Political Animal

INSTANT ANALYSIS….You’re probably all wondering

INSTANT ANALYSIS….You’re probably all wondering how I managed to blog about President Bush’s press conference so quickly, aren’t you? Well, I have some very high technology at my disposal.

It’s called a “television.” And not just any television, mind you, it’s an itty-bitty little television that I bought for my study so that I can watch George Bush and type at the same time! So when the press conference is over, all I have to do is click the Publish button, and my left coast mockery of our president (and press corps) is ready for a waiting world.

Pretty cool, eh?

UPDATE: I also got a radio so that I could listen to Rush Limbaugh. That hasn’t worked out quite as well, though, because….um, I just can’t force myself to listen to the guy. Sorry, but I’m only willing to go just so far in service to my public.

THE BUSH PRESS CONFERENCE….Ari Fleischer

THE BUSH PRESS CONFERENCE….Ari Fleischer says the White House doesn’t like press conferences because “they include too much preening by reporters.” I don’t know about preening, but the Washington press corps sure is hopeless when it comes to actually asking questions.

I mean, how about this one: “Mr. President, do you worry, maybe in the wee small hours, that your critics might be right and you might be wrong?” That’s some tough questioning there!

On the other hand, there’s something to this preening business too. Why do so many of the reporters insist on asking long, two-part questions that make it childishly easy for Bush to ignore whichever parts he wants to ignore? And how come none of them ever follow up and insist that he actually answer the previous question?

Like this one, for example: What about the cost of war? “There’s also a cost to not going to war.” Yeah, OK, but what about the cost of war? No one bothered to follow up. About half an hour later somebody did finally ask again and Bush’s answer was, basically, “we don’t know, but as soon as we do you’ll be the first to know.”

Other lowlights:

  • “Is success contingent on capturing Saddam Hussein?” No answer. If we don’t capture him, will Bush refuse to ever speak his name again, the way he does with Osama?

  • How about those protesters? “Nobody likes war. I don’t like war.”

  • Are we going to ask for a UN vote even if it looks like we’ll lose? “No matter what the whip count is, we’ll call for a vote. It’s time for people to show their cards.” An actual answer! And actual news!

  • Is the UN important? “If we need to act, we’ll act. We don’t need the United Nations to do that….When it comes to our security, we really don’t need anybody’s permission.”

  • How about post-war Iraq? “The form of that government is up to the Iraqi people to choose. Anything they choose.” Sheesh. Glad to hear we’ve thought this through so carefully.

Pathetic. The only toss-up is whose performance was worse, Bush or the press.

UPDATE: So what was the press conference really like? The punditocracy speaks: “Somber.” Hmmm. “Aaron, was it as somber as it looked on TV?” Yes, somber. Bob Woodward? “Somber.” John Warner? “Somber.”

Oh, and stilted and scripted too. So there you have it: somber, stilted, and scripted.

UPDATE 2: Hmmm, Atrios wonders if the questions were pre-approved. It’s true that Bush was reading from a list when he called on the reporters, and most of the reporters seemed to be reading their questions off a card. But there’s no way the White House would force the press to submit questions beforehand, is there? Nah, Bush’s “scripted” remark probably referred to the order in which he called on reporters. Right?

DEFICIT SPENDING….The LA Times has

DEFICIT SPENDING….The LA Times has a good editorial about the budget today, warning correctly that the deficit for this year is likely to be $400 billion or more and that even President Bush’s allies are starting to get nervous about the whole thing.

As well they should. I’m a moderate deficit hawk myself, and although this is partly for straightforward economic reasons, it’s mostly because of a couple of pretty obvious long term problems that no one ever really wants to fess up to: Social Security and Medicare.

Right now the United States spends just under 30% of its GDP on government services (state, federal, and local). This number is actually fairly low by global standards, but it’s going to go up a lot in the next 30 years. Social Security, which gets a lot of attention, is actually the smaller problem, with estimates suggesting that it will grow from around 4% of GDP today to 8% a few decades from now. Thus, other things being equal, government spending will grow to just over 30%.

Medicare is a whole different animal. Even in its present form it is almost certain to grow from around 2% of GDP to 8%, but in reality it’s much worse than that. Americans currently spend about 15% of GDP on medical services, and I suspect that whether anyone likes it or not, this will become 100% government funded sometime in the next couple of decades. Thus, the real problem is not Medicare growth per se, but the fact that Medicare will be replaced by a more comprehensive health program and overall medical spending by the government will grow from 2% of GDP to around 15% or so. This will put total government spending at around 40% of GDP or a bit more.

It’s wishful thinking to believe that any of this won’t happen. Medical technology is going to force the government into the medical insurance business, and both Social Security and Medicare are too popular to believe that either one is going to be seriously cut back. The votes just aren’t there for that to happen, regardless of whether George Bush or any other Republican would like for it to happen.

Now, 40% of GDP is still not outrageous ? nearly all European countries already have higher government spending than this ? but it’s plenty high. So while there’s no need to panic about domestic spending, we do need to be careful about large spending programs outside of these two areas and we need to accept the fact that taxes are going to have to cover all this stuff. So if you think a $400 billion deficit is high, just wait until the baby boomers start to retire. It’s something George Bush should be thinking about.