape his fate with a journey that leads him right back to his father.
Unlike Oedipus, however, Bush may still escape his fate. If Bush’s war in Iraq turns out as short and as glorious as the neocons have been telling him, he will certainly get a boost in the polls – as did his father after Gulf War I. But, as the Bush the Elder discovered, a disappointing economy can matter more to voters than a successful foreign adventure.
While it is far too early to predict what will happen with Iraq, the 2004 economy and the 2004 presidential election, Bush’s hubris is leading him toward fulfilling the Tragedy of Bush.
Monday, February 24, 2003
OXYMORONS IN THE OVAL OFFICE: If there were a contest for the Biggest Oxymoron of the Bush Administration, the two top contenders would undoubtedly be “President Bush” and “compassionate conservatism.”
The incongruity of calling Bush “President” began with his appointment rather than election to the office and continues as Bush engages in derelictions of duty on a daily basis. Bush’s maladministration seems limitless, swinging from the neglect of problems such as North Korea’s nuclear threat and the reconstruction of Afghanistan to such active delinquency as arrogantly squandering American leadership in the world and proposing tax cuts for the super-rich in the face of ballooning deficits and an impending war with Iraq.
In the contest for Oxymoron of the Bush Administration, however, “President Bush,” must contend with Bush’s own campaign slogan “compassionate conservatism.” Bush used the catchphrase “compassionate conservatism” during the 2000 presidential election in his unsuccessful attempt to convince a plurality of American voters that he was a different kind of Republican.
Since acquiring office, Bush has demonstrated time and again that there is nothing compassionate about his conservatism. The latest examples of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” are his proposals to “reform” Medicare and Medicaid by cutting their funding and shredding their guarantees of equal treatment to all beneficiaries. As today’s New York Times reports:
President Bush has begun one of the most ambitious efforts to reinvent Medicare and Medicaid since the programs were created 38 years ago. Combined with his earlier plan for Social Security, the proposals offer a fundamentally different vision of social welfare policy, many experts say.
Mr. Bush's proposals for Medicare and Medicaid, taking shape in recent weeks, would transform these pillars of the Great Society and their guarantee of health benefits to the elderly, disabled and poor.
States would have far more power to determine who receives what benefits in the Medicaid program, which covers 45 million low-income Americans. The elderly would rely more on private health plans, and less on the government, for their health benefits under Medicare, which covers 40 million elderly and disabled people.
The administration's vision for Medicare and Social Security moves away from the notion that everyone should be in the same government-managed system with the same benefits. It promises individuals more choices, including the option of picking a private health plan or investing some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market.
But critics say these proposals would also mean less security, fewer guaranteed benefits and more financial risk for beneficiaries.
[S]everal architects of those programs argue that the Bush administration is retreating from the goals of the Great Society and the New Deal, and the promises the government made across the generations. The Bush plans, they say, are essentially an effort to limit the federal government's financial responsibilities and to cap what is now an open-ended guarantee of specific benefits – an effort to move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution.
The architects of Medicare said the program was created with some fundamental precepts that the Bush proposal would undermine: that all working Americans pay into the same Medicare system; that the healthy and the sick, the rich and the poor, end up in the same program; and that all have the same core benefits when they retire.
The idea that the elderly would be better served by a private, for-profit insurance market is anathema to these veterans of the Great Society. Before Medicare, they say, the private health insurance market was a failure for the elderly, nearly half of whom had no hospital coverage. They fear that private health plans would be tempted to recruit the healthiest of the elderly, leaving sicker, more costly patients to the original fee-for-service Medicare program.
The administration's proposal would offer states vast new power to reduce, eliminate or expand health benefits for low-income people, including many who are elderly or disabled. In return for the flexibility, and a temporary increase in federal assistance, states would eventually have to accept a limit on the federal contribution to the program's cost. The choice would be up to the states; they could stay with the existing program.
Administration officials say the plan would allow states to stretch scarce resources during fiscal crises. Critics assert it would replace the poor's entitlement to health care with a block grant to the states, just when the number of uninsured is rising.
Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” would shred the federal social safety net and leave the elderly, the disabled and the poor to the vagaries of state governments and private insurance companies. The only way “compassionate conservatism” cannot be considered a self-contradicting lie is to view it as referring to Bush’s compassion to conservatives who have never reconciled themselves to the federal government’s ensuring healthcare for the elderly, the disabled and the poor.
While the inherent hypocrisy of “compassionate conservatism” would seem to give it an edge in the Oxymoron race, “President Bush” is still in contention since his callous disregard for the least of his constituents – while proposing hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts for the wealthy – is yet another dereliction of duty.
While “compassionate conservatism” is certainly a strong contender, since the contest for Biggest Oxymoron of the Bush Administration is a close race, let’s just follow the precedent of Bush v. Gore and appoint “President Bush” the winner.