The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Thursday, February 24, 2005

How to Speak Democratese: Pt II

OK, so we've covered some things Democrats should stop saying. Here are some things they should be saying more often.

What to say

Tax Deferments: Let’s stop talking about George Bush’s tax cuts. Whatever we have to say about them, whether they were good or bad, whether we can afford them or not, the fact is that they were not tax cuts. A tax cut implies an overall reduction in your tax liability. But Bush’s tax cuts have resulted in an explosion in the budget deficit and an expansion in our national debt that will require future tax increases to pay down. Unless George Bush’s restructuring of the economy repeals the laws that have governed our national economy for the last 100 years, we will not grow ourselves out of this problem. {Oh I forgot, he hasn’t even come close to re-structuring the economy.} Economic growth has almost no chance of reducing the size of the debt or the deficits. In fact, obligations are growing much faster than the economy. When Bush took office, tax receipts were 21% of GDP and outlays were 18.5% of GDP. Today, outlays are 19.9% of GDP while receipts are 17% of GDP. Spending has gone up and tax revenues have gone down. Sooner or later, they are going to have to come into balance and when they do you can bet that taxes will go up. So Bush’s policies don’t represent a cut in taxes, they represent a deferral in the taxes that Americans will eventually have to pay.

We don’t have a Social Security crisis, we have a general funds crisis: OK, I acknowledge that is unlikely to connect with voters. But maybe on this one we need to connect with the punditocracy. They keep saying Democrats have to have a plan. That they can’t just sit around and pretend there isn’t a problem. They can’t just criticize. Oh yes we can. Especially if your diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment are all wrong. The problem that faces this country is that we don’t have the general fund revenues to meet our obligations to repay Social Security the money we are borrowing today. The real problem is that unless we get control of the deficit today, it will explode when it comes time to add the revenue deficits of Social Security. We should be accumulating a surplus today. We should be on track to have a surplus in 2018 so we can meet our obligations to retirees out of that money. This will require courage and hard choices and sound economic thinking. Things the Bush administration has failed to demonstrate since day 1. But we shouldn’t fall for the trap that there is a tremendous looming crisis in social security when the real crisis is that we can pay our bills today. If George Bush were serious about protecting the long-term future of this country for our children, he would sit down and agree to tackle this problem.

George Bush’s plan to privatize the Social Security system won’t solve the funding imbalances and will increase our budget problems by billions. If he really cared about our children and their future he wouldn’t be recklessly increasing the national debt year after year. His plan would further increase the budget deficit, costing $2 trillion dollars in the first ten years along. His proposal is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist that threatens to worsen the most serious domestic problem we currently face -- the imbalances in our national accounts (a combination of government debt and household debt). Until we increase national savings (which the Bush plan ironically won’t do) the dollar will continue to weaken, Americans will continue to watch their international standard of living decline, and the probability of wholesale collapse in the dollar and world economy will continue to increase. If you don’t believe me see Brad DeLong and Nouriel Roubini on this topic.

George Bush is lazy. He is too lazy to read a newspaper. He is too lazy to learn about major policy challenges and defers to his cronies. He is too lazy to care about the importance of our image in the world. When the 9/11 terrorists were plotting to destroy the Twin Towers, he was in Texas relaxing and chopping wood. He is lazy with the truth. He is too lazy to put forth a concrete plan on Social Security reform. He is too lazy to provide solutions to our health care crisis. He is too lazy to go to a soldier’s funeral. He is too lazy to be President in a time of such challenge that faces this country. He was a lazy student, a lazy businessman, and he is a lazy president. Speaking in terms of laziness gets one off the hook from having to call Bush a liar or stupid. There is no American virtue in laziness. And it forms the kind of coherent message that ties a bunch of arguments together in the same way that the charges that Kerry flip-flopped too much worked.

George Bush is recklessly stubborn. I talked about this in an earlier post during the campaign. One product of Bush’s intellectual laziness is a predilection for choosing on the basis of faith. A little faith every now is a good thing, as long as it stays within the boundaries of set by religion -- supporting a belief when there is insufficient evidence. But Bush confuses faith with certainty and the results are often disastrous. However you feel about the war in Iraq, it is hard to quibble with the facts that we went in with an insufficient amount of personnel to secure the country and the peace and a naïve belief that we would be welcomed as liberators. The Bush Medicare plan had no sources of financing and despite early projections of a $400 billion cost, are now likely to cost $720 billion (and no Robert Samuelson, this is not merely a shift in the time frame). The tax cuts were reckless. His treatment of our allies was wild. His indifference to our perception in the world is reckless because it ignores the strength our foreign policy actions derive from having a base of legitimacy in world eyes.


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