Let’s see. Last week the administration said they had decided global warming likely is real, after all, and that human activity may be screwing up the environment, but that – unlike Europe and Japan – we aren’t going to do anything about it. We’ll just gamble on its turning out OK. Worst case, I guess the thinking goes, how fast could the climate spin out of control? By then it will be the next generation’s problem – they can bear the cost. We’ll just borrow from them.

And then, last week also, there was the Republican vote in the House (along with 41 misguided Democrats) to repeal the estate tax in 2010 rather than merely raise the exemption – now – from $1 million to $3 million or so, as suggested by various Democrats. (That would entirely exempt something like 99.7% of all estates.)

Charities hate the estate tax repeal, which will pinch their bequests; as do some very smart billionaires like Warren Buffett and George Soros, who know it’s bad social policy.

I assume Tom Daschle and the Democratic Senate will manage to halt this one, but it’s the thought that counts. The thought behind the effort to repeal the estate tax on even the very wealthiest families is: there are a lot of problems in the world, but the plight of the rich comes first.

And if massively cutting taxes on America’s very best off means widening the gap between rich and poor, or turning surpluses into deficits – maybe adding another $3 trillion to the national debt over the next 12 years as Reagan/Bush did from 1980-1992 – so be it. This is an imperative of the Bush administration and the Republican Party. It was the plan before the election and after the election, the plan before 9/11 and after 9/11, the plan before the recession, the plan before the recovery, the plan when it appeared there might be a huge surplus, and the plan when it quickly became evident the surplus would be a deficit.

If cutting taxes for the top 1% means borrowing from the Social Security ‘lock box’ in order to spend hundreds of billions of dollars extra on a massive military buildup (see below), well, say the borrow-and-spend Republicans – first things first. We’ll keep Social Security afloat some other way, like borrowing massively to fund those liabilities when they come due.

‘George W. Bush, compassionate conservative, plans to raise the national debt by $1 trillion in the next three years. That’s not a typo. Nor is it compassionate or conservative. It’s a dirty trick on future generations,’ begins an op-ed by Douglas Pike that ran in last Tuesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. Pike wants to re-start the National Debt clock in Times Square, among other things, to dramatize the problem.

What Pike doesn’t understand is that cutting taxes for the top 1%, and abolishing the estate tax altogether, are urgent priorities. Assuring a solid Social Security safety net for the average citizen’s old age is a priority, too; just not as urgent. And the environment? Yes, it’s nice to watch The Discovery Channel. But ozone layer, no ozone layer, glaciers, no glaciers – worst case, we just drill more offshore oil wells to power the extra air conditioning global warming will require. And buy stock in United Van Lines as we evacuate the blue coastal cities and move people inward, to the red states (the moral high ground).

Finally, if you’re still with me, here was Matthew Miller’s column last week on the massive military spending the Republicans propose we borrow to fund:

For release 06/05/02
By Matthew Miller
Tribune Media Services

Richard Gephardt entered the gravitas derby this week with a major foreign policy speech that was perfectly terrific – until it gave away the store.

Under the president’s plan, Gephardt explained, ‘we will be spending $470 billion a year on defense by 2007 (up from the $300 billion Bush inherited) … even at that huge amount, we will need to spend wisely.’

Note that Gephardt didn’t challenge that ‘huge amount.’ Instead he conceded, as all ambitious Democrats have, that they can’t be for ‘less’ defense than Bush and be viable. If this premise goes unquestioned, Bush will have reached $400 billion with Democratic assent by 2004.

As Lawrence Korb of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, $400 billion will be more than the next 15 nations in the world spend combined, and 15 percent higher in inflation-adjusted terms than we spent on average during the entire Cold War.

If Democrats don’t challenge Bush’s defense plans (and his tax cut), they’ll have no money to do anything real for health, education and the other domestic causes they claim to champion even if they gain power.

Is it really impossible to challenge Bush on defense spending? Here’s a start on what it might sound like:

‘Make no mistake,’ my dream leader says. ‘National security is job one. And to make sure that no power can threaten us, I believe we must spend far more than any conceivable rival. Insuring that margin of safety won’t come cheap. Under my America First plan, America will spend seven times more on our military than China, six times more than Russia, and 14 times more than Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Syria combined.

‘But here’s where I differ with my opponent, and lock arms with President Eisenhower, who knew something about saying ‘no’ to military profiteers who exploit public fear to line their pockets. It was Ike, after all, who put the importance of being a smart hawk into perspective.

‘Listen to Ike: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.’

‘Well, I like Ike. And I believe, in the Eisenhower tradition, that being ‘strong’ doesn’t mean winking at corporate blackmail just because it waves a flag, or kowtowing to contractors peddling yesterday’s arms for tomorrow’s threats. That’s why I insist we spend seven times more than China – but not 8 times more, as my opponent wants; six times more than Russia, but not seven times more; and 14 times more than Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Syria combined – but not 17 times more. (The rough result: a military at $325 billion in 2004, not $400 billion.)

‘My advisers tell me I’m crazy to talk this way. They say you’re too tuned out to process this kind of common sense. They say that so long as my opponent calls for more spending than I do, you’ll believe he’s ‘tougher’ on defense. They tell me the only way I could even begin to make this case is if I left a leg in Vietnam, or had a chest full of medals that did the talking for me.

‘I don’t doubt it would be easier to make the case that way. But we’re in a crucial decade now, in which politicians are going to have to take a chance on your attention span if we’re going to do right by our country. In less than 10 years 76 million baby boomers start to retire – a tidal wave that will drain away all the cash and political energy for us to do much but cope with their colossal health and pension costs.

‘That means we have a decade to get ready – and hear me well: America has unfinished business to attend to.

‘So yes, I put our security first – but I’m going to ask you in this campaign to do more than simply stay alive. The stakes are so high, I’m going to do what the other side is betting you’ll never go for – I’m asking you to stay alive, and I’m asking you to think– about how we move forward together on the other challenges we face.

‘Does anyone here feel capable of both staying alive and thinking? Good – now here’s what I want you to start thinking about …’

Democrats, I know it’s hard. But I’m doing this for your own good. If you don’t try to win on terms that let you actually accomplish something, believe me, you’ll be sorry.

[Columnist Matt Miller is a senior fellow at Occidental College in Los Angeles.]



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