Guns AND Butter, Beer AND Victory

I read the Diane Sawyer interview with President Bush, and I was once again favorably impressed with him. I don’t have a TV, so I didn’t see it, but my sister said he did fine. With the good news on the war, it will be up to the Donks to increasingly focus on the president’s domestic policies. (As to the good news, the capture of Saddam has led to a “cascade effect” of Ba’athists being rounded up – See Belmont Club and Ralph Peters on this topic.)(Updating this point — Den Beste has a good piece on the consequences of Saddam’s capture, arguing that Saddam’s insurgency was planned as a short war, a bet that failed. Austin Bay has one of his typically good posts on the Cascading Effects of Saddam’s Capture.)

One of my fellow ChicagoBoyz offered the thought that Bush may be good on the war, but that “His current monetary (weak dollar) and fiscal (big spending) policies are irresponsible in the extreme”, and noted that the “the 1994 Crime Law (gun and hi-cap-magazine ban) sunsets next year”, and that Bush may be willing to sign new legislation.

My mildly flippant but fundamentally sincere response was, more or less, as follows:

I agree that Bush is great on the war, and that it probably won’t hurt his reelection prospects. It may go south on us, of course, but I’m not counting on it. (See for example, this absolutely brilliant critique by Robert Kaplan, Think Global, Fight Local. Kaplan’s article raises various concerns. I hope Sylvain will write about it, since it echoes concerns he has raised here.)

As to the gun thing, if it gets to Bush’s desk I’m sure he’ll sign it. Any attempt to stop it will be in Congress. The battle will have to be waged there. Some libertarian/gun people will be mad if it happens, but the Donks will be worse, and they know it, so most of them will snarl and vote for Bush anyway. Maybe the gun folks will commit the ultimate political suicide and organize a “2nd Amendment Party” or something. What they really need to do is learn to explain to normal people who think guns are yucky and wrong why guns are actually a good thing. Someone needs to produce and promote a 50 syllable sound bite to explain to Jane Minivan why, say, ordinary people should be able to buy large magazines for their handguns. But since gun people also insist they have a right to their guns and don’t have to explain themselves to anybody, and resent being asked to do so, they are going to keep being a political faction that loses most of the time it is confronted directly. Oh well.

I’m not at all worried about the budget or the dollar or the trade deficit or any of that stuff. There is an iron rule of politics in this country: The party that wants to balance the budget always loses. The GOP was the “fiscal responsibility party” from Hoover through Ford, a pair of losers bookending a trail of tears. Reagan came in, smile and a shoe-shine, f_ck the budget, buy lots of guns, cut taxes too, woo hoo. It all worked out. Bush is doing the same thing, except he doesn’t have to take on inflation at the same time. I’m all for it. Open the spigots. Light a cigar.

Plus, Larry Kudlow and Niall Ferguson, coming at it from different angles, both think the current budget and debt situation is tolerable and that growth prospects are good. For one thing, debt service is cheap at these interest rates. Let the election cycle turn, as it inevitably will, in ’08 or ’12 or whenever, and the Donks can come in as the Mean Dads to shut down the party. They can clean the mess up. Then they can lose because it hurt so much to do it.

And we will party on.

Here’s Kudlow. Here’s Ferguson.

UPDATE: A response to this post appears here.

14 thoughts on “Guns AND Butter, Beer AND Victory”

  1. Lex,

    How many candidates have won running on a increase taxes platform? The trouble with the Democrats newly found fiscal responsibility is that they will have to advocate either raising taxes or cutting spending. I recall the Florida governor’s race from last year. I am looking forward to the moment in the debate where GWB mimics his brother and asks for the specific cuts or tax increases that Mr. Dean plans to implement. I think that the Dean people are unwittingly setting themselves up for just such a moment. I can’t wait.

    Jim English

  2. Jim,
    I anticipate that if asked the question, Dean would respond with “roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (the evil rich). It’s always the same old refrain, because any across the board tax cut delivers a bigger savings to those who pay the largest amount. The “soak the rich” line plays well with the Dem’s constituency, however, with a nascent economic expansion both domestically and globally, and more taxpayers getting clipped by the AMT, that constituency will be shrinking. As for net spending cuts, I really do not think that concept is in the Dem’s playbook.

  3. Andy,

    I agree, but I am looking for GWB’s follow up. He should press for specifics about which marginal brackets will be raised and by what amount. I think a definition of who Dean considers to be the “rich” would be very enlightening.

    Jim English

  4. I suppose because we don’t elect him, election year economic discussions all but ignore the effect the Fed has. As far as Reagan’s impact goes, it never gets mentioned that despite the overall debt increase, the steep trajectory of Carter’s was decreased. One can suggest that Reagan’s inability to control spending was the combination of increased military along with the Dem’s inability to let go of what they controlled. With GW, there’s no one else to point the finger at in terms of spending. I would say he had the misfortune of inheriting an economy suffering from both the burst of the internet bubble and an overly zealous contractionary policy of the Fed. Add in 911 and you have to wonder how the economy managed as well as it has. I’m trying to imagine how the markets and economy would react to the prospect of reversing tax cuts.

  5. My guess: S-A-Y-O-N-A-R-A both domestic and global. I think we are at a crucial time economically. 18-24 months from now, we will be grappling with another boom, but it could be aborted by messing with current fiscal and tax policy. Spending will need to be constained, but with a robust economy, the public sector heavy spending is no longer needed.

  6. Lexington Green says sure Bush is wholly irresponsible; but that’s fine because it’s a great way to win the election. Reminds me of Franklin’s pessimism about people being able to govern themselves – the great experiment. Party like there’s no tomorrow, then spit on the morning crew. I’ve got little reason to think you’re wrong about W winning reelection. But what I don’t get, for folks seemingly eager to tank the country, is why the relish for class warfare.

    My macroeconomics is weak. What did the old-time ChicagoBoyz say about jacking up spending and cutting taxes? Has that ever been an attractive pair of policies in the Americas?

  7. Previous post looks fairly unintelligible. Let me try again. In response to a thought that GWB’s fiscal policies are irresponsible to the extreme, Lexington Green says hah who cares, we win. All right. A half mile south of Lexington Green, around the time of the Bicentennial, the field house roof carried the graffiti “We Party Hardy: 1974” IIRC. Y’all went to U Chicago so I suppose you have a serious side, no? Lex Green, should I assume you studied more macroeconomics than I did. Are you Keynesian? Why not just go pedal to the metal all day and all night?

    Let’s say we just void the next several elections – now what sort of economic policy would you want?

  8. Bittern, I suppose a light touch does not always go over very well. I do have a serious side, but it gets boring if I only show that side all the time. After all, what I say on this blog will have zero concrete effect on anything, so why get my pulse rate elevated? And you incorrectly paraphrase me. I don’t really think Bush is “wholly irresponsible”. Nor do I think it makes sense to pretend we can “void” any elections. All budgetary considerations are driven by political considerations. There is always an election just around the corner, thank God.

    I suppose the short, serious version is something like this. Given that we were in a recession which reduces tax receipts, given that long term changes in tax rates are a good idea, given that for now inflation is under control, and given the political reality that the prescription drug benefit was going to be passed because the political demand was there — I think Bush is doing fine.

    One significant point of disagreement between Jonathan and me over the years has been that I tend to see political constraints more as structural, and he sees them more as moral barriers which require politicians to exercise will power and principal to surmount. It is always a question of where one draws the line, since both are true to some degree. Some issues merit high political risk, others do not. We have tended to assess these practical and moral questions differently.

    Also, this may be a little unfair to Jonathan, but I tend to look at the current batch of policies and ask not what would I like to see happen, but, what would the other party do? There are not that many plausible alternatives out there, and have neither the hope nor the expectation that I will ever live under a government which even remotely resembles one that I can imagine would be “best”. Instead, I have learned to appreciate the one we have, which all in all, despite many horrendous failings, is pretty good. Having a sense of humor about it helps.

    The exchange of emails which led to this post was one item in a conversation which has been going on for over 20 years now.

    And I do think it is to Bush’s political advantage to force his opponents to be the ones proposing “cuts” and “balance”. That is a game the Democrats successfully played for generations. And for national security reasons, I want him reelected, and on economic policy his opponents would be much, much worse.

    So, that is all at least a little serious.

  9. There is much truth in what Lex writes. Often it is all truth. But I like to keep him on his toes.

    Bush is much better than the alternatives. I just wish he were better than he is, and I really wish the Democrats were better than they are. But my wishes have no influence. Such is life.

  10. I was drifting around the blogosphere and found the now-97 responses on the complaint that the DNC isn’t running an open blog. Well, notwithstanding that I find the complaint rather frivolous (maybe bizarre is a better term), I figured I’d test you out. I haven’t found many political blogs where opposite opinions don’t get ignored or insulted (or deleted). You fellows did good.

    Oh, and don’t get unfunny for my sake. I was just drifting by, like I said. Just grabbed your joke as a handle for followup. Mostly, jokes aren’t funny from the other side, but hell with worrying about that. Anyway, just to argue, Lex, I didn’t attribute the “wholly irresponsible” bit to you. That was a phrase YOU put up as a point to react to. See you again.

  11. “I haven’t found many political blogs where opposite opinions don’t get ignored or insulted (or deleted). You fellows did good.”

    Bittern, CIVIL disagreements are tolerated here.

    Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

  12. Politically, for Bush, the weak dollar and rising borrowing don’t matter.

    Economically, for Americans, current policies will result in a high-interest rate inflationary recession within the next 4 years, resulting in a crash in the real estate market; and rising unemployment caused by the collapse of foreign investment that a dollar crash will cause. 2001/02 wasn’t a recession because interest rates were cut drastically and only the tech sector had overinvested. The next slowdown will be accompanied by collapsing house prices, rising interest rates, and inflation – and altogether less rosy picture.

    Someone remind me why this is supposed to be a good thing? My bet is that Bush leaves office at the end of his 2nd term with his reputation in tatters, due entirely to current US economic policies (not exactly his reponsibility either).

    Ironically, Bush would win 2004 regardless of what he does economically. He could impose a flat tax, balance the budget, and go for a strong dollar, and still walk it.

  13. Ironically, Bush would win 2004 regardless of what he does economically. He could impose a flat tax, balance the budget, and go for a strong dollar, and still walk it.

    I don’t think Bush has a lock on it, though I think he is likely to win if he doesn’t screw up in Iraq. Unexpected events, as always, could work against him, and no doubt W keeps his father’s 1992 experience close to mind. Thus he takes no chances WRT reelection.

    The central point of my complaints against Bush is that, given his great successes in war, he has enough political capital to make great reforms at home (flat tax on incomes, kill cap gains taxes, reform Social Security, strong dollar, tort reform, dismantle “antitrust” enforcement — take your pick). Yet he plays the domestic game cautiously and non-ideologically, using his great political momentum mainly to insure his reelection.

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