Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A peculiar feature of American politics is the propensity of seemingly rational and intelligent people to believe "it's gotta get worse before it gets better, so lets make it worse" arguments.

Exhibit one: small-goverment conservatives who want to starve the goverment of revenue. Paul Krugman assembles a couple of quotations in his NY Times article on the topic:

[They] actually welcomes the revenue losses from tax cuts. [The] most visible spokesman today is Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who once told National Public Radio: ''I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.'' And the way to get it down to that size is to starve it of revenue. ''The goal is reducing the size and scope of government by draining its lifeblood,'' Norquist told U.S. News & World Report...

The starve-the-beast doctrine is now firmly within the conservative mainstream. George W. Bush himself seemed to endorse the doctrine as the budget surplus evaporated: in August 2001 he called the disappearing surplus ''incredibly positive news'' because it would put Congress in a ''fiscal straitjacket.''

I cite this passage only to note that creating a fiscal crisis is a mainstream conservative position, endorsed by the President himself. Moreover, adherents of this idea are not limited to radicals in the conservative camp; the other day I saw a thoughtful Robert Barro argue on PBS that budget deficits are good because they will eventually force the goverment to cut back on social services.

Yet pause and think for a second: these people want to drive the US into bankrupcy. They want to saddle it with a debt it cannot repay. And they do not advocate honesty in driving the US to financial ruin; no, they counsel irresponsible tax cuts justified with populist "its your money" slogans with the ultimate goal of leaving the goverment on the brink of insolvency. Its downright treasonous.

Exhibit two: Ralph Nader. From the June 2000 issue of Outside magazine,

If California tips Green enough, Bush could win the state and the whole damn election. Which, Nader confided to Outside in June, wouldn't be so bad. When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: 'Bush.'"

Later Nader says,

"If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win."

It is unquestionable that had Nader not run in 2000, Al Gore would have been inaugurated president. Nader was quite successful in his apparent goal of tipping the election to Bush. And now he seeks to do it again in '04; every single poll I have seen puts Kerry worse off relative to Bush with Nader in the race.

Once again: how can seemingly thoughtful and rational people embrace this ridiculous "let's make things worse" argument?


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