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September 27, 2005

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» Amen To That from The Moderate Voice
David Brooks says what we're all thinking: And as I say that, you always got to go back to competence. And sometimes in my dark moments, I think [President Bush is] "The Manchurian Candidat... [Read More]

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I don't think there are serious policy implications from the Bush presidency - I don't think any serious ideas will be discredited among reasonable disputants - because the admin has not been interested in implementing policy. I at least do not plan to hold Bush/Cheney/Roveism against conservatives in policy debates to come. Politcal debates are another matter, given that it took most Republicans five years of BCRism to reach Brooks's epiphany.

Matt Yglesias has a take on this quote. This gets us to a frequent debate at my family gatherings, is the President evil or stupid (and yes, sometimes we have people voting "both").

He isn't the Manchurian Candidate. He's just deep undercover.

He isn't the Manchurian Candidate. He's just deep undercover.

No, hippies were too stupid and stoned to pull that off. I think that Yglesias' theory anout Bush being a deep-cover Iranian agent is more plausible.

Politcal debates are another matter, given that it took most Republicans five years of BCRism to reach Brooks's epiphany.

Nice comment, except that after five years of incompetent lying crap, it still does not seem that "most" Republicans have grasped this yet.

dmbeaster, I'm seeing/sensing a lot of dissatisfaction on the right.

Yes, a lot, rilkefan, but most?

In discussions of whether various members of the administration are evil or stupid, people often forget the option of "insane". I'm still uncertain which combinations apply to which members.

I'm seeing/sensing a lot of dissatisfaction on the right.

Which doesn't (yet) seem to be stopping them from pulling the elephant lever come polling time.

A humorous graphic of Bush's free-falling ways. If his pell-mell rush downward gets blocked, just click on him and give him a shove.

rilkefan:

I'm seeing/sensing a lot of dissatisfaction on the right. Yeah -- you are right. Maybe a little fun playing "watch Bush free-fall" will make their day.

Link fixed.

I used to have strong (and varying) opinions on the "stupid or evil" question. I've realized that I lack the information to form a real judgment and have to settle for "I don't understand how anyone can do that, and it doesn't matter to me why they're doing it - they must be stopped". And the big steps, like completely verifiable handling of votes, don't require a judgment on the question - they're good regardless.

I admit to wondering like crazy sometimes what the hell they're thinking, though.

"dmbeaster, I'm seeing/sensing a lot of dissatisfaction on the right."

You can do anything, absolutely anything and the Repubican party...umm, leadership... will forgive and excuse, save one:

Raise taxes.

You read Kristol about how Bush's decline originates in his SS failure...meaning the failure to loot the trust fund...and you can sense the problem. When Delay says there is nothing to cut, he means unless you plan on losing seats. So the pork, and whatever small part of the gov't that remains that isn't pork, must be paid for.

My guess is that Greenspan has told Bush & friends that we are at the limit of borrowing. Whatever criticism you may hear about Iraq, the economy, immigration, New Orleans...it all boils down to "I ain't giving up my earmarks and I ain't voting for no tax increase. Bush, fix this."

There is also the religious aspect to this. It can never be admitted, never ever, that the tax cuts did not result in massive and self-financing increases in revenue. Cutting taxes always increase revenue.

Back when Clinton's anti-deficit tax increase was still being debated, a middle-level executive at the company I worked for recited the favorite GOP talking point at the time: "It won't work. It'll destroy the economy, and it won't work. We've never taxed ourselves out of debt."

"Really?" I asked. "What did we do the last time we were running hundred-billion dollar deficits every year?"

She stared off into the ether, said "It just doesn't work that way," and walked off.

That, of course, was before the tax increase passed (without a single GOP vote) and we were, in fact, in the process of "taxing ourselves out of debt." Before the wrecking crew got back into power.

It's amazing how GOP talking points survive long after they've been proven wrong, over and over again. Like the canard about how "Raising the minimum wage will force people out of business," and "Homosexuals want to molest your children," and "Kids wouldn't have sex if there wasn't sex education."

Now, with the Federal Treasury looted and the country neck-high in hock to the Chinese, the GOP still won't even mention raising taxes. No, they'd rather cut veterans' benefits even more, cut disaster relief agency budgets, eliminate CPB (there's a whopping $4 billion in offsets!), eliminate the EIC... Basically, use the deficit as an excuse to get rid of the programs they hate anyway...

But raise taxes? Jeebus, you'd think they were vampires facing a flask of holy water.

Why? What'd happen that's so gosh-darn awful that rolling back the taxcuts for the upper 10% can't even be considered?

Because cutting taxes is one of the few things that unites the factions of the Republican party.

Bush is not stupid. He held his own in the debates against the fairly intelligent John Kerry. He managed to get through Harvard B-School. He did a fairly competent job as governor of Texas, and he got himself elected president. He's not a dummy.

He's not evil, either.

Bush is basically shallow. There's just not a lot of intellectual depth or curiosity there. Maybe it's his innate personality, or his privileged upbringing, or maybe he just lost too many brain cells during his hell razing days. The president strikes me as being a fellow of somewhat above-average intelligence who's a tad lazy, undisciplined (about forcing himself to do things he dislikes) and simply very shallow. He doesn't appear to hold tenaciously to any philosophical or political principles. So, when he became president, he didn't arrive in Washington with any burning desire to do anything. Rather, it looks like he ran for the White House simply to cure boredom, and add some meaning to his life, and to live up to Ma and Pa's expectations.

Bush has not made any attempt to govern like a conservative, and the reason for this is that he's NOT a conservative -- at least not in any ideologically consistent sense. Again, that's because we've elected a personable, college fraternity president with a penchant for school boyish nicknames ("Brownie") and a strong dislike for policy papers. Bush doesn't care diddly about ideas. Reagan, by contrast, while no Clintonesqe policy wonk, was fond of books, and ideas, and had developed, by 1980, a coherent political philosophy he wanted to see translated into policy.

Anyway, when you gain power with no concrete plans about how to use it, or which policies to enact, you tend to focus exclusively on the only other activity that's really important: politics. I mean, does this president's totally half-hearted pitch for Social Security reform or tax code overhaul strke you as what you'd expect from someone who was passionate about his ideas for bettering society?

And, not accidentally, this president, and the administration surrounding him, not being tied down by the inconveniences of actually caring about policy, has excelled at the black art of winning elections.

I agree with a lot of what has been said above. I don't think Bush has discredited many Republican ideas at all (or Democratic ones either.) Just one, in fact: that you can trust Republican politicians to live by the principles they espouse.

I mean: a humble foreign policy? smaller government? A uniter? "I will not pass problems on to future generations"? "An era of responsibility"? Moral values? Genuine respect for conservatism makes me say: this guy is not a conservative, and by failing to govern as one, he has discredited only himself and the people who cover for and enable him.

Hilzoy: ...he has discredited only himself and the people who cover for and enable him.

That's a pretty expansive set. Half the voting U.S. population, plus some change, for starters.

Come on, at least attempting to tackle social security problems was a huge deal. That is THE big economic issue. Too bad everybody was so reflexively against it (Bush proposed it so it must be bad) that it wasn't ever seriously discussed.

So I think that he did try to engage in the really big

"I will not pass problems on to future generations" "An era of responsibility"

issue and it was shot down.

What exactly did Bush propose? Anyway, SS is nothing compared to the health crisis.

Who cares about policy, anyway? (Special ear-smoking link for hilzoy.)

What exactly did Bush propose?

That part of Social Security payments could be invested in stock market index funds or tax-free municipal bonds and could be passed on to your children in the event of your death if any of those benefits were unused. At least, that was my understanding.

This would have the benefit of possibly increasing in value rather than being a deferred federal govt expenditure funded by taxes.

which is why I voted for Bush in 2000.

Ah. I should have been clearer above. By "the people who cover for and enable him", I meant people like: the Congressional majority that gave him everything he asked for with no scrutiny at all, the advisors and handlers who allow him to pretend to have gravitas, whoever it was in the GOP establishment (which exercises a lot more control over the selection/annointing of its candidates than Democrats even dream of) who decided to promote his candidacy without stopping to ask whether he was, you know, competent, the people in the media who cut him way too much slack for way too long, and so on.

It was partly the length of the list that made me go for the shorter, unclear formulation.

I did not mean everyone who voted for him. I think they made the wrong call, but they're not discredited, according to me. One needs to have enabled in a more active way.

Oh, and rilkefan: read DeLong; was appalled. -- I mean, it's not as though there aren't people around who actually like policy, and could cover it with enjoyment.

DaveC: rilkefan might have been getting at the fact that Bush never did put out a clear proposal, just various hints. Also, Bush's plan would actually have made SS's financial problems worse, not better, so I think he was still passing the burden on to future generations.

Anyway, SS is nothing compared to the health crisis.

Raising insurance deductibles while having tax=free Medical Savings Accounts seems to be a good idea to me. Doctors should get paid real cash money for routine examinations and the price would fall and there would not be such big differences between the "retail price", the PPO price, the HMO price, the Medicare price, etc., and you could see the doctor of your own choosing without being punished.

DaveC, that was a snide rhetorical question. Bush proposed no detailed even vaguely sound plan that could draw support from conservatives, much less from moderates.

Let me hasten to say I'm sure you could come up with a more sensible, detailed plan in five minutes than the Bush admin did in the last 5 years. There were some pretty good debates on the options here back in the day, but from my point of view the central predictions are for continued reasonable performance from S.S. (though how the govt is going to pay off the honking big pile of T-bills it has run up over the years of pretending SS was on-budget remains to be seen).

What exactly did Bush propose?

The appearance of smiting the unrighteous. Both the smiting and the unrighteous bits were hazily defined, but the appearance was there and the people responded.

The "smiting" constituency, btw, handily encompasses both the "moral values" and the "security" voting blocks. Pollsters, take note!

(I'm sorry; I'll be serious next time round.)

(though how the govt is going to pay off the honking big pile of T-bills it has run up over the years of pretending SS was on-budget remains to be seen).

You are totally right on there. See, the idea is to shift the bonds to the state and local level. There would be a big fuss about whose bond issues would be preferred, but this might incline state and local govts to be more responsible, and would have the added benefit of decentralizing the risk. The same deal as having a diversified portfplio.

Vengeance is MINE, sayeth the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Not trying to run DaveC off (it's nice to see you back), but in this interview with Bush from 25 March, 2005.

Q: Are you seeing any signs of consensus with any Democrats?
A: I haven't spent that much time -- yet -- working the [Capitol] Hill for a particular piece of legislation, because we're not to that point yet. People say "Bush's plan" -- I haven't laid out a plan. I've laid out some ideas that I think ought to be considered for a plan, and that's what's important for people to know.

link

Again, sorry, but as I understand it, if you let the snark build up, all sorts of untoward things can happen to you...

Think of the possibilities. If you, by referenda or through your Representative, could vote against CEOs and board members giving themselves undeserved raises and bonuses, wouldn't that be sweet?

That sounds too much like direct democracy for my taste, DaveC. When astrology isn't a widespread belief in this country I might be convinced to rethink that position.

I've laid out some ideas that I think ought to be considered for a plan, and that's what's important for people to know.

I just happen to believe that this is such a big issue and such an important issue that eventually people will come and say, "How can we work together to solve the issue?"

I agree wth this. Options shoukd be seiously discussed abd not simply dismissed. Pres Bush has tried, but not done very good job of, starting a national conversation about these issues.

That sounds too much like direct democracy for my taste, DaveC.

At work I was pitching an idea for "Survivor, Mount Everest". 2 teams with 1 rope each. And if you are voted off the mountain, well you are given the choice of a sled or one of those plastic disks. You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Genuine respect for conservatism makes me say: this guy is not a conservative

Oh, now you've done it, hilzoy.

Come on, at least attempting to tackle social security problems was a huge deal. That is THE big economic issue.

Er, for you, maybe. And for people who a) have a vested ideological interest in seeing SS dismantled or b) have been suckered by all of the "SS is going bankrupt!" goalpost-moving that's been going around for, oh, at least the last 25 years. YMMV, as mine surely does.

Addressing a problem that is largely manufactured out of whole cloth is not high on my list of priorities, especially since what issues do exist can be addressed by measures far less drastic than revisiting the New Deal. And judging by how far Bush got with his bamboozlepalooza, I'd say SS "reform" isn't not high on the priority list of most other Americans either.

Should be "is not", rather than "isn't not". But you knew that.

Bush is basically shallow. etc.

Sorry -- this understates the man and his motivations. This guy and his family are champions of crony capitalism, and that's an evil corrupt thing that is implemented by evil corrupt people. His lack of concern about policy is not the result of shallowness, but the fact that his concerns run heavily toward using government and policy as devices: 1) to stear government funds to friends; and 2) to build further political power.

I would agree that his thinking about policy and social issues is shallow, but his behavior is not motivated that much by those shallow beliefs about policy matters.

Social Security isn't now a big problem. It may, or may not, someday become one. What is a problem right now is the administration of government this year: moving towards a balanced budget, accounting openly and honestly for income and expenses, investigating and punishing fraud and corruption, and so on.

When I was learning to drive, I once got stuck in a surprisingly deep patch of mud. I needed to get home. But I set aside things like "oh, and when I get to Lake I want to keep going to avoid the construction work in the block past the intersection where I usually turn" in favor of "I need to back up a bit and see if I can get more purchase here, and maybe try turning a bit to ramp up on the edge there". That's the position any administration should be in now: get out of the immediate mire and into a basically stable situation. Then look down the road for miles and miles.

I think I agree with RedStater. Bush is not Satan, he's just incapable of greatness. He is a mediocrity and an old-boy-network politician at a time when we really need statesmen.

"I just happen to believe that this is such a big issue and such an important issue that eventually people will come and say, "How can we work together to solve the issue?"

DaveC: I agree wth this. Options shoukd be seiously discussed abd not simply dismissed. Pres Bush has tried, but not done very good job of, starting a national conversation about these issues.

This is flat-out untrue. When people come to Bush's SS Townhall meetings to actually discuss his plan in a critical fashion they are are not given an opportunity to speak, even to the point of being turned away at the door. This goes far beyond "not doing a very good job". This is actively stifling discussion of his ideas while attempting to retain the appearance of public participation.

"Bush is not stupid. He held his own in the debates against the fairly intelligent John Kerry. "

Huh. What planet was I on. Just because words came out of his mouth (along with the spittle) doesn't constitute a debate.

Want any wood ?

He met the low expectation that he could actually occasionally finish a sentence. How does this constitute holding his own.

He met the low expectation that he could actually occasionally finish a sentence. How does this constitute holding his own?

Ed Finnerty: As I recall, and I'm as much a political junkie as anybody, Kerry "won" the first debate by a decent margin, and Bush more or less fought him to a draw in the second (and did well enough to energize the ranks of the GOP faithful). I think by the end of the third debate people had pretty much confirmed their suspicions that Kerry is a better debater than Bush. I didn't say the president won the debates, merely that he held his own. The election turned out to be very close. Had Bush done more poorly, I think it's conceivable one or two of the closer states could have slipped into the Kerry column, and changed the outcome of the election. So, I'll stand by my statement that Bush "held his own".

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