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August 11, 2003

AVOIDING THE TRUTH....Over at the Weekly Standard, a well-known liberal rag, Irwin Stelzer rips into George Bush:

President Bush's compassion now impels him to give tax refunds to people who pay no taxes; free prescription drugs to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, whose children will no longer be burdened with inheritance taxes; subsidies to already-rich farmers to produce outrageously expensive ethanol to add to gasoline; free insurance protection to utilities that own nuclear plants; tariff protection to inefficient steel companies; and subsidies to auto and coal companies to do research they would otherwise have to pay for out of their sales receipts. It almost--but not quite--makes one pine for the days of that cheapskate, Bill Clinton.

I have a feeling it might have been the editors who inserted that "but not quite" in the final sentence, because that opening paragraph was just the rhetorical equivalent of Stelzer clearing his throat. There's no shilly shallying anywhere else in the column, which reads like a tactical nuke lobbed straight at the heart of the administration's never-never land approach to Iraqi reconstruction:

But let's be wildly optimistic and assume that...profits from Iraqi oil sales come to $20 a barrel. A bit of arithmetic shows that those sales would yield well under $20 billion a year, about enough to cover current outlays on our troops for four months.

....Bremer, in what may be his ticket out of Baghdad and into the private sector with Lindsey, knows this: "We are going to have to spend a lot more money than we are going to get revenue, even once we get oil production back to prewar levels." Which means that Wolfowitz is either innumerate (unlikely), or is being economical with the truth when he says, "We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

....So there you have it: a foreign policy that promises enormous long-run benefits, but requires enormous short-term outlays, for most of which the administration has refused to budget.

It's no surprise that a Weekly Standard writer thinks we should demonstrate a firm commitment to Iraqi reconstruction, but it is a little surprising to see such an extended blast aimed at Bush and Wolfowitz, and it's really surprising to see them publish a suggestion that we ought to raise taxes to pay for postwar costs.

Stelzer suggests a $5/barrel tax on imported oil, but let's look at it another way. We raise about a trillion dollars a year via personal income tax, so if it's really going to cost $100 billion a year to occupy and rebuild Iraq, that means we would need to raise income tax rates by about 10% to pay for it. George Bush, like LBJ before him, probably knows this would never fly, so, again like LBJ, he's simply doing everything he can to put off the day of reckoning.

But how long can this last? Bush has already begun arousing suspicions even in middle America that you have to listen to his words mighty carefully to discern the truth, and this is a reputation that's hard to shake off once it takes hold. Just ask LBJ's ghost. If Bush earns the dubious distinction of being as straight a shooter as his Texas predecessor, I wonder if he'll suffer the same fate?

Posted by Kevin Drum at August 11, 2003 03:39 PM | TrackBack


You're just practicing the tired politics of class warfare! Our brave, war-tested president is confident about the future. His tax cuts will unleash growth VERY SOON, and then all you liberals will be vewwy vewwy sowwy!

Onward brave republicans!

Posted by: joe pundit at August 11, 2003 03:47 PM | PERMALINK

A $5-a-barrel tax on imported oil would also have the handy effect of making it lucrative once again to drill for oil in Texas. It's the sort of thing I bet the Bush administration would die to implement, if they didn't think that OPEC would retaliate.

Not gonna happen.

Posted by: Kenneth G. Cavness at August 11, 2003 04:03 PM | PERMALINK

Glad to see that Stelzer's taking a look at this stuff, but it's certainly not news that there's been significant federal intervention in the economy.

Posted by: Brian S. at August 11, 2003 04:07 PM | PERMALINK

Weakly Standard hedging it's bets. Things are not looking so good, the ship is taking on some water, best to put your lifejacket and be as near as possible to a lifeboat.

Posted by: Paul at August 11, 2003 04:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Weekly Standard, a well-known liberal rag" -- sarcasm, right? I don't have cable TV, so I don't know the players. TNR, NRO, Kristol, Kristof... All Greeks to me. Can someone write up a program for this year's show? Thanks!

Who? Wolfoblitz? Is he on CNN?

Posted by: squiddy at August 11, 2003 04:16 PM | PERMALINK

That Cato attack on Bush was a shot against the bow...all of the neocon true believers are aware that not having sufficient distance from Bush makes them look bad among the percentage of the population (75% or so?) that aren't dittoheads with their head in the sand.

Posted by: joe pundit at August 11, 2003 04:17 PM | PERMALINK

The oil question is pretty interesting. How long will the Iraqis be willing to have their oil profits taxed at 100%? At least Saddam bought them some food with the money.

Posted by: Eric M at August 11, 2003 04:39 PM | PERMALINK

Joe, Cato isn't neocon. Cato's libertarian. I think a lot of you, notably Joe Pundit, just throw around "neocon" the same way college lefties throw around "fascist."

Posted by: K at August 11, 2003 04:55 PM | PERMALINK

In 1965, instead of raising taxes to pay for his
effing war, LBJ removed the silver from our coins.
I never forgave him, as I was out of the country
for two years and did not get the chance to save
some of the old coins.

Posted by: Bartolo at August 11, 2003 04:58 PM | PERMALINK

Wolfowitz was a math prodigy. I can't remember where - it might have been in a New Yorker piece on neoconservatism and Strauss, but the article said that Wolfowitz was a math prodigy, a walking calculator. Stelzer, I'm sure, knkows this, so his writing "Wolfowitz is innumerate (unlikely)" is really a major sarcastic insult, and in the next phrase he makes it clear that Wolfowitz knew what he was saying wasn't true.

Posted by: Mitch Schindler at August 11, 2003 05:01 PM | PERMALINK

You seem to be suffering from a bad spell of Atrios-itis - the idea that there is some over-arching vast right wing conspiracy, and that everybody left of Ted Kennedy basically gets the talking points in the morning, and follows 'em.

There are big rifts on the right. The theo-cons are suicidal, because although Bush gives them lip service, they are ignored when it comes to substantive policy. Bush won't fight any battles for them, and they are starting to realize this.

The Paleo-cons are pissed because Bush is getting ready to grant another illegal immigrant amnesty; because he's gotten into one too many foreign entanglements.

And the neo-cons are unhappy because the projects they've worked on - lots of little wonky ideas developed in eight years in the think tanks during the Clinton years - get mentioned once in a speach and discarded.

Meanwhile, the libertarians are split between feeling suicidal self pity (Ashcroft, Ashcroft, oh why, Ashcroft) and manic hatred (Ashcroft, Ashcroft, damn Ashcroft) (And Bush, can you believe he says he believes in a god?)

The Dems could exploit these rifts pretty successfully if the whole ticket this year wasn't based on rage, an extra helping of rage, with a big bowl of rage on the side. Most folks I know on the right aren't real happy - but even a lot of the right centrists look at the seven dwarves and just shake their heads. There's no perceived alternative on that side of the aisle except Lieberman... and he ain't gettin' the nomination.

Posted by: Omnibus Bill at August 11, 2003 08:11 PM | PERMALINK

Omnibus, there's a big difference between the various strands of conservative thought and behavior in America and the right-wing echo chamber, which really does parrot a party-line on a daily basis.

I've been saying for a while now that honest conservatives have a choice - they can continue to support and enable George Bush or they can recognize that he is not honest and no conservative, at least as the term has had any intellectual validity the past 40 years.

This is no different than the choice that honest liberals faced in August, 1967: some of them (for simplicity's sake, we'll call them bobby kennedy) felt there was no choice but to stick with LBJ and others (whom, for simplicity's sake, we'll call Gene McCarthy) felt that principle was more important.

Is there an honest conservative willing to challenge Bush in the Republican party? Because it's true, Omnibus, if you're looking for the Dempocrats to nominate an honest conservative, you're waiting for Godot.

Posted by: howard at August 11, 2003 09:17 PM | PERMALINK

Now let us just wait for an intelligent column on economics from the National Review and the Think Tank Armageddon can begin.... still waiting.... and waiting....

I am a little surprised that the Weekly Standard is allowing this piece go to print, but it is not too surprising as Kristol has had several severe policy disagreements with the Bush administration pre-9/11 so the history of emnity is there.


Posted by: fester at August 12, 2003 04:07 AM | PERMALINK

I am hardly surprised that conservatives are filled with contempt for the Democratic party, liberals, and progressive goals in general. I don't expect them to come around to my point of view anytime soon. But what I do not understand is their continued loyalty to the ShrubCo administration, which is nothing more than a for-hire advocacy group for the corporate agenda. Conservatism was once a proud philosphical tradition- it has been degraded, and is now just a cheap whore that serves the interests of the moneyed class.

Posted by: peter jung at August 12, 2003 06:49 AM | PERMALINK

I think there is a certain amount of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.'

But I also am suprised by the 'conservatives' who are willing to borrow so much money. It hardly seems conservative to me.

Posted by: Tripp at August 12, 2003 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Worked for Reagan, didn't it -- even if David Frum and George Will did call it "fake conservatism"? After all, the roof fell in on his successors, not him. He started a whole new ideology, and W. is his first successor.

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