Molly Ivins

Surely He Jests


President Bush’s maiden address to the nation was classic Dubya: He talks moderate and governs right. And this is never more true than on economic issues.

Again, with Bush, what you see is not what you get. What you hear is not what you get. What you get is what you get.

One is tempted to conclude, “Surely he jests.”

The man cannot possibly want us to sign off on an enormous tax cut designed to benefit the rich without telling us what will be cut in return. Houston, we have a problem. Earth to Karl Rove: Beam me up, Scotty.

In budgets, as in bridges, the devil is in the details–and the details of the amorphous plan that Bush presented are grim indeed.

Just the other day, I had occasion to cite one of the Great Questions of government, which is: What the Hell Will They Do to Us Next? Dubya’s maiden speech before Congress brought up another always-timely query: How Dumb Do They Think We Are?

This tax cut is carefully back-loaded: We won’t fully feel its effects until 10 years into the future, yet we have to start cutting already to accommodate the little wedge of it that will affect this budget.

To use one of the great legislative cliches of all time, this year’s tax cut is the head of the camel under the tent. And if you think the head causes problems, wait’ll you see what the rest of the beast does when it’s inside.

For all the size of the federal budget, the amount available for discretionary spending is relatively small, and within that small portion are most of the efforts to use government flexibly and intelligently.

Again, to cut basic scientific research is sheer folly. To cut job-training programs is not only cruel but stupid. To cut health and human service programs is to abandon investments in people; as we have long known, the earlier we can invest in a child’s health and education, the more money we save in the long run.

Bush’s budget is irrefutably the work of old Reaganites who do not like government and believe that the best way to deal with it is to starve it to death.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the chief architects of Bush’s budget are John Cogan of the ultra-conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford, and Mitch Daniels, a former executive at Eli Lilly & Co., newly named head of the Office of Management and Budget.

Relying on the wide range of opinion available from such sources at the Heritage Foundation and Citizens Against Government Waste, a span that covers the gamut from A to B, Cogan and his team noodled the numbers.

Bush so clearly represents a change of rhetoric without a change of intent that it’s almost painful. Ronald Reagan used to go around saying, “Government is not the solution; government is the problem.” Newt Gingrich thought so little of the institution that he shut it down twice.

I say that government is neither the problem nor the solution. It is just a tool. Whether you put the tool to good use or bad, whether you use it wisely or carelessly, is not the fault of the tool.

I can’t say that I see we’re better off for paying for a $1.5 million statue of the Roman god Vulcan in honor of Alabama steelworkers–one of the splendid items of pork spotted by Cogan’s team–but it’s certain that some Alabama steelworkers are going to need job retraining if we keep making trade pacts with no labor or environmental floors.

Perhaps the single funniest argument I have heard in favor of Bush’s tax cut for the rich is from CNN’s Tucker Carlson, who crossly announced that it is vulgar–vulgar–to point out that the rich are going to get ever so much more out of this tax cut than everybody else. Quite, quite vulgar to point out that in a society already deeply scarred by the dramatically growing gap between the rich and everyone else, a tax cut that transfers yet more wealth into the hands of the rich while shifting more of the burden of taxation to everyone else is a truly bad idea.

However, I believe it is even more vulgar–in fact, crass, stupid, and greedy–to actually pass such a tax cut.

I believe it is vulgar that this tax cut is proposed by the wealthiest Cabinet in history; seven of them are worth more than $10 million, and 11 of the remaining 12 are worth at least $1 million apiece. (Ag Secretary Ann Veneman is the pauper in the bunch, worth only $680,000, according to The Guardian of London.)

One of Bush’s “ordinary” couples, Paul and Debbie Peterson, will get a tax cut of $1,100 a year. Bush himself will get more than 60 times that. I find that a little vulgar.

According to the Census Bureau, 3.7 million Americans suffer from hunger as a result of being unable to buy basic foods. About 9 million households have “uncertain access to food.” I find that truly vulgar.

Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her book with Louis Dubose (Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush) is out in paperback. You may write to her at [email protected].