Friday, April 15, 2011

Ministry of Truth issues Deficit Reduction Plan

The Dividist is not in the habit of agreeing with Paul Krugman. Generally we cite his column only to point and laugh, but this time he has a point. Oh sure Krugnman's response to President Obama's speech unveiling his deficit plan was the usual predictable Krugman claptrap - "Spending cuts are bad!", "Tax increases are good!" However, he makes an interesting observation among the several "updates" appended to the post. This first update wasn't it:
"Update: I should probably say, I could live with this as an end result. If this becomes the left pole, and the center is halfway between this and Ryan, then no — better to pursue the zero option of just doing nothing and letting the Bush tax cuts as a whole expire."
Perhaps Krugman did not listen to the entirety of the President's speech. Perhaps he dozed off like Vice President Biden. For whatever reason, Krugman missed the part where the President explicitly stated that his plan was not expected to be the "end result". It is indeed the left pole to the Ryan plan right pole and, if/when a compromise is passed, it will certainly be somewhere between the two:
"I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. This a democracy; that’s not how things work. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum. And though I’m sure the criticism of what I’ve said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all make an effort to bridge our differences and find common ground." President Obama - April 13, 2011
This is not hard to understand: "common ground" = field goal kicked between the left and right upright. The President has clearly improved his negotiating skills, erecting his goal post so far to the left that even Krugman can offer up a lukewarm endorsement. Regardless, the ultimate compromise solution will certainly be kicked squarely between the uprights and, to Krugman's disappointment, it will not be anywhere near the left pole.

Krugman's second update is where we find a cogent and insightful observation (Hey - It can happen):
"Update update: I don’t want to step too much on the administration’s selling point, but progressives upset by the claim that there are three dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases should be aware that there’s a bit of creative labeling going on. As I understand it, they’re counting both interest savings and reductions in “tax expenditures” — subsidies through the tax code — as spending cuts. It’s a much more balanced plan if you look at the balance between revenue increases and non-interest outlays."
Krugman is calling the administration out for the creative labeling cynical doublespeak employed in the speech. The offending passage:
"I believe reform should protect the middle class, promote economic growth, and build on the Fiscal Commission's model of reducing tax expenditures so that there is enough savings to both lower rates and lower the deficit... my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code."
"Tax expenditures"??? "Spending reductions in the tax code"??? Hard to believe those words actually passed Obama's lips. It is such a transparent manipulative spin and laughably ham-handed obfuscation that it is difficult to understand why they even bothered.

The political motivation for this linguistic sleight of hand is clear. By a 62%-29% margin, American people support spending cuts over tax hikes to fix the deficit. Centrists and Independents understand that insane out of control spending is the problem. But it still begs the question - Who do they think this is going to fool? It is not the right. It is not the left. It is not the independent center. The only ones who appear to be taken in by this disingenuous rhetoric is the union leadership.

The Dividist would like to understand what they hoped to accomplish with this absurd misuse of language and misrepresentation of reality. Perhaps they simply have not quite grasped the subtle difference between Lakoffian "framing" and Orwellian "doublethink." Perhaps they truly believe they can influence political perception by pretending a word means something that it does not. These phrases should be embarrassing to supporters, are certainly insulting to the electorate, and betrays a real contempt for the intelligence of the American voting public. But on the plus side, they provide fodder for a humorous and well-deserved skewering by Jon Stewart (the good part starts at 4:15):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Slashdance - Democratic Deficit Reduction Plan
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

"Can we afford that and the royalty checks you will need to send to George Orwell?"

We can thank President Obama's political team for the new and improved slogans to be found outside the Ministry of Truth:
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Tax Increases are Spending Reductions
There is plenty to criticize about the President's Deficit Reduction Plan above and beyond the doublespeak nonsense. Number one on the list - it is not a plan. At least not a plan in in the same sense as the Simpson-Bowles Plan or the Paul Ryan Plan - both of which offered 70+ pages of detailed proposals unsullied by Orwellian euphemism. There are few details offered in the President's seven page framework, which can be more accurately described as general spending and revenue goals wrapped in partisan political rhetoric.

The saddest aspect of the President's presentation is that on the very point they danced around, the President is right. Revenues will indeed need to increase in addition to massive spending cuts. Unfortunately, the point is undermined by the perverse presentation and the absurd euphemism for tax increase. It is hard to start a budget compromise waltz when one of the dancers is pretending to hear a tango.

Nevertheless, the dance has begun. The administration has taken a dainty step closer to the center after their discredited first movement. Whether our legislators are listening to the same tune remains to be seen, but it is encouraging to hear some pundits from across the spectrum beginning to harmonize:

Clive Crook:
"Bowles-Simpson is the right basic answer. Obama several times said he was drawing on their recommendations, but he did so only partially and incoherently. He has not embraced their overall approach, not by a long shot. Nothing on Social Security. Little of what they propose on Medicare. And on tax reform I think he is actually making it harder for himself to move, eventually, in their direction."
Charles Krauthammer:
"The most serious charge against Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget is not the risible claim, made most prominently by President Obama in his George Washington University address, that it would “sacrifice the America we believe in.” The serious charge is that the Ryan plan fails by its own standards: Because it only cuts spending without raising taxes, it accumulates trillions in debt and doesn’t balance the budget until the 2030s... The Simpson-Bowles commission, for example, identifies $1.1 trillion of such revenue-robbers. In one scenario, it strips them all out and thus is able to lower rates for everyone to three brackets of 8 percent, 14 percent and 23 percent. The commission does recommend that, on average, about $100 billion annually of that $1.1 trillion be kept by the Treasury (rather than going back to the taxpayer) to reduce the deficit. This is a slight deviation from revenue neutrality, but it still yields a major cut for the top rate from the current 35 percent to 23 percent. The overall result is so reasonable and multiply beneficial that it rightly gained the concurrence of even the impeccably conservative (commission member) Sen. Tom Coburn. That’s the beauty of tax reform: It is both transparent and flexible."
If Obama would just quit tripping over his own partisan linguistic feet and follow the spending cut dance steps in the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission ballet he sponsored, we might yet see our elected leaders dancing a compromise budget balancing pas de deux.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

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