Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Neuro-Linguistic Politics

I don't buy into all of NLP, but their presuppositions seem to me to make sense. This one seems to be not only sound, but to say a good deal about the last two Presidents.
  • In interactions among people, the person with most flexibility and variation of behaviour can control the outcome of the interaction.

Bill Clinton used to drive many people, especially those of us who supported him, nearly frantic with his lack of fixed political ideology. But that very lack was part of his ability to drop policies which were no longer productive, and come up with new policies to fit the changed circumstances. It probably played a large role in making him the most successful President for decades.

Bush has shown some of that ability in foreign policy, where he has been relatively successful. His strongest specific complaint against Clinton during the campaign was that Clinton was sacrificing the national interest with excessive 'nation building'. Before 9/11, when the Intifada heated up, Bush was more conspicuously uninvolved during a Mid-East crisis than any President in memory.

Today Bush has an entirely new foreign policy. He is running an ambitious nation building exercise in Afghanistan, probably soon to be dwarfed by a far larger exercise in Iraq after Hussein is removed. We are involved again in trying to do something with the Palestine mess and may soon be helping to clean up the mess in Iran. (This refers to possible aid after the current government is removed, which I continue to see as very probable notwithstanding Diane's objections. I don't mean to imply that I'm suggesting an Iraq-style military intervention in Iran.)

After campaigning against it, Bush may soon find he is carrying out the most ambitious US efforts at nation building since the Marshall Plan.

By contrast, Bush's domestic policies are pretty much tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation. That's what he did as Governor, what he talked about during the campaign, and what he's sought as President. He doesn't seem able to bring himself to push for anything else.

Deregulation has been dropped in the current political climate, but Bush hasn't been able to seize the initiative with calls for new regulatory responses to the business scandals. He just isn't comfortable calling for new regulations, not to mention that he would often be calling for outlawing or increasing penalties for activities that he or Cheney have engaged in. Bush will likely sign whatever comes out of Congress on business reforms, because a veto would be too politically expensive, but he is substantially on the sidelines as far as the content of the bills.

Otherwise, Bush is still pushing to make his tax cuts permanent, citing a need to stimulate the economy. Don't ask how a cut in taxes 10 years away will stimulate the economy today; there is no answer.

How to stop the drop in stock prices? Bush's economic advisers came up with a plan which was wisely killed by the political advisers and justly mocked by Josh Marshall: cut capital gains taxes.

Krugman's latest column ends with a criticism of Bush that is fairly harsh even for Krugman, but not IMHO unjustified.

Look at it this way: The Bush administration's economic plans have not changed significantly since the fall of 1999, when they were introduced as a way to ward off a challenge from Steve Forbes. Back when the tax cut that eventually became law was announced, "Dow 36,000" was climbing the best-seller lists. The economic environment has changed completely; the administration's plans haven't changed a bit.

Our economic problems are real, but by no means catastrophic. What scares me is the utter inflexibility of the people who should be solving those problems.

The Clinton team was willing to go with increased regulation or market solutions, fiscal or monetarist intervention, an iron fist or a velvet glove, depending on the circumstances. The Bush team seems unable to make those adjustments.