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December 07, 2005

Let's Judge Now

Quick note about the "Buchanan Vs. Bush" thing: In the comments, there have been a couple of folks who have suggested that it's not appropriate to start gauging how bad or good Bush is because, among other things, his administration is still in process and because we don't have sufficient perspective on how his administration has done its job; to get a decent historical perspective we need a decade or so.

Well, here's the thing. On one hand, this is pretty much correct: A nice, considered historical perspective will take at least a decade; two will be better. On the other hand, who gives a crap? I gotta live with this guy now, and right now, Bush is an awful president (though, as noted before, not as bad as Buchanan). Yes, I may be working from incomplete information about the man is doing; yes, there are things about his presidency that will only be appreciated in the dispassionate light of history; yes, it may turn out he's not as bad as all that. So what. Here and now, the dude's an Edsel.

Is it appropriate to judge Bush on an incomplete administration? Sure, why not? Barring impeachment and conviction (ha!) he's constitutionally guaranteed to be president through noon, January 20, 2009. But, you know, he could die any time. Another unsavory pretzel incident, perhaps. A stroke, brought on by contemplating his approval numbers. Presidential assassination is not unknown, although I wish to make it clear that despite my family history I wouldn't want that for any president, including the present inhabitant of the White House. Should the president die, for whatever reason, before 12pm, 1/20/09, there's the end of the Bush Administration. Chop, done. Easy to judge. Well, see. Purely as an intellectual exercise, there's no bar to imagining the administration done today, and judging from what we've got so far. And so far: Oy.

Another way to look at it is the baseball metaphor. Yes, you have to play the whole nine innings, but you know what? If it's the bottom of the sixth and your team is getting pummelled, have you no right to bitch about the bums in the dugout? Have you not seen the capabilities of the starting lineup? While holding out hope for a comeback, can you not already and justifiably have a sinking feeling in the gut? Sure you can. Listen: This is the bottom of the Bush Administration's sixth inning, and they're behind, like, 13-0, the players can't field, the starting pitcher has got a dead arm, and the manager is about to get ejected. If this game were taking place at Dodger Stadium, the parking lot would be dead by now. Even if the boys get a run or two, it's not too early to see where this one is probably going to go.

Now, like I said: You never know. The Bush Bombers may rally yet, and on January 20, 2009, I'll have to sit here typing something along the lines of, well, that George Bush sure pulled it out, didn't he? President Clinton, well, she will have a lot to live up to. But right now? Don't think so. Because right now, he's a terrible president.

Just, you know, not as bad as Buchanan.

Posted by john at December 7, 2005 08:11 PM

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Comments

Justin Johnson | December 7, 2005 09:31 PM

Yes, but if Bush dies, then it's President Cheney. *shudders* There's a dark world to live in right there. Even for one day, that's a dark world. I'll stick with mostly incompetence if the next guy in line is hand-wringing evil.

Even if it does feel like extortion.

Ted Lemon | December 7, 2005 10:27 PM

The thing about Cheney is that nobody's going to think "I'd better cooperate with this guy, because he's so nice that disagreeing with him is going to make me look mean-spirited, like Bob Dole." Whereas Bush Jr. uses his boyish charm and gets away with that kind of thing all the time.

So I think Cheney visibly in charge of the White House is actually a lot less dangerous than the present situation, where he's probably effectively in charge but has a photogenic front-man.

Djscman | December 7, 2005 10:32 PM

Couldn't we judge the first George W. Bush administration, the one that had Colin Powell, an awful lot of vacation days, pre-9/11, 9/11, and post-911? In your baseball analogy, we'd be watching the 3rd inning of the second game of a double header, talking about what a close but ultimately disappointing game the earlier one was, and perhaps complaining about how stupid it is that we all have to sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" *and* f***ing "God Bless America".

Anyway, there's historical perspective there of almost an entire year!

So how sucky was the first W. term? Was that down to Warren Gamaliel Harding levels? What's a cooler middle name, Walker or Gamaliel?

RooK | December 7, 2005 10:45 PM

Perhaps a fairly objective manner to review the Dubya presidency would be to research his administrations stated goals and priorities, and then see how well they achieved their stated aims. Because it's easy to hate their plans, which I do, but that's arguably a matter of political disagreement. However, simple competency is largely a matter of accomplishing intended goals.

I betcha he sucks by that measure too, but it would be too conducive to hysterics for me to actually look into it too carefully. Nevertheless, it's a suggestion.

Bob | December 7, 2005 11:45 PM

I like the backdrop in the Bush picture, but isn't it a bit excessive? If someone is worried about him forgetting where he is, couldn't they just write "Council of Furrin Relashuns" on the back of his hand?

Bruce Adelsohn | December 7, 2005 11:51 PM

Rook: Here's a sample goal (or at least a statement made by the man). He claimed to be a "uniter, not a divider." Yet the country is by many measures more strongly polarized than at any other time in living memory. Success, or failure?

KenL | December 8, 2005 12:30 AM

'He claimed to be a "uniter, not a divider." '

Whereas John made no such promise. Which is why he typed up "President Clinton, well, she will have a lot to live up to."

Bwahaha

Harry Connolly | December 8, 2005 12:35 AM

Actually, by bankrupting the national treasury, Bush is accomplishing one of the goals of the neocons. They have been unable to dismantle the "entitlement" programs they hate so much. The public wants them and votes out any politician that threatens to undercut, say, social security.

The current plan is the spend spend spend and cut taxes at the same time. Once the debt is out of control, they plan to have no choice but to cut Medicare, or Head Start, or the Dept of Education or heck, all of them. Gosh, it's the only fiscally responsible thing to do with all this debt.

Tim | December 8, 2005 12:43 AM

John,
I really enjoy your writing. OMW was one best SF reads I've enjoyed in quite a while, and I intend to get TGB as soon as it's available.

But, after checking up on whatever for the last several months, it's clear that you and probably the majority of the responders on this blog suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome. The constant insults, slights, and evil characterizations of the President/Vice President/Administrations without any reference to any item of substance sounds a little deranged to anyone that isn't a fellow kool-aid drinker.

There are lots of blogs where I expect to see that level of discussion, but I think your a pretty intelligent guy. I think you it would be good for you as a person to try and set aside some degree of your partisan instincts and strive for a more objective world view. I saw the this same quality of reaction during the Clinton administration. As a conservative I encountered several partisan Republicans who seem to lose any and all capacity for rational thought at the mere thought of Bill Clinton. This isn't pretty and it's also unproductive. I think I understood some of the basis for their feelings, but GWB doesn't do to Democrats what Bill Clinton consistently did to Republicans.

You and your responders will probably write off my comment as so much claptrap, but you might want to consider that 75-80% of the population are not liberal/democratic kool-aid drinkers. Strident, emotionally laden denunciations do not register well with them. If your purpose is to rant, then fine. If your purpose is to persuade, then it's a swing and a miss.

John Scalzi | December 8, 2005 12:53 AM

Tim, my purpose here isn't to do a damn thing but write what I feel like writing. If people feel pursuaded to my point of view, groovy. If they think I'm just ranting, that's fine too. I don't actually care either way. I just wish to express what's rolling about in my head when I sit down to type.

Also, my issue with Bush, as I've said often enough, has very little to do with partisanship and has quite a lot to do with the fact his administration is about as competent to lead this country as I am to juggle flaming balls of dung. I could respect a competent conservative; indeed, one would be a refreshing blast of sanity at this point. Likewise, I would dread an incompetent liberal. I've said all this before; I can't help it if people refuse to believe me.

My Kool-Aid is the Kool-Aid of competence. Partisanship is not required to drink it.

Glad you liked Old Man's War, however, and I hope you'll enjoy The Ghost Brigades.

RONW | December 8, 2005 08:22 AM

Yez sir, we should all be ashamed of ourselves for criticizing the President of this here free country. It amounts to sheer heresy.

Stephen | December 8, 2005 08:42 AM

Agruing Partisan Politics is like arguing whether you would be happier in the Gulag if you were sent there by Lenin rather than Stalin.

Brian Greenberg | December 8, 2005 10:10 AM

John - I like the baseball analogy, but it breaks down in a couple of places:

First, the measures here aren't quantitative. In the sixth inning, everyone agrees on who's winning the baseball game. And while the large majority of your readers seem to agree with you about the Bush administration, you're all just going to have to trust me that there are reasonable people out there who may disagree with some of your opinions.

A more reasonable analogy may be a baseball *season*. It's early August, and the Bush Administration made it to the All-Star break with a .500 record (Note to other commenters: I know, I know: .300. No, .100! .000! -6.000! Choose your own level of vitrol...) Anyway, it's a long season and a good winning streak could put a team in playoff contention awfully fast. Also, a good team can look awful in the midst of a bad losing streak. I'm reminded vividly of my beloved, first place Yankees who lost something like 8 of the 12 games they played against the last place Devil Rays. Would you like to see the Yankees' approval rating the night after getting shalacked by Tampa Bay for the third time in three days?

Finally, whoever wins the World Series is the winner of that World Series forever. Not so in politics. Jimmy Carter was not only a bad president, he was a lousy, uninspiring leader. Now he's looked upon as an elder statesman & one of the great civic leaders the country has. George H.W. Bush was a patsy that did nothing but attend Soviet leaders' funerals up until 1988, then he became President of the United States. At around this time in his second term, Ronald Reagan was called everything from evil (he's ruining the country's economy & plunging us headlong into nuclear war) to incompetent (he's a senile old fool that eats Jelly Beans in meetings until he falls asleep). Today, he's viewed as (at least one of) the architects of the detante between us and the Russians that led to democracy in that region & the end of the USSR.

I agree with the gist of your post, which is that there's no law against judging the administration at *any* point in history, but we should allow for the fact that perspectives can (and will) change.

In the short term, Bush has the economy humming along pretty well and our international policies are a royal mess. In the long term, his economic policies could come back to bite us in the proverbial ass, and his international policies may redouble the instability and violence levels in the Middle East. OR, perhaps, the more gradual buildup of our GDP and job market will be more stable than the hyper-inflated growth of the Clinton years, allowing us to absorb the additional debt he created without causing a recession, and his willingness to stick to an unpopular approach internationally may lead to one or more nascent democracies taking hold in the Middle East, relegating extremist terrorists to "fringe" status, rather than the mainstream acceptance they enjoyed in the region in the early 2000's.

I'm oversimplifying, of course, but the point is - we don't know. Judge if you must, but let's allow for short-term losses that yield long-term gains.

Brian Greenberg | December 8, 2005 10:18 AM

RONW:


Yez sir, we should all be ashamed of ourselves for criticizing the President of this here free country. It amounts to sheer heresy.

Oh, shut up.

Sorry - didn't mean to be snarky, but I'm really sick of this argument. Yes - we should be allowed (nay, encouraged) to criticize the President and his administration. But that doesn't make all the criticism gospel. And attacking those who respond to criticism is as heretical as attacking the critics themselves.

So how about we continue a rational, informative debate and drop the conversation stoppers, OK?

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 8, 2005 10:23 AM

You and your responders will probably write off my comment as so much claptrap, but you might want to consider that 75-80% of the population are not liberal/democratic kool-aid drinkers. Strident, emotionally laden denunciations do not register well with them.

And remember, kids, calling people "Kool-Aid(tm) drinkers" isn't strident or emotionally-laden.

John H | December 8, 2005 10:23 AM

'Judge if you must, but let's allow for short-term losses that yield long-term gains.'

And that is really what the right is relegated to at this point - the hope that there will be 'long-term gains'. The only benefit I see from the policies of this administration is that people are finally starting to wake up and see how the right is driving this country into the ground.

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 8, 2005 10:44 AM

So how about we continue a rational, informative debate and drop the conversation stoppers, OK?

What, you mean like "Bush Derangement Syndrome?"

Q | December 8, 2005 11:36 AM

The constant insults, slights, and evil characterizations of the President/Vice President/Administrations without any reference to any item of substance sounds a little deranged to anyone that isn't a fellow kool-aid drinker.

Heh... if you think there have been no references to "any item of substance" then you haven't been reading this blog very closely, nor I daresay paying attention to world events.

Characterizing anyone who believes this administration sucks Wookiee as "liberal/democratic kool-aid drinkers" is ignorant, insulting and overtly confrontational. I very much once considered myself near-Republican... and very conservative except on social issues... but this administration is not one I would care to be associated with in any way... but not becuase they are Republican... but because in so many ways they are not... what they are consistently is ultra-conservative... and I don't go in much for ultra-anything...

Brian Greenberg | December 8, 2005 11:45 AM

What, you mean like "Bush Derangement Syndrome?"

Yes, exactly. And "Kool-Aid drinkers" and "the right is driving this country into the ground."

"Those who disagree with us aren't (necessarily) crazy." --unknown

Jon H | December 8, 2005 12:19 PM

Brian Greenberg writes: "... and "the right is driving this country into the ground.""


Would you have a more apt description for the GOP's fiscal insanity?

Harry Connolly | December 8, 2005 01:25 PM

Would you have a more apt description for the GOP's fiscal insanity?

Long term neo-con planning.

Brian Greenberg | December 8, 2005 01:39 PM

Jon H asks:


Would you have a more apt description for the GOP's fiscal insanity?

First of all, to my previous point, it's fiscal policy, not fiscal insanity. Your words suggest that anyone who has anything positive to say about the administration's fiscal policy is clearly a moron, and doesn't even warrant a place in the discussion. You accomplish nothing with this (those who agree with you continue to agree with you, those who don't write you off as a radical left-wing nutball), and you potentially deny the rest of us a reasonable debate on the subject. So please stop it, 'kay?

Now, as to fiscal policy - I'm not going to defend Bush's spending history. I think the tax cuts were warranted (and anyone who tells you they were just for the rich is manipulating the numbers to make their case). But after 9/11, I think we wrote him a blank check & said, "do what you gotta do," and he proceeded to abuse that trust by spending as much money as he could on whatever caught his fancy, with no sense of prioritization, timing, funding requirements, etc.

That being said, budget deficits affect our economy in the long term. In the short term, you'll notice that all the folks who were snarking about net job losses during the '04 campaign have since vanished into the woodwork. The economy is growing at a healthy clip, and has been for more than two years now. Inflation has remained under control while unemployment has dropped (not an easy feat). Investment is up, as are purchases on big-ticket items (which, btw, suggest that the tax cut worked). Today's New York Times is even in the uncomfortable position of having to praise the president for rising approval ratings due to the economy:

Charles Cook, who publishes an independent political newsletter tracking Congressional races, said Mr. Bush's uptick in the poll is "consistent with everything else out there." He added: "It looks like they're finally getting a little bit of credit for the economy performing as strongly as it has. We've had good economic news for a while, but Iraq so dominated things it couldn't break through."

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 8, 2005 01:56 PM

the right is driving this country into the ground

That's not a conversation stopper in my book -- it's a jumping-off point for what can become a rich debate, or a fistfight. It's bluntly worded, but it's a statement about the world, and it's either true or it's not.

The other examples we've touched on shut down debate by implying that your opponent isn't doing his own thinking, much like a cult member (the Kool-Aid reference) or a crazy person (Bush Derangement.)

This example, however, doesn't claim to read minds. It just says "the Right's increased power is affecting this country in a negative fashion," and you can have a good argument about whether the effects really are negative, whether the Right is responsible, and whether there are other effects that counterbalance it.

RONW | December 8, 2005 02:12 PM

Mr. Greenberg,

Your suggestion that I disown myself will be taken under consideration, but may I remind you that it's only pixels, all pixels, what's posted on a blog, on any blog for that matter? To begin with, I'll let you know that I am against impeaching the President. It's just a waste of energy with a republican majority seated in Congress. So Mr. Bush gets a pass there. Plus we would only be left with a Cheney should Bush be relieved of command. However, I'll confide in you that I prefer a Cheney any day over a Kerry. Due to the Administration's unilateral foreign policy, the world has come to view the US as a rogue nation, and look on America as the fourth axis of evil. Even Canadians take the precaution of stitching a maple leaf to their shirt sleeves while they're traveling abroad so as not to be mistaken for a yankee. Italy is planning to build the world's longest bridge and France has already finished constructing the world's highest bridge, prime targets for terrorism if these engineering marvels were built stateside, but yet these european nations located so much closer to the Islamic world than the US is, and with a larger muslim community, are not as equally impeded by a terrorist attack. Why is this so? Another item in the mix is that Bush has neglected the search for bin-Laden (who). As such, I'm predicting we'll find the Lochness monster, bigfoot, WMDs, and Bush's air national guard records, before we ever come close to apprehending bin-Laden. If you haven't been abouts, you probably aren't awares that the country has just undergone a great deal of psychological stress, with the hurricanes and all that, with the drain on the wallet from the price gougin at the gas pumps in the aftermath of the hurricanes, and the realization that the homeland is ill prepared for an impending terrorist attack should one occur on our soil judging from the poor FEMA performance, as such, lax commentary on blogs indeed might reflect some of the seriousness fatigue of post-trauma, not even factoring in the Christmas rush, and so on and so forth.

Pax Interneto

Elizabeth | December 8, 2005 02:23 PM

Brian:
No.
I'm a fiscal conservative, and Bush's fiscal policies drive me batshit INSANE.

"In the short term, you'll notice that all the folks who were snarking about net job losses during the '04 campaign have since vanished into the woodwork. "
No. I know plenty of people out of work. These jobs are going, boys, and they ain't coming back. Is there job growth? Yes, in minimum wage jobs. NOT in life supporting jobs. I had thirty people apply to a part-time 8.50 job with no benefits. There were hundreds of applicants to an IT job, and blah blah blah.

"The economy is growing at a healthy clip, and has been for more than two years now."
No, it really isn't. Super corporations are getting windfall profits, such as big energy's 10 trillion. But that doesn't mean that modern Americans aren't hocked hip deep to Citibank, because they are.

"Inflation has remained under control while unemployment has dropped (not an easy feat)."
Again, no. I can tell you that in the past five years, my entertainment costs have doubled. Renting a movie is twice what it was. Potato chips? Up a buck. Movie tickets? Give me a break. Groceries are now more, lots more. Gas? We don't need to talk about gas, I hope. Heating? Up 71 freaking percent. If this is not inflation, then what pray tell is?

As for your unemployment, again, life supporting career jobs are going, many overseas, and the new jobs are minimum wage, benefit free.

"Investment is up, as are purchases on big-ticket items (which, btw, suggest that the tax cut worked)." Big ticket items means the rich are buying, and good for them. But the middle class is dying, and when the interest only loans kick into the principle, look to see forclosures but quick. I predict two years. And the ARMs will get ugly real soon now. And so on.

The federal goverment is as debt-ridden as a lower middle class family who's suffered some unemployment and health crises. We are in deep doo-doo, and to China, no less.

The middle class has a small buffer zone, their fun money, and that money is now sunk into gas. They'll get crunched hard by winter heating, and many people will not have the money for it. My own workplace is expecting millions of budget deficit due to heating. Not a typo, Brian. More will suffer when gas prices rise further, and when the gas increase trickles through the pricing of most goods and services, such as food and clothing, which are rarely produced locally.

Hard times. And they'll get harder.

John Scalzi | December 8, 2005 02:34 PM

Elizabeth:

"And the ARMs will get ugly real soon now."

God. Don't even talk to me about those things. I have good friends with 5-year ARMs who are beginning to freak out three years in, and for good reason. Rule #1: Don't screw around with where you live. 30-year fixed mortgage. End of story.

WizarDru | December 8, 2005 02:55 PM

Again I ask, with no trace of irony; what did Carter do (or not do) that rendered him a poorer president than his fellows? I mean, he made several mistakes...every president does, when hindsight is 20-20. I just see it said without any qualification, and it confuses me. SALT II, Camp David, continuation of policies like relations with China and lots of human rights issues all were performed on his watch. Carter created things like the Departments of Energy and Education. Sure there were big problems like stagflation, the whole Iranian Hostage Crisis...but I'm still not seeing 'terrible' there.

What was generally seen as Carter's great catastrophic failures as a president? Afhganistan? OPEC?

Stephen | December 8, 2005 03:27 PM

Carter's greatest failure was to not be slick enough.

If your PR is good, you can get away with war crimes. Giving off the impression of having character and courage is much more politically favorable than doing the right thing but sounding wishy-washy doing it. The average voter has no idea what the "issues" are other than the selected talking-points rammed down their throat by their respective political party. All they have to go on is the warm-fuzzy or cold-clammy they feel in their gut.

Carter came across as weak and it stuck, so that's what is remembered.

Scott | December 8, 2005 04:22 PM

The Short Term Losses Long Term Gains thing.

I would say that this is really the big thing.

If Bush's BS international policy, while being arguably immoral, and inarguably poorly pursued does have the long term impacts that Bush et al desired, it will be very difficult to pin him with a "worst ever" tag of any length. Well, certain people would give him a "Worst Since Bush Sr." but that pretty much means nothing.

I am one of those people who has an illogical revulsion towards G.W.Bush. He makes my skin crawl. It horrifies me that somebody that digusts me so could eventually be remembered as the instigator of The Great Democratic Revolution. Bringing peace in the middle east, and the elimination of oligarchic strong-men. On the other hand, I would be happy if it happened.

Similarly, I think somebody up above is sort of missing the boat on Reagan. The difference between how Reagan is viewed now, and how he was viewed during his presidency is not a question of hind-sight. It's a question of volume. In the 80's, Liberals and Democrats had all of the media momentum, and their message that Reagan was an incompentant was widely heard. Now, the media momentum is held by Conservatives and Republicans, so their message that Reagan is... uhh... not incompetant is widely heard (I don't have any meaningful engagement with Reagan, I was a kid when he was president, and overly vulnerable to my parents' opposition to him. But I will say that he's the guy that taught Conservatives that if you say the right things, you don't have to do them. Which is hardly a shining endorsement.)

JC | December 8, 2005 06:15 PM

GWB doesn't do to Democrats what Bill Clinton consistently did to Republicans

You mean work with them, take their advice into consideration and come up with a consensus proposal which would pass muster with legislators on both sides of the aisle?

I have to say that I agree with you completely.

GWB doesn't do that to Democrats, but Bill Clinton consistently did to Republicans.

See, there can be room for common ground!

Brian Greenberg | December 8, 2005 07:36 PM

Oh, yeah - Clinton had a great relationship with the Republicans. What was that pet name he had for them? "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?". How sweet. Still makes me tear up, that one...

As for Reagan, it's true that his publicity machine had much less resistance after he left office, but it was pretty formidable when he was in office too. I'd argue that whatever net effect the publicity has on him, the main force behind his transformation from "evil/incompetent" to "long-term thinker" was fact that "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" did not lead to nuclear war and instead led to well, the tearing down of that wall.

Tim | December 8, 2005 07:38 PM

GWB doesn't do to Democrats what Bill Clinton consistently did to Republicans

You mean work with them, take their advice into consideration and come up with a consensus proposal which would pass muster with legislators on both sides of the aisle?

No. What I meant was that Bill Clinton was a liar. Remember how everyone (even Democrats) agreed how good a liar he was? Bill Clinton regularly cast false accusations at his Republican adversaries (cutting school lunchs/want old people to die/don't care about the poor/homeless/handicapped, etc. etc.).

Nobody likes to have nasty and false characterizations made of them, especially by the president of the country using his bully pulpit. That's what I meant by "having some understanding for their bad feelings".

As to working with Democrats, remember the "No Child Left Behind" education bill. One of the principal architects and sponsors of that bill was none other than Senator Ted Kennedy.

Bob | December 8, 2005 08:07 PM

Bill Clinton regularly cast false accusations at his Republican adversaries (cutting school lunchs/want old people to die/don't care about the poor/homeless/handicapped, etc. etc.).

Most of these "accusations" seem on target, except one. When did Bill Clinton say that the Republicans want old people to die?

Tim | December 8, 2005 08:14 PM

Several political commentators have made the observation that since the majority of the MSM has been historically within the sway of Democrat party sympathy, it's only natural that after leaving office, Republican presidents rise in stature. With time, out of office, the MSM has less and less reason to belittle them and their record in office gets to stand on the facts alone.

With Reagan this is especially so since the consequences and even the existence of many of Reagan's policies weren't apparent until years after he was out of office.

I remember how Reagan's claim that the USSR wouldn't be able to keep up with west was wildly ridiculed during Reagan's first term, but it turned out to be true. It just took ten years to happen. Reagan ordered the CIA to get more aggressive regarding its intelligence activities. To actively use disinformation to divert the USSR's resources into wasteless boondoggles. The effectiveness of that strategy wasn't revealed until the information was later declassified. To this date the largest industrial accident ever recorded was the catastrophic destruction of the trans-siberian natural gas pipeline which the USSR intended to use to sell gas to western europe. When the CIA discovered the USSR was trying to illegally aquire the gate-control technology from US sources, it didn't just stop the transaction. The CIA instead had the technology sabotaged. The destruction of $billions in pipeline also deprived the USSR of $billions/year in hard currency from western europe. The USSR economically collapsed less than two years later (if I remember correctly).

Tim | December 8, 2005 08:23 PM

When did Bill Clinton say that the Republicans want old people to die?

In an address at a fundraiser (there were too many to remember which one), in regards to social security reform (something Bill Clinton talked up but did nothing about). The soundbite was sufficiently volatile that the networks ran it on the evening news.

Anonymous | December 8, 2005 08:46 PM

Most of these "accusations" seem on target

Republicans never proposed cutting school lunches to balance the budget they proposed slowing the programs rate of growth. Bill Clinton even backed away from that language when confronted during a press conference.

Reagan ordered the census department to get an actual count of the homeless so they could more effectively formulate a policy. This set off a firestorm in political circles because it revealed how small the homeless problem was (less than 300,000) compared to the claims of the advocates (over 3 million). When your livelihood is based on hyping up a problem, you don't want anyone actually measuring the problem.

claire | December 8, 2005 10:38 PM

i know i'm gonna regret getting involved in this argument but ...

Reagan ordered the census department to get an actual count of the homeless so they could more effectively formulate a policy.

as i remember, and (caveat) i was a teen during reagan's presidency, there were enormous problems with the methodology of counting the homeless, problems that were repeatedly pointed out but ignored by the complexity-averse public.

this should be obvious, of course. it's really really hard to take a census of people who don't have homes. the people in the best position to take that count are the people who run programs for the homeless because they are trained and experienced in outreach and access, and know how to reach their constituency. however, they will also inevitably be accused of inflating the numbers for their own benefit.

(republicans love to treat social service workers, who consistently make salaries in the low-to-mid five figures, the same way liberals treat corporate ceos. what does it take to convince a party obsessed with profit that social service workers don't do it for the shitty-ass pay?)

but even if you completely discount the much more accurate (if somewhat inflated) estimates of people who actually know homeless people, any argument against the rise of homelessness in this country must be completely and utterly demolished by the simple visual impact of the contemporary american city. when i was a child, you never saw "bums" anywhere except the few wandering around skid row. now the homeless are everywhere, in every city, town, exurb and even suburb.

but i guess twenty years later we've gotten so used to it that the problem has disappeared again. in our minds

Brian Greenberg | December 9, 2005 12:18 AM

Elizabeth:

"In the short term, you'll notice that all the folks who were snarking about net job losses during the '04 campaign have since vanished into the woodwork. " No. I know plenty of people out of work. These jobs are going, boys, and they ain't coming back. Is there job growth? Yes, in minimum wage jobs. NOT in life supporting jobs.

I'm sorry to hear that you, personally, no people that are out of work (but, on the other hand, glad that you like to quote Springsteen lyrics from the 80s). In the meanwhile, the unemployment rate hasn't been lower in a very long time, and the average wage has been rising for the past two years (read: the jobs being created are, on average, higher paying). Every economic recovery, without exception, is at some point accused of being false because the jobs are minimum wage jobs. Happens every time...

"The economy is growing at a healthy clip, and has been for more than two years now." No, it really isn't. Super corporations are getting windfall profits, such as big energy's 10 trillion. But that doesn't mean that modern Americans aren't hocked hip deep to Citibank, because they are.

OK, first of all, when the "super corporations" make windfall profits, they hire more people (which is how the middle class stay middle class) and they pay more taxes (which helps just about everyone else). When you're measuring the economy, corporate profits are *good*. I realize to many, corporate profits are never good, but I'm hoping that those folks have already stopped reading.

Secondly, most economists point to an increase in credit card debt as a good thing as well - people tend to spend with their credit cards when their confidence is up (the oft told story of the person who maxes out his/her credit card and then declares bankruptcy is a small minority of actual credit card customers). I don't know if you read somewhere that credit card balances were up, or if it's another of your "I personally know people who..." statistics. Either way, it's certainly not proof that the economy is in the toilet. If anything, it proves the reverse.

"Inflation has remained under control while unemployment has dropped (not an easy feat)." Again, no. I can tell you that in the past five years, my entertainment costs have doubled. Renting a movie is twice what it was. Potato chips? Up a buck. Movie tickets? Give me a break. Groceries are now more, lots more. Gas? We don't need to talk about gas, I hope. Heating? Up 71 freaking percent. If this is not inflation, then what pray tell is?

Inflation is the cost to borrow money. Despite your survey of five consumer products, the government chooses to measure inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is has grown between 2 and 3% a year for the past five years, which is the lowest it's been since the early 60's (source)

Big ticket items means the rich are buying, and good for them.

Big ticket items is generally housing. Buying a home is no small proposition, but I think we can include the middle class in that group, no?

The middle class has a small buffer zone, their fun money, and that money is now sunk into gas.

The price of gas is lower than it was in the 1970's (indexed for inflation) and about 50% lower than it was at the post-Katrina peak.

Hard times. And they'll get harder.

No, not so much...

WizarDru | December 9, 2005 08:49 AM

"In the meanwhile, the unemployment rate hasn't been lower in a very long time, and the average wage has been rising for the past two years (read: the jobs being created are, on average, higher paying). Every economic recovery, without exception, is at some point accused of being false because the jobs are minimum wage jobs. Happens every time..."

She's not the only one who knows people who are unemployed. Not to mention that every one of my friends have found themselves unemployed at least once in the last three years. Of course, you rightfully point out that anecdotal evidence is just that, anecdotal. But with 30,000 GM employees on the streets this holiday and 817 mass layoff events in September alone, I think it's safe to say that unemployment numbers are about to change.

Brian Greenberg | December 9, 2005 09:13 AM

Unemployment has been between 4.9% and 5.1% since May. Still, that's 7.5 million people unemployed (it's a big country), so yes - just about everyone knows someone who's unemployed.

Then again, 30,000 GM workers represent 0.02% of the workforce, so no - it really won't effect the numbers that much. Even Hurricane Katrina, which put hundreds of thousands temporarily out of work (and *created* jobs for others), didn't really move the needle.

This is why they use unemployment to measure the economy - it's a slow moving indicator, so it doesn't swing wildly with individual events.

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 9, 2005 09:57 AM

In the meanwhile, the unemployment rate hasn't been lower in a very long time, and the average wage has been rising for the past two years (read: the jobs being created are, on average, higher paying).

I paraphrase Winston Wolf when I say let's not go patting ourselves on the back just yet. From here we see that this last quarter, wages in constant dollars fell pretty much across the board. If you're "lucky" enough, you avoided this, because your wages are at the rate they fell to at the start of the year.

When you say that unemployment "hasn't been lower in a very long time," what you really mean is "hasn't been lower throughout most of the current administration."

OK, first of all, when the "super corporations" make windfall profits, they hire more people

You hear that from conservatives a lot, but I think that companies hire people when they have more business than current staff can handle, not because there's a lot of money lying around. If they've got the staff to handle their business, they're not going to jeopardize their profit margins by adding on workers they don't need.

the government chooses to measure inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is has grown between 2 and 3% a year for the past five years, which is the lowest it's been since the early 60's

More accurate would be to say "which is about the same as it's been since 1991." Meanwhile, unemployment, while on the way down, is only just now recovered to the point where it was in 1997.

From the way you've presented things, one would think that we're in the best economic shape we've been in for decades. It's definitely not the case.

Jim | December 9, 2005 12:39 PM

"Meanwhile, unemployment, while on the way down, is only just now recovered to the point where it was in 1997."

Uh, 1997... was that the high point of the Clinton era of peace and prosperity or the depths of the Clinton Depression?

I'm just trying to figure out if you are praising Bush because the employment rate is now as good as it was back in the wonder years or blaming him for inflicting Clintonian levels of unemployment on the American worker?

The short-comings (and short-sighteness) of the Bush administration are considerable, but anyone who says that he is worse than LBJ or Nixon is certainly young enough to have no direct memory of those years.

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 9, 2005 02:06 PM

I'm just trying to figure out if you are praising Bush because the employment rate is now as good as it was back in the wonder years or blaming him for inflicting Clintonian levels of unemployment on the American worker?

You could, you know, look at the frickin' graph...

Jeff Porten | December 9, 2005 09:08 PM

First -- I've learned through years of hard experience to avoid debating Brian on economics. Even when he's not convincing, he's highly effective at making me feel like an idiot for disagreeing. (And exceptionally good at skewering my evidence.)

That being said, I keep hearing -- and my own anecdotal man-on-the-street discussions tally with -- the idea that the economic recovery right now is whooshing past the people in most need of it. I've noted that most people who espouse the trickle-down theory haven't got the slightest clue of what life among the tricklees is like. Not that I have any particular right to claim a clue here, either.

But yeah, I don't note a one-to-one correlation between profits to oil corporations and jobs to those who need them -- especially when the work goes to private contractors shipped at great expense into New Orleans. The premise that "paying more taxes helps all of us" presumes that what those taxes are *spent* on is helpful. The measuring stick used by economists too often tends to forget stuff like "who's hungry?" and "who's sick?" so long as the GDP is going up.

But what I really have to note is that Brian is seriously drinking the Kool-Aid on the notion that Reagan ended the Cold War. To say that there's a "little more" hagiography for Republicans than Democrats is simply ignorant -- there's a multimillion dollar campaign to deify Reagan, and anyone who buys into the theory that Republican policies ended the Cold War is simply listening to too much Fox News and ignoring most of what's being written by people with Ph.D. after their names. You know, historians. The people who we were quoting when talking about the Buchanan thing.

Fact is, yes, the world did not end in nuclear war in the 1980s, but it came awfully damn close and several times we were all saved by a whisker. One *might* argue that allowing such a risk to develop on the basis of one's political theology, no matter what stripe it might be, is in fairly dire contradiction of the requirement to preserve and defend the United States. What bugs me most about it is how many people have simply forgotten.

I could probably add another 3,000 words or so, but heck, it's dinnertime.

Jeff VanderMeer | December 9, 2005 11:55 PM

Make no bones about it--Bush is a total asshole and a complete incompetent president. I was actually, in my prior comment, making the case for Bush probably being WORSE than Buchanan once all the facts come out.

JeffV

Brian Greenberg | December 12, 2005 10:54 AM

Phillip J. Birmingham:


From here we see that this last quarter, wages in constant dollars fell pretty much across the board. If you're "lucky" enough, you avoided this, because your wages are at the rate they fell to at the start of the year

Well, yes, in this last quarter, waged did fall, although that's widely been attributed to temporary effects of Hurricane Katrina & the other gulf storms. I said the average wage has risen in the past two years, which is true. Now that you've found the data for me, we can see that wages have risen every year since 1997. The point of all this was to counter the argument that all the new jobs are minimum wage jobs. If that were true, the average wage would be falling on a consistent basis.

When you say that unemployment "hasn't been lower in a very long time," what you really mean is "hasn't been lower throughout most of the current administration."

Well, yeah - 5 years is a very long time, economically speaking. Remember, Clinton took us on one hell of a ride - after a huge upcycle like that, the recession that hit in 2000/2001 (coinciding with the terror attacks) could have created a major free fall. Deficit spending mitigated this problem in the short term (much like it did for FDR in the '30s). As I said above, I won't defend it as a policy, since it's only going to make things worse in the long term and (more importantly, IMHO) it was done using political capital created by 9/11, not based on any financial opportunity/need.

But those who say the economy is in the crapper are just yanking your chain...

Jeff Porten:


First -- I've learned through years of hard experience to avoid debating Brian on economics. Even when he's not convincing, he's highly effective at making me feel like an idiot for disagreeing. (And exceptionally good at skewering my evidence.)

Well, gee thanks, I think...

I wonder what you think "convincing" means if it's not "highly effective at making me feel like an idiot for disagreeing."

And for the record: Jeff's being humble here, because there's simply no way I'm ever going to make him feel like an idiot...

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