The GOP's deficit-attention disorder.

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Dec. 21 2002 1:16 AM

Deficit-Attention Disorder

The Fray on the Republicans' new math.

We're all Keynesians now (again): Michael Kinsley is shocked, shocked to find Republicans in love with deficit spending. The Readme Fray is not. randy_khan and ChasB had the best back-and-forth thread in the Fray, with some down-and-dirty deficit numbers, beginning here. rk's point is one many made, that Republicans never were committed to fiscal responsibility; Chad-B's initial point is that deficits aren't a bad idea right now.

For posters like The_Slasher-8, there is an inherent push to run deficits on both sides of the aisle to fund programs that effectively buy off constituencies (his post is here). WaterAngel was the first to argue that Republicans run deficits as a way of starving Democratic social programs here. Publius addsthis:

Reagan understood that the vast majority of Americans no longer cared whether the budget was balanced and that most would not sacrifice anything to balance it anyway -- not their tax lower tax rates, not their federal aid to education or health, not their local postal service, not their Army bases, not their farm subsidies, and certainly not the wide array of federal expenditures that flowed to corporations in which they had one or another stake.

They still don't care.

Finally, if there is one common point in the ReadMe Fray it is this: everyone regards Reagan budget director David Stockman's Triumph of Politics as the bible for understanding what happens when supply-side faith meets up with horse-trading politics; in the emerging era of deficits, it may be required reading again. An exemplary use from Pacimini here:

[C]onservatives argue that free-spending Congressional Democrats kept the government from enacting the spending cuts that would have brought the [Reagan-era] budget into balance. But that line was decisively refuted by David Stockman's account of dealing away most of his spending cuts to get REPUBLICAN votes for the Reagan program in The Triumph of Politics

No relation to Ty: The Fray is engaged in a two-part discussion of Cardinal Bernard Law's culpability—Should he be in jail? Why was he such a bad manager? As to the first, while Dahlia Lithwick thinks that prosecutors should not be "deterred by a shortage of enforceable laws," several posters disagree. None more than Publius here, who notes that "It's hard to see how someone like Dahlia will be able to return to these pages with any further commentary on the Bill of Rights."

Still, the most striking post was coffee's here, which made the case for a RICO prosecution and came up with the best characterization of the Church's "system" for dealing with pedophiles:

A modest proposal: if ex-Providence mayor Buddy Cianci influence peddling and favor-giving is worthy of criminal sanction, then surely every bishop and cleric who has participated is this macabre underground railroad of cover-up and reassignment deserves jail time also.

As for the Andrew Bushell's contention that the problem with the Church is its lack of business skills, many have argued that the problem is a spiritual one. Tiresias's "By their bottom lines ye shall know them?" does it best:

There was a time self-renunciation made business sense: I perfect myself spiritually now, so I can be with Jesus on the year-end statement. Good deal. But when the eternity side drops out, the equation doesn't balance any more. Why give up something to get nothing? Instead, why not optimize your outcome in the current quarter by enjoying both your carnal lusts and the respect paid to a member of the clergy? …

The hot chick exits: The Television Fray discussion of The View's hostility toward Lisa Ling has landed us in the bizarro world in which chinablack can sensibly declare "Thank God for Rob Schneider." ... 10:10 p.m.

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Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002

The Jurisprudence Fray is reckoning with two different issues: gun rights and the public display of the Ten Commandments (in whatever version—and the discussion between raprap and Pagan provides cites for many). …

Saturday night special fever: First, the gun debate unites several of the Fray's favorite targets: gun control advocates, trial lawyers and insurance companies (although the insurers seem to be getting off easily thus far). Thomas-2 explains why the gun control advocates' victory is a defeat for democracy here:

Cause for celebration? Not for those of us who believe in democratic values.

[Y]ou've got judges who, coming from a particular social strata, are likely to favor the underlying cause, and you've got an undereducated jury and sympathetic plaintiffs. Tell the jury that the real purpose is to undermine the ability of anyone anywhere to own a weapon and see what happens. (Even then it wouldn't matter—the point isn't to win all of the cases, but just some. It's not that every group of 12 must agree, just that some group of 12 does, or, in the case of class action litigation, might.)

Joe_JP responds at some length here, noting that "What these cases truly show us is that society doesn't really want a total democracy." ...

15 … 10, 10 Commandments! The Decalogue dialogue makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. Klug points out that this is an unnecessary fight here:

All of this legal wrangling is like the denouement of battle scenes of Braveheart where the Scots are walking through the battle fields stabbing the dying English footsoldiers: in the legal and cultural arena, the liberals have won. Does anyone pay attention to those old sculptures anymore? Can anyone tell me all 10 of the commandments? Those carvings get far more attention when they're being fought over than when they're quietly sitting in parks and in front of country courthouses. ...

Face it—it's a dead issue, pursued by people with either ulterior motives (fame, notoriety) or people who are deluded into believing these statues have persuasive power for Christianity.

ThePragmatist2 disagrees, noting:

It's far from irrelevant when one considers that if the religious right gets their way with the Ten Commandments, it's not going to stop there.

The_Bell contends thatthe crucial issue in displaying the commandments is community standards, and proposes makes this modest proposal:

Since civil libertarians often defend pornography as protected freedom of expression, we clearly need to combine the elements of both the Ten Commandments and porn to create public edifices that are agreeable to all. For example, the next time someone feels compelled to put a couple of stone tablets up in front of the County Courthouse, make sure they contain a centerfold. (Hey, look! Rachel is Miss December. Man, no wonder she found favor in Jacob's eyes over Leah. Woo-woo!) Maybe some nice letters to the editor too. (Dear God, I never thought something like THIS could happen to ME!) ... Move over Michelangelo's David—Moses and the Ten Commandments are now welcome for display on walls in public venues ... as long as they are well hung. ... 9:45 a.m.

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Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2002

Simply MIRVelous: The Fray jumps all over Fred Kaplan's argument that the Bush missile defense system is impossible, untested, and unwise. One of the chestnuts of the anti-anti-missile defense argument is that ABM doubters ignore the relentless march of technology and innovation—"Man will NEVER fly!" in 1-2-oscar's post here:

Way to go, Fred! Your entire lifestyle is supported by technology once deemed "impossible."

Of course, there is another way to address this issue: Are we better off with a poorly performing defense system, which we can work to improve over time, or with NO defense system at all

BZaharoff provides one of the better answers:

Hey, you're just the person I'm looking for!! I've got a car to sell you. It flies! It doesn't fly far, only about 50 feet, then it crashes. But it will fly much farther, sometime, eventually. It's under development. I promise.

It will only cost you $990,000.

(For less pith, but more vinegar, see Lord_Wakefield's long post.)

Kaplan has responded to this by pointing out the essential difference between an arms race and the conquest of nature:

To those who put me in the same boat as the quacks who said we could never fly or go to the moon, the analogy isn't quite right. The laws of gravity don't change while you're designing an airplane. The moon doesn't suddenly shift position when your spacecraft is about to land. However, in a race involving human beings with considerable resources, one side can shift tactics if the other side comes up with a decent defense.

You can read Kaplan's full reply below the article; he also responds to critics such as DavidDavenport (here) who put their money on a boost-phase missile defense system.

As for Kaplan's argument that the ABM treaty was not an attempt to preserve MAD-based deterrence, DavidNYC asks the essential question:

If both the US and the USSR knew that missile defense was an impossibility, why did they bother with the ABM treaty? According to this theory, the meaning of the ABM treaty is, "We'll sign a deal that precludes either of us from doing something we wouldn't bother doing anyway."

Dave says it was an attempt by Nixon to look good at home; Klic2Con10ue argues it was a way of avoiding a costly arms race. (The idea of spending the Soviets into the ground had not taken hold …)

Abraham, Martin, and Trent: Post-BET appearance, the Lott debate in Ballot Box has moved well past his "problems" and even past the problems Democrats and Republicans have condemning him. It is now in the meta-meta-phase where the questions are: 1. who has been duplicitous in giving Lott a pass while condemning Clinton and the other way around (too complicated for me to sort out) and 2. how will it play out? Don offers this:

I have to smile when I think of the left running with this Lott thing for the next two years. An amazing amount of energy will be expended to reinforce stereotypes to the constituency that already buys into them. I can already see the DNC's "what we should have done" writings after the 2004 elections.

(Check out Don and Shelia's posts under Tempo's thread for more of the "who will have said what" debate .)

Burning sensations: The Explainer Fray on Klan cross-burnings is filled with lots of Klan-hating (um, good!) and alternately vicious claims that the Klan is anti-Christian or just Christianity's inherent evil revealed (under hoods, but you get the point). For those who think that all this talk of the Klan and Dixiecrats (and last week's squirrel heads) is putting an anti-Southern spin on the holidays, raprap stresses the Midwestern power of the Klan here  ... 11:30 a.m.

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Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2002

My troika was pursued by wolves: Most of the discussion of Christopher Hitchens' "Three Stooges" has turned on the legacy of the confederacy. randy_khan takes Hitch's line and runs with it:

"[S]tates rights," for better or for worse, is not just a brief in favor of limited government. It also is an argument in favor of a nation that looks a lot more like the Confederacy than the U.S., in which the central government cannot prevent discrimination against blacks, women and others, and in which individual rights (including the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the protections of the 6th Amendment) can be trumped by the local majority.

Legis doesn't think Lott is the secessionist Hitchens makes him out to be; zinya provides some needed details beginning here. Abre_los_ojos has some kind words for Kissinger's legacy here, the point being that

Lott and Law are and always have been lightweights, destined to be soon forgotten other than as footnotes. At most they will be remembered only insofar as their fallacious actions and falls from grace might lead to cleansings of the Republican Party and the Catholic Church. By contrast, Kissinger was a major world figure, a heavyweight.

Check out PubliusToo and Zathras's discussion of the utility of Hitchens' invective beginning here.

Never having to say you're sorry: Tim Noah argues that Strom Thurmond never apologized for his segregationist past and only maintained his grasp on power by "[buying] off a few key blacks with pork-barrel spending, political appointments, and the like." South Carolinian Shadow_Government begs to differ here:

Strom did more than merely buy off black leaders. In the 1970s his Senate campaigns and his massive constituent service operations strongly encouraged, in both word and deed, the acceptance of desegregation and the notion of racial equality. In essence, Strom provided a role model for racist white Southerners to adjust to the changing world and back away from racial hatred and bias, without ever really admitting they had done anything wrong.

This may seem quite cynical, but it profoundly improved the racial climate in South Carolina. Lecturing Southerners about why they were wrong and Yankees were right would have pretty much guaranteed that they would stick to their guns and continue to subvert racial integration. Offering them "defeat with honor" proved to be a pragmatic mechanism for social change.

Immiseration, Inc.: Responding to the "tax the poor" Chatterbox, ChasHeath pulls out some quartile analysis to show how "the upper middle class is just another part of the undertaxed majority"; senor_crews (and others) provide an object lesson in how bogged down any transition to a flat tax would necessarily be (the better the discussion, the more obvious the troubles); and Yoni begins the best taxes discussion (thanks to Raging_Toroid, Retief, OhioBoy, and Chad-B). Retief cuts through the fog of undertaxation here:

If the WSJ considers people who make so little they don't owe federal income tax "lucky", perhaps they'd like to reduce their salaries to take advantage of this incentive. What, no takers?

There's the small matter of your advance, Mr. Smith: In the Music Box Fray discussion of indie rock, concentric noted that Elliott Smith was still an indie:

As of January, Dreamworks had agreed to permit Elliott Smith to release his forthcoming album on the independent label of his choice.

Author David Samuels entered the Fray to respond:

The Dreamworks PR guy that I talked to … dismissed the Rolling Stone story as "a spat" between an artist and the label, and said that Elliott Smith was a "valued Dreamworks artist."

The old Rolling Stone quote therefore appears to be the usual major label tease - unhappy artists are "free" to record for another label, if they pay the label back the hundreds of thousands of dollars that they suddenly owe in promotional costs, studio time, salaries, advances, etc. Given that Dreamworks is owned in part by David Geffen - the man who sued Neil Young for not making "Neil Young records" - the chances of Elliott Smith releasing his next record on an indie label don't seem all that great, unless Dreamworks decides that the record won't sell. ...

Why must I eat mango? BenK has accepted diarist Mark Furstenberg's food-historical challenge and explains why we might prefer the exotic or the pre-made over the traditional. Part of his long post:

It can now be easier for someone to buy a mango than to get heirloom variety pears. This is bound to change what we people choose to spend our money on, and thus, what we cook. If we can get a mango, but no pears, or a salmon, but not a decent mutton shank, then why cook mutton with pears and not salmon with mango? … 8:00 a.m.

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Monday, Dec. 16, 2002

Uxorious, indeed: The big news over the weekend—Al Gore’s SNL gig—has spawned some serious thought about comedy's role in our political culture. Or a couple good posts. Zeitguy declares here:

SNL has become an orifice of the Industrial Military Infotainment complex which establishes the non-threatening nature of a public person by subjecting them to sophomoric initiation rituals.

The hardline "conservatives" who are writing the agenda for the next decade can ignore him altogether now.

Zathras finds this rather Nixonian here:

Gore may calculate that there is at least a very strong chance that no Democrat can beat Bush in 2004, and that even he may succeed in reinventing himself given six whole years to do it in. This is what Richard Nixon did, and Nixon is the best model Gore could use if he did want to run for President some day. Nixon, incidentally, managed to successfully poke fun at his own buttoned-down image on NBC's "Laugh-In," and he did it using just four words. …

Soupçonner: The Shopping Fray is heating up the usual disdain for canned soups (with exceptions for several Progresso varieties). Still, as any discussion of soup must, the Fray turns to Pea Soup Andersen's, legend of California car culture, and MSG, now available in supersecret substitute forms to dupe unsuspecting consumers. Rstoler was the first to point out that "yeast extract" is one of Ms. G's many guises (for more, see this site). …

Turkey and stars? Responding to the International Papers discussion of the indefinite delay in Turkey's application for EU membership, PaulB and RobertMolineaux have a nice Huntingtonian thread on the prospects for Turkish democracy beginning here. Since the EU continues to shaft Turkey, Deodand has resurrected his proposal that the U.S. adopt it as the 51st state. He is taking nominations for No. 52. (I'm thinking Djibouti.) …

Sink the Biz-Marky? Whenever the topic gets narrow, the experts come out in force. The "five best indie albums" list from David Samuels has brought out the partisans and Mark Lewis's critique of James Cameron's Bismarckdocumentary has brought out the naval warfare aficionados. ThWriter has his baffled hat on here:

And come on: If the sporadically marvelous Guided by Voices is "great," the half-baked "Universal Truths and Cycles" album is "great," and ex-Bangles kewpie doll Susanna Hoffs is "great," what's left for the Vowel Bands?

As for the great Battleship vs. Carrier debate, there some question as to whether the Bismarck was obsolete when it was launched or whether its obsolescence was, um, circadian, as MatteBlacke-6 points out here:

Battleships in 1941 in the North Atlantic weren't quite obsolete. Aircraft and aircraft carriers were the dominant weapons only in the day and in good weather. You could see this in the Pacific, even a couple years later; Japanese fleet tactics of the time usually had them detaching battleships or cruisers from the main fleet to seek out US aircraft carriers for night action.

There's also a very '80s debate about the fiction and history in the Culturebox Fray, beginning with Ang_Cho's post here and passing through seaphoto's here. … 12:37 p.m.

J.D. Connor is assistant professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard. He is working on a book about neoclassical Hollywood.

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