Avoiding the Truth

AVOIDING THE TRUTH….Over at the Weekly Standard, a well-known liberal rag, Irwin Stelzer rips into George Bush:

President Bush’s compassion now impels him to give tax refunds to people who pay no taxes; free prescription drugs to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, whose children will no longer be burdened with inheritance taxes; subsidies to already-rich farmers to produce outrageously expensive ethanol to add to gasoline; free insurance protection to utilities that own nuclear plants; tariff protection to inefficient steel companies; and subsidies to auto and coal companies to do research they would otherwise have to pay for out of their sales receipts. It almost–but not quite–makes one pine for the days of that cheapskate, Bill Clinton.

I have a feeling it might have been the editors who inserted that “but not quite” in the final sentence, because that opening paragraph was just the rhetorical equivalent of Stelzer clearing his throat. There’s no shilly shallying anywhere else in the column, which reads like a tactical nuke lobbed straight at the heart of the administration’s never-never land approach to Iraqi reconstruction:

But let’s be wildly optimistic and assume that…profits from Iraqi oil sales come to $20 a barrel. A bit of arithmetic shows that those sales would yield well under $20 billion a year, about enough to cover current outlays on our troops for four months.

….Bremer, in what may be his ticket out of Baghdad and into the private sector with Lindsey, knows this: “We are going to have to spend a lot more money than we are going to get revenue, even once we get oil production back to prewar levels.” Which means that Wolfowitz is either innumerate (unlikely), or is being economical with the truth when he says, “We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.”

….So there you have it: a foreign policy that promises enormous long-run benefits, but requires enormous short-term outlays, for most of which the administration has refused to budget.

It’s no surprise that a Weekly Standard writer thinks we should demonstrate a firm commitment to Iraqi reconstruction, but it is a little surprising to see such an extended blast aimed at Bush and Wolfowitz, and it’s really surprising to see them publish a suggestion that we ought to raise taxes to pay for postwar costs.

Stelzer suggests a $5/barrel tax on imported oil, but let’s look at it another way. We raise about a trillion dollars a year via personal income tax, so if it’s really going to cost $100 billion a year to occupy and rebuild Iraq, that means we would need to raise income tax rates by about 10% to pay for it. George Bush, like LBJ before him, probably knows this would never fly, so, again like LBJ, he’s simply doing everything he can to put off the day of reckoning.

But how long can this last? Bush has already begun arousing suspicions even in middle America that you have to listen to his words mighty carefully to discern the truth, and this is a reputation that’s hard to shake off once it takes hold. Just ask LBJ’s ghost. If Bush earns the dubious distinction of being as straight a shooter as his Texas predecessor, I wonder if he’ll suffer the same fate?

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