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BOOKS AND THE CULTURE IF YOU’VE BEEN reading the newspapers recently, you probably know as much about David Stock man as you’ll ever want to. You know that Ronald Reagan’s former budget director got Harper & Row to pay him an unheard of $2 million to bad mouth everyone in the administration. You know that Stockman’s chronicle of mind-boggling fiscal incompetence has been greeted with much chortling among political observers, and much indifference by the general public \(after all, for five years now we’ve had a President who is incapable of holding a press conference in which he does not make several significant factual errors no inanity attributed to Reagan can possibly know that David Stockman is a creep, a manipulative power junkie, who forced the most drastic budget and tax cuts in our history through Congress, all the while knowing that the fiscal figures and economic assumptions he was relying on were egregiously inaccurate. Your information is correct, but you should read this book anyway. David Stockman is a creep, but a fascinating, and, in a perverse fashion, honest one. In the first year of the Administration, Stockman was clearly the most powerful domestic policy official in the country, a fervent ideologue trying to use federal budget practices to alter the dynamics of a $3 trillion economy. From his days as an anti-war radical in the Sixties to his emergence as Reagan’s wizard qua numbers-cruncher, he regarded himself as a white collar revolutionary; he never took action without formulating some greater philosophical justification for it, and this volume has the weary impact of disillusioned zealotry. It is almost certainly the best “insider” book that will come out of the Reagan White House, and its effect is bracing: Stockman poses his vision of a ruthless economy functioning with Darwinian efficiency against Reagan’s fantasyland Richard Ryan is a writer now living in Washington, D. C. of happy corporations showering riches on us all as they frolic in a capitalist paradise. The Triumph of Politics is, in short, a confession, and like all confessions it is built around epiphanies, revelatory episodes in which the narrator comes to see the truth about himself and the THE TRIUMPH OF POLITICS By David Stockman Harper & Row, New York, 1986 422 pages, $21.95 people around him. The Reagan stories alone are worth the price of admission. You’re sure to find a personal favorite, but mine occurs towards the end of the book: in November 1982, when Stockman was trying to convince the President that it was impossible to make any more cuts in the budget, and that in order to avoid an enormous increase in the federal debt the White House would have to call for a tax hike. Stockman drew up a multiple choice budget quiz for the President, in which the entire budget was laid out, program by program; Reagan was given a choice of making any level of reduction, from a a deep delighted; he sat in the Oval Office for three days, working his way through the maze of federal spending. At the end of the exam, Stockman had the sad duty of reporting to his pupil that he had flunked; even given Reagan’s wish list of spending reductions, the five year budget deficit would total $800 billion dollars. Convinced that he had finally made his favorite slow child see the light of day, Stockman gently reminded the President that the only way to cut the deficit was to raise revenues through taxes. To Stockman’s amazement, Reagan slammed his fist on the table and snapped, “I don’t want to hear any more talk about taxes. The problem is deficit spending! ” What do you do with an incumbent executive who couldn’t pass a high school civics test, who is unable to see the relation between monies in and monies out? Patronize him, I suppose, and for an entire term Stockman did, worrying the bone of Reagan’s incomprehension with the most elementary analogies. Unfortunately, the budget director never stooped quite low enough; he should have taken a cue from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who at one point had the ingenious idea of going after Reagan with cartoons. In the midst of a debate of defense expenditures, Weinberg presented the Reagan with an illustration depicting three American soldiers: the first, an unarmed midget, represented the Carter defense budget; the second, a four-eyed cadet clutching a toy rifle, represented Stockman’s proposed military outlay; the third, a muscular commando bristling with lethal energy, represented the Pentagon’s request. Reagan ate it up. Some moralizing pundits have accused Stockman of disloyalty for making incidents like the one just described part of the public record. They have forgotten that Stockman actually wanted to resign in 1984, after listening to a rambling, twenty-minute monologue in which Reagan continually blamed the budget deficit on shadowy, unnamed adversaries and reeled off nonsensical observations about his days as the governor of California. Stockman stayed on after White House staffer Jim Baker sharply reminded him that a high level resignation would embarrass the President in a re-election campaign. One is left wondering what loyalty a public official owes to a President whose ignorance poses such an evident danger to the republic. If anything, Stockman goes easy on Reagan; he reserves the brunt of his disdain for the President’s quarrelsome, territorial cabinet officers, and for congressional conservatives like the odious Jesse Helms, who seems to regard the federal government as an avatar of communism except when it supports his personal pork barrel. Stockman recalls being taken aside by the fatherly North Carolina senator at one point and told not to be confused by the nasty Yankee bureaucrats: “The tobacco program doesn’t cost the taxpayers one red cent. And it never will as long as I’m chairman of the Agricultural Committee.” One of the central messages of Stockman’s memoir is that, as long as parochial politics such as these dominate the legislative process, it will Stockman’s Blues By Richard Ryan THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17