Now I know how Republicans felt in 1998. Back then, the pursuers of Bill Clinton could simply not believe that the public was not rising up in rebellion against a president who had received Oval Office blow jobs from an employee and then lied about it. But the economy was zipping along, and the polls showed that a large majority of Americans approved of the Clinton’s (official) performance in the White House. Many conservative and GOP partisans were stunned by this outrage gap, with some even wondering what this said about the morals of the citizenry. Were people willing to ignore degenerate behavior and deceit for the sake of their 401(k)s?
But for those social-con worrywarts, the world righted itself in the 2000 election. Clearly, Bush, with his it’s-time-to-restore-honor-and-integrity-to-the-White-House schtick, won the backing of many voters who remained displeased–if not disgusted–by the Monica mess. Clinton did end up paying for his misbehavior. Well, actually, Al Gore did. But for conservatives, that was close enough.
Today the outrage gap is on the other foot. Bush has been misleading the public about critical elements of his presidency, and yet there has been no outcry. Sure, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been screaming about Bush’s lies, as have a few other liberal pundits ( moi, included). The Democrats have taken a stab at branding him a deceiver. For awhile, they pushed the mantra, he says one thing, and does another. But that never took off. Bush’s approval ratings remain in the mid-60s, not astronomically high, but higher than he deserves.
He has gotten away with much. He sold his original tax cuts package with several whopping lies. He asserted it would effectively stimulate the economy. Yet the White House noted that in the first year it would create 400,000 jobs–and cost about $200 billion. That’s $500,000 a job. (Why not just hand out money?) My favorite lie was Bush’s claim that 92 million Americans on average would receive $1100 due to his tax cuts. This was a phony number. Most middle-income earners could expect to get a couple hundred dollars from Bush’s tax cuts. The average was only higher because wealthy taxpayers would be pocketing large amounts of so-called “tax relief.” It was as if Bush had said that if nine unemployed people and one person earning $1,000,000 a year live on the same street, the average household income for the block is $100,000. That “average” would be of little use to the nine individuals out of work.
More recently, after Congress crafted a thoroughly dishonest tax bill–which only fits the budget because of blatant gimmicks–Bush gave it his blessing. What the Republicans pieced together is the most deceptive measure Washington has produced in years. It masquerades as a $350 billion, ten-year tax cut. But many of its central provisions expire within a few years, not ten. Since no one expects a future Congress and president to let these tax cuts expire, the real cost of the bill–which, to start with, is severely tilted toward the wealthy–will top $800 billion and possibly reach $1 trillion. In an era of deficits, tax cuts of that size will place enormous pressure on the federal budget and force either massive borrowing or widespread cuts in programs that tend to help low- and middle-income Americans. (Remember, Bush, when campaigning for president, promised he would not use deficits to fund his tax cuts, and he made the same pledge in 2001 when pushing his first round of supersized, wealthy-favoring tax cuts.)