Friday, October 11, 2002
In Talking Points Memo this morning, J. M. Marshall notes that after viewing the controversial attack ad the Dems. Are running against Montana GOP Senate hopeful Mike Taylor, he was less offended by it than previous reports had led him to think he would be. Perhaps he is more equivocal because the ad's allegations, arising from Taylor's operation of a beauty school in the 1980's, are so damning: embezzled student loans, students' lives ruined, taxpayers pick up the check. The problem with the ad, however, is that these allegations, which are not entirely out of place if presented straightforwardly, have been framed by the ad's producers in an atmosphere of sleaze - porn music, repetition of the close-up shot of Taylor massaging the subject's temples with his open shirt and medallion in the background, etc. The announcer's voice is a dead giveaway - dripping with singsong derision and contemptuous loathing. Don't get me wrong; the ad is funny. But it is what it is - a manipulative, sarcastic, and very effective hit piece, only at home in a relentlessly negative campaign.
Thursday, October 10, 2002
Premise 1. War is coming.
Bush is not alone when he states his belief that war with Iraq is inevitable. From the most rabid, pax-Americana unilateralist (Perle/Wolfowitz) to the most equanimous, consensus-building UN-o-phile, (C. Powell/Ken Pollack (if TPM is to be believed)), and in between (J. Goldberg on Slate; his "Aflatoxin" post in their ongoing debate was quite good), many un-dumb people believe that we have an inevitable role to play in ridding the world of this psychopath. Whether because the US is the elect punishing hand of god, or because Saddam's just really, really, crazy and dangerous, or because we can't let someone we can't control have sway over any significant percentage of the world's currently developed oil reserves, Saddam must go, brays the commentat. He will not mellow with age, he will not voluntarily liberalize his society, and he will never be honest with "inspectors" of any stripe.
And they have a point, or at least some of them do. Even if you don't believe any of the above justifications, surely it is not a stretch to imagine that eventually Saddam (or his successor sons, each crazier than a shithouse rat) will do something so unspeakable that the US or the world will respond. For example, I know the gassing of the Kurds is a pretty stale example, but imagine if he did it again, tomorrow. Even under President Gore, we would invade. Despite my profound reservations about the current war hysteria and empire-building rhetoric, it seems to me to be a better than even chance that sometime, in the reasonably short term, we will be rolling tanks in Iraq.
Premise 2. The Bush economic plan was based upon the same presumptions that fueled the so-recently-deflated bubble.
The GOP likes to portray their economic plan as the result of clear thinking and steely-eyed pragmatism: "Seems simple to me; you want people to have more money, you stop taking it from them. Don't know why you eggheaded lib'rals cain't see that." This is a blatantly transparent lie. The Bush economic program was an absolute blue-sky fantasy, depending fundamentally in every particular on the assumption, the presumption, that the Dow would never fall, and would, in fact, scale greater heights after GWB took the throne. This is the only logical explanation for proposing a 25% jump in military spending, promising to fully fund social security, and slash the debt, while cutting taxes more deeply and fundamentally than Reagan would have ever dreamed of doing (can you imagine the Gipper going after the estate tax with Tip O'Neill in the House? O'Neill would have handed him his balls with a side of ranch dressing). In short, the boom would fuel all of the conservatives' pet projects. History was repealed! Newt's dream revealed as truth! Hosanna in the highest to the Free Market Jesus!
Unfortunately, this was all a crock of shit. The Democrats bought it, the Republicans bought it, Wall Street bought it, everybody bought it. The Democrats, however, did not immediately cash every check Wall Street wrote, and actually managed to run in the black for a couple of years. Bush, however, immediately went to the bank and took out a second and third mortgage on the federal budget, took out every dime the most optimistic projections said we had coming, gave 2/3 of it to the rich, and handed out the remainder $300 at a time. Now, Bush, after almost two years of claiming that his disastrous stripping of resources from the government is actually helping, needs an excuse to roll back all of this nonsense, without looking like the incompetent, gullible boob that he is.
Premise 3. War is no longer the economic boon it once was.
Wars are different now. While the defense sector is an important part of the economy, the "war effect" is really a creature of, and a cliché derived from, the all-encompassing, societywide efforts of the world wars. In World War II, our army was quintuple the size of our current force (12 million v. 2.6 million), and fighting full-scale engagements on three continents, against organized, prosperous, powerful opponents - Germany alone had eight million men under arms. In that war (and in the previous World War), the entire society mobilized to produce arms and food for not only our army but for the armies and populations of our allies, on whose soil the wars were being fought. The impact on the economy and on employment was massive. Everyone who could, worked. Every factory that could, ran three shifts. In WWII, the government immediately became every industrial corporation's biggest customer. This simply won't happen now; GM has a separate defense division to make the Light Armored Vehicle, and it makes plenty to fight one small war in Iraq; nobody at the Tennessee plant stamping out Saturn sedans is going to have to stop doing what they're doing, and there will be no guaranteed purchaser for the product of his labor. And Britain can make its own tanks. In 1940, the top corporate tax rate was 40%, ten years later, it was 50%. It currently stands at 35%. During WWII, the top personal income tax rate was 90%. It stayed between 82% and 90% until 1963. http://www.taxplanet.com/library/oldtaxrates/oldtaxrates.html#5. The government paid for these wars, and maintained a positive bank balance, with taxes. All levels of society were involved, and it was seen as unpatriotic not to contribute to the war effort, to sacrifice, in order to help your nation succeed.
However, after WWII, the dynamic changed. It is difficult to find an effect specific to the Korean War, subsumed as it was within the massive, 20-year boom engendered by WWII, but certainly Vietnam carried no dividend. The Vietnam War described a descending arc in every way, militarily, socially, politically, and economically, ending in disgrace (South Vietnamese dropping from helicopter runners above Saigon); disunion (race riots and Altamont); catastrophic scandal (Watergate); and grinding recession (oil embargo, double-digit employment, 12% prime lending rate in 1979 (two years later it was 18%)). And surely GWB knows perfectly well that his father's Iraq adventure did not halt or ameliorate the massive 1980's hangover that rode GHWB out of office on a rail.
Our society fights smaller wars now, with limited disturbance to the actual operation of the economy. Such limited disturbance means limited possibility for positive effect. No great sacrifices are being asked of us now, unless we are members of the professional, volunteer military. The rest of us are told to crawl into our air-conditioned cocoons and watch cable TV, only slinking out to go consume. And be confident! Unfortunately, the economy is double-dipping, and will return to the front page. Any war in Iraq is going to be horribly expensive. And no postwar bounce is likely, or even possible. And last year, Bush devastated the revenue stream of the U.S. Government with an unsupportable tax cut. Sound familiar?
Premise 4. If Bush believes that all this is going to happen anyway, why shouldn't he milk it for all it's worth?
If Bush thinks war is coming no matter what, he'd be a fool not to shape it, ride it in a direction that helps him, nail his silver dollar to the mast and challenge the country. Who knows? The war may have some short-term salutary effects, as oil prices flatten in the aftermath, and that may be Bush's Plan A - the economy will up-tick in the short term, and possibly save his bacon in 2004. Seizing pivotal moments and spinning them is a skill, and Bush seems to have it. However, the lesson of his father must loom large in his mind. "Read my lips" and so forth. What Bush needs is cover, so he can, if need be, cancel the tax cut, reinstate the estate tax, and claim that it all was done in the name of national security. Rip it all out and blame the war.