After noting how badly the Bush administration bungled not only the occupation of Iraq but also its own initial response to hurricane Katrina, perhaps, says Jonathan Chait in his latest column, it would be a good idea to go back and re-examine the administration's failure to act on intelligence warnings prior to 9/11 as well as the failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora.
Political commentators like to pat themselves on the back when they say things that most commentators are reluctant to say even though they know them to be justified.
Case in point: E. J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post says that the our government's fiscal policies are stupid. Then he has the following to say in defense of his blunt language:
Why describe our government's fiscal policies as "stupid," rather than, say, "ill-advised" or "misguided"? The softer words of conventional opinion writing imply disagreement but suggest an honest coherence in the other side's view. Hey, we all disagree on stuff, right?
But our current budget policies are built not on honest coherence but on incoherence or, even worse, a dishonest coherence. The president and members of Congress always insist that they are fiscal conservatives who believe in balanced budgets. Yet their actions bear no relationship to their words, and labels such as "conservative" have no connection to their policies. Our federal purse strings are in the hands of fiscal radicals.
I'd have much more respect for these guys if they just came out and said: "Look, we love deficit spending. That's why we waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cut taxes at the same time. It's why we'll talk about offsets for Katrina and Rita but never enact them, except maybe a few cuts in programs for the poor. All we really care about are passing tax cuts -- and popular spending programs that get us reelected so we can enact more tax cuts."
Not very politic, I'll grant you, but honest. Vice President Cheney came as close as anyone to this form of honesty when he spoke in support of the tax cuts on dividends shortly after the 2002 elections. His words, alas, came at a closed meeting. According to Ron Suskind's book "The Price of Loyalty," Cheney referred to the former president in insisting to his administration colleagues that "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" and that Republicans owed themselves more tax cuts. "We won the midterms," Cheney said. "This is our due."
All hail the former Halliburton CEO for being candid enough to put the accent on power and privilege, not on policy and those oh-so-boring fiscal concerns. I guess balanced budgets aren't for "big-picture guys."
Which brings us back to that word "stupid." My dictionary tells me it means not only "lacking in ordinary intelligence" but also "dazed" and "stupefied." The crowd running our government is dazed and stupefied by a theory that sees throwing ever-larger sums to the wealthy in the form of tax cuts as so good, right and important that all the ordinary rules of finance and economics can be thrown out the window. If it was already stupid to pursue more tax cuts once the country decided to wage a large war on terrorism, it is supremely stupid to stay on the same course now that Katrina has added to our fiscal burdens and Rita, God help us, threatens to add more.
Or maybe it's the rest of us who should be called stupid if we keep taking these guys at their word. Are we all so dazed that we'll keep believing them even after a hurricane has blown away their alibis?
I've blogged Mr. Dionne's columns on several occasions, and I've done so with approval. Therefore, it should be clear that I think well of the man. But Mr. Dionne isn't telling all that he knows, or at least all that he suspects. His phrase "dishonest coherence" is highly appropriate, even though he doesn't take it to its logical conclusion. That is, the coherence goes deeper than he lets on.
Because ideological blindness goes a long way in politics, it could be the case that many Republicans genuinely believe that their fiscal policies won't have any harmful consequences in the long-term. There are still supply-siders among us who believe that tax cuts pay for themselves.
I've always thought that the supply-side doctrine was a smoke screen, although, of course, some of its advocates were true believers. (The truest of the true believers, Jude Wanniski, died recently.) For too many, however, it has mostly been political cover for a long-term strategy to drive the federal government into a fiscal crisis that necessitates large spending cuts. This is known as the "starve the beast" strategy.
Mr. Dionne knows that many Republicans think this way. The "starve the beast" strategy is dishonest because it deliberately attempts to sidestep the sort of debate on taxes and spending that we should have in a democracy.
Since I'm only a blogger who won't receive thousands of angry e-mails if I'm even more blunt than Mr. Dionne, I'll make plain the logical conclusion of my thinking (and then I'll start patting myself on the back). The deliberate pursuit of the "starve the beast" strategy, without informing the American people that this is what they're doing, is a conscious violation of the principles of democratic government. Those who pursue this strategy know that what they're doing is wrong, but deliberately pursuing what we know to be wrong is what it is to do evil. Since applying the term 'evil' to these fiscal policies is likely to conjure up obviously inappropriate visions of Hitler, genocide, and the like, I'll settle for calling them vile.
The Republicans certainly don't think that what they're doing is stupid. But even on their own terms what they're doing is vile.
Not that I even begin to trust anything that the North Korean government says, but this article by Joseph Kahn of The New York Times says that North Korea has agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for various economic, energy, and security benefits.
More: Glenn Kessler and Edward Cody of The Washington Post explain how the deal was struck.
President Bush has stated that no changes will be made in how Americans are taxed. Instead, he says, he'll look to make cuts in unnecessary spending.
We've been sold this bill of goods many times before, haven't we? Do we have any reason to doubt that Republicans will just add more to the deficit? The last thing they want to do is to risk unpopularity with those who currently benefit from the spending that would have to be cut to do as President Bush suggests.
As Carl Hulse of The New York Times shows in this article, the Republicans in Congress provide an excellent study in self-righteous posturing and political timidity.
More: I should have realized that Jonathan Chait would have something to say about all of this.
About two months ago, Born to Kill, which I highly recommend, was released on DVD as part of volume two of Warner Video's Film Noir Classic Collection. The forthcoming Val Lewton Horror Collection will contain The Curse of the Cat People and The Body Snatcher. As for Blood on the Moon, I've no idea when it will appear on DVD.
To call his murder an assassination makes it sound as if it was a sly and shadowy affair. It was really the outcome of a military-style assault. I mentioned that this obviously didn't bode well for peace, since Arafat's murder indicated that Abbas and his security forces really aren't in charge of the Gaza Strip.
I've mentioned from time time that one of my philosophical interests is the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte. A little over three years ago I agreed to write a chapter on Fichte's Foundations of the Entire Science of Knowledge for a volume to be published by Acumen Publishing.
These things take a while to come to fruition, of course, and so I only recently received my advance copy of volume three of Central Works of Philosophy, a projected five-volume series edited by John Shand.
The idea behind the chapter was to produce a reading of Fichte's most influential book that would be of help to students approaching that formidable text for the first time. I think, though, that more advanced readers will also find the chapter useful.
If you happen to have access to an academic library, please encourage the librarians to purchase the entire series.