There's No Need To Argue, Gerson Just Don't Understand

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Ah, this column by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson fills one's heart with cheer. After all, Gerson is a former Bush speechwriter.

My low point with the Republican Party came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In attempting to deliver benefits to victims, the administration found men and women who had never had a bank account; families entirely disconnected from the mainstream economy. A problem rooted in generations of governmentally enforced oppression—slavery and segregation—demanded an active response from government to encourage economic empowerment and social mobility.

Yet the response of many Republicans was to use the disaster as an excuse for cutting government spending, particularly the Medicare prescription-drug benefit for seniors. At a post-Katrina meeting with White House officials, one conservative think-tank sage urged: "The president needs to give up something he wants. Why not the AIDS program for Africa?

What follows is a completely incoherent argument for and against government spending. Those cruel conservatives who believed the almost impossibly complex reconstruction of a city was more imporant than a $1.2 Medicare benefit (that hadn't gone into effect yet) don't understand "that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions." But, uh, most of Bush's spending has "gone to a range of unexpected security necessities" and other discretionary spending is "far below President Clinton's double-digit growth in his final year." So big spending is bad, and Bush doesn't do it—except when it's good, and he does. Got it?

Gerson goes on to inform us that foolish libertarians need to stop idealizing Reagan because

[T]he Reagan reality is more admirable than the myth. He wisely chose what was historically necessary—large defense increases and tax reductions—over what was politically unachievable: a massive rollback of government.

But didn't he do this because he faced a Democratic House and (for two years) Senate? For four years, Bush didn't have to contend with either of those things. This is why we hoped Bush would roll back government, or entitlement, or something besides a few taxes. What we didn't expect was Michael Gerson whispering "spend!" into the POTUS's ear, coquettishly slipping huge spending packages under his pillow.

NEXT: Everybody Loves Bob

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  1. I guess we no now at least part of the reason why Bush gives such lousy speeches. I love the part about the evil Republicans telling Bush he is “going to have to give up something” to fun Katrina releif. Yeah, God forbid anyone in Washington make any decisions or priortize resources. That would just be evil. God, even I have to agree with Weigel on this one. What a clown. How does someone this stupid rise to any important position?

  2. He wisely chose what was historically necessary-large defense increases and tax reductions-over what was politically unachievable: a massive rollback of government.

    But didn’t he do this because he faced a Democratic House and (for two years) Senate?

    A Democratic Congress demanded Reagan cut taxes and increase military spending, against his better judgement? That sounds rational and plausible. You know those Democrats. They love the military spending. Almost as much as they love the tax cuts.
    And I certainly can’t remember Reagan ever advocating any massive military spending. In fact, I believe he was completely opposed to it.

    Wait, that paragraph was written by a man with a masonry drill embedded in his head.
    (pop)
    OK, that’s better. The hallucinations have gone.

    Again I ask: are you talking about the real, actual, historical Reagan here, or some sort of alternate-universe Reagan with a completely different set of policies and beliefs? Because the Reagan I remember didn’t exactly have to have his arm twisted into spending lots and lots of money on the military.

  3. OK, try again:

    “He wisely chose what was historically necessary-large defense increases and tax reductions-over what was politically unachievable: a massive rollback of government.

    “But didn’t he do this because he faced a Democratic House and (for two years) Senate?”

    A Democratic Congress demanded Reagan cut taxes and increase military spending, against his better judgement? That sounds rational and plausible. You know those Democrats. They love the military spending. Almost as much as they love the tax cuts.
    And I certainly can’t remember Reagan ever advocating any massive military spending. In fact, I believe he was completely opposed to it.

    Wait, that paragraph was written by a man with a masonry drill embedded in his head.
    (pop)
    OK, that’s better. The hallucinations have gone.

    Again I ask: are you talking about the real, actual, historical Reagan here, or some sort of alternate-universe Reagan with a completely different set of policies and beliefs? Because the Reagan I remember didn’t exactly have to have his arm twisted into spending lots and lots of money on the military.

  4. Wow… I mean… wow…

    Sure, 50 years of government anti-poverty programs have failed miserably and largely created a section of society completely despondant and dependant upon government for everything, but lets go further into debt to throw more money at them. That’s sure to work! Just look at the success we’ve had with the war on drugs and the public school system

    Sigh… these are the men leading our country.

  5. ajay,

    He’s talking about the idea that Reagan had to choose more politically expedient goals–increasing military spending and cutting taxes–over a massive rollback of government because he faced a Democratic Congress. i.e., if he had a Republican Congress he would have engaged in a massive rollback of government.

  6. I remember someone telling me that Stockman told him the military buildup by Reagan could have been funded without any increased spending just by cutting wasteful expenditures at the Pentagon. But such cuts were politically impossible, so additional funding had to be passed. Remember, each and every congressman has military spending in his district and every base closure and contract termination is fought tooth and nail on a bipartisan basis.

  7. So he’s saying two things.

    1. Reagan, had he had a free hand, would not have chosen tax cuts and military spending; he would have rolled back government.

    2. He only pursued tax cuts and military spending in order to pacify the Democratic Congress.

    Which implies:
    3. The Democratic Congress wanted tax cuts and military spending, and twisted Reagan’s arm to get them; a Republican Congress would not have wanted tax cuts and military spending.

    Which, in turn, implies:
    4. The person who came up with this interpretation of events has a masonry drill stuck in his head, which has seriously impaired his ability to write things that aren’t utterly ridiculous.

  8. No, ajay, he’s saying that, facing a Democrat-controlled Congress, Reagan had to prioritize, and emphasized what it was easier to get that Congress to accept. Given his druthers, he would have cut taxes, increased military spending _and_ reduced the size of government.

  9. The Democrats were convinced that had Reagan had the ability he would have massively rolled back the size of the federal government. Ultimately, I think Reagan considered winning the cold war more important than cutting the size of domestic government. Reagan used his political capital to rebuild the military and pressure the Soviet Union and rarely said no to Congress, although when he did and occasionally shut down the government, he was lambasted by the media as a cold heart scrooge out to put old people and poor into the street. Liberals whine about the deficits to avoiding having to admit that Reagan was right and they were wrong about so many things. He was right about the need to increase defense spending and pressure the Soviet Union. He was right about calling out the Soviet Union for what it really was (people forget the fainting fit liberals had over the “evil empire” speech. It was more reviled by liberals then than the Bush’s “axis of evil” speech ever has been.) He was right about the structure of the military (in the 1980s liberals fought like mad against things like the M1A1 tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, aircraft careers, the F18, basically the entire inventory of weaponry that proved so successful over the last 25 years in favor of cheaper alternatives, which would have proven to be a disaster). Reagan was right about taxes. By cutting the top rates and completely changing the debate about taxes. Taxes have never been returned to the pre1981 levels and probably never will. In return, the country has had after more than a decade of stagflation in the 1970s, 25 years of economic growth interrupted by two very mild recessions. Ultimately, Reagan was right about the size of government even if he didn’t do a good job of reducing it. Everyone now agrees that welfare reform is a huge success. Reagan was saying those things in the 1980s and being called a dumb, cruel old man.

  10. Whether or not Reagan would have been more aggressive in trying to cut govt spending with a GOP Congress, I doubt that said Congress would have been any more interested in doing so than the most recent GOP Congress was. Congress exists largely to hand out favors at my (and your) expense.

  11. “In attempting to deliver benefits to victims, the administration found men and women who had never had a bank account; families entirely disconnected from the mainstream economy.”

    In other words -gasp- people who aren’t Just Like Me!

    ———–

    “A problem rooted in generations of governmentally enforced oppression-slavery and segregation-demanded an active response from government to encourage economic empowerment and social mobility.”

    Forty acres and a mule? Or perhaps we should make them all, by Congressional Declaration, “Doctors of Philosophy” and put them on the payroll of the Department of Education.

    ————

    “…a minimalist state cannot fight a global war….”

    And this is, like, BAD?

  12. By cutting the top rates and completely changing the debate about taxes. Taxes have never been returned to the pre1981 levels and probably never will. In return, the country has had after more than a decade of stagflation in the 1970s, 25 years of economic growth interrupted by two very mild recessions.

    At the same time, the average worker is poorer now than they were in the 1970’s. The pie has grown, but our pieces are getting smaller.

  13. “At the same time, the average worker is poorer now than they were in the 1970’s. The pie has grown, but our pieces are getting smaller.”

    Bullshit of the highest order.

    Real median family income grew by $4,000 during the Reagan period after experiencing no growth in the pre-Reagan years

    Economic Growth per Working-Age Adult. When we adjust the economic growth rates to take account of demographic changes, we find that the expansion in the Reagan years looks even better and that the 1970s’ performance looks worse. GDP growth per adult aged 20-64 in the Reagan years grew twice as rapidly, on average, as it did in the pre- and post-Reagan years.

    Median Household Incomes. Real median household income rose by $4,000 in the Reagan years–from $37,868 in 1981 to $42,049 in 1989, as shown in Figure 2. This improvement was a stark reversal of the income trends in the late 1970s and the 1990s: median family income was unchanged in the eight pre-Reagan years, and incomes have fallen by $1,438 in the anti-supply-side 1990s, following the 1990 and 1993 tax hikes. [14] Most of the declines in take-home pay occurred on George Bush’s watch. Under Bill Clinton’s tenure, there has been zero income growth in median household income.
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-261.html
    By any standard the country was better off for the Reagan tax cuts.

  14. Lortl,

    What is the basis for us being poorer? Healthcare costs? Cost of Living? looking at your better off immediate neighbors? What?

  15. Shit, how do you take into account shit like the internet. It might not plop cash into my bank account, but surely we a richer in some sense because of it and all it has opened up.

  16. from the post: “$1.2 Medicare”

    shouldn’t there be a billion or trillion in front of the word Medicare?

  17. in the 1980s liberals fought like mad against things like the M1A1 tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, aircraft careers, the F18, basically the entire inventory of weaponry that proved so successful over the last 25 years in favor of cheaper alternatives, which would have proven to be a disaster

    As opposed to the current military situation, which has worked out so well for all involved.

    Given his druthers, he would have cut taxes, increased military spending _and_ reduced the size of government.

    The military is part of the government. But nice try!

  18. “As opposed to the current military situation, which has worked out so well for all involved”

    Yeah dumbass, we could have had inferior equipment and gotten asses kicked in the first gulf war and taken 10,000 casualties going to Bahgdad.

  19. Lortl is another alias for Dan Tarrant. Give his posts the attention they deserve.

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