Sunday, June 08, 2003

Michael Kinsley's latest jeremiad against the Republican tax cut plan is, like so many of Paul Krugman's similarly-minded screeds, only ostensibly about how terrible the tax cut is. Its real purpose is to grapple with the most difficult question facing liberal opponents of the plan: if it's such a financial disaster for so many Americans, then why isn't it also a political disaster for the Republicans?

Like Krugman, Kinsley opts for the people-as-duped-sheep explanation. "Campaign contributions are only the crudest way power is transferred from the economic sphere to the political one," he writes. "In addition, there are well-financed lobbying organizations, including some masquerading as research institutes. There is the inherent complexity and boredom of tax and regulatory issues, which repel people who don't have a major financial stake. There is the social milieu of the president and most members of Congress." In other words, the voters are not exploding in righteous outrage at the tax cut because the Republican powers-that-be have conspired to hide the truth of its damaging consequences from them.

Now, I generally share Kinsley's (and Krugman's) skepticism of the wisdom of the tax cut, although perhaps with less intensity and conviction. A stimulative tax cut is at least defensible at the moment, as an anti-deflation measure. But if that is its purpose, it could have been much better designed than this one, with more immediate spending power delivered at less long-term cost to the federal bottom line. And I can understand why Kinsley would be disappointed in the general public's acceptance of a plan that he believes will bankrupt the country, hurt the poor and those of middling income, and benefit only the rich.

Still, it's ridiculous to argue that a wealthy, powerful cabal has managed to fleece an unwilling public. In fact, support for tax cuts in recent years has been quite broad-based, across the income spectrum, with a plurality at all income levels--not just the wealthy--favoring a tax cut. That doesn't mean they're sensible to do so, of course. But it's simply false to decry the tax cut as a robbery of the non-rich by the rich, when the non-rich are willing partners in the transaction.

When foreign populations believe nonsensical things--say, that the September 11th terrorist attack was a CIA plot--pundits tend to blame poor American PR, agressive American foreign policy....anything but a concerted campaign by wealthy, powerful Islamist propagandists. Surely in America, where the likes of Kinsley and Krugman have prominent, popular, accessible soapboxes from which to fulminate, the propaganda conspiracy theory is even harder to defend.

Perhaps, then, it's time for Kinsley and Krugman to consider the implications of the fact that Americans would sooner believe an economic charlatan of a president feeding them ruinous lies, than trust the reasonable warnings of pundits like themselves. In other words, it's time for them to take their cue from their foreign policy colleagues, recognize their own startling lack of credibility among the public, and start asking themselves, "why do they hate us?"

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