SONS OF FLUBBER: It’s all we have!


Part 1—Crazy proposals v. Flub Watch: Our political culture is brainless, dumb, sad.

Just consider those crazy proposals—the crazy proposals Republican candidates are allowed to advance.

Last Saturday evening, Michael Steele, former RNC chairman, mused about Candidate Ron Paul during a chat on MSNBC. Paul had made a budget proposal which was transparently crazy—but Steele didn’t seem to know that. This is what the gentleman said about Paul’s crazy proposal:
STEELE (2/4/12): In tough economic times, what [Ron Paul] is saying makes a lot of sense. And what’s interesting is, he has been saying it, as Steve noticed, for a very long time. And I took away something that’s very significant.

He’s talking about cutting a trillion dollars out of the budget in one year. You know the old Washington trick. We do it over ten years—so we’d cut like a hundred billion dollars a year for 10 years. That’s nothing. What he’s talking about is a fundamental change in the way the government manages its money. And that resonates with lot of voters.

And I’ve said for a long time and you may disagree with me a little bit on this. I think there’s a synergy that Ron Paul has that captures that Tea Party and that Occupy Wall Street-esque feel on the economic side, which is why you see those 20-something year olds galvanizing, one thousand-plus college kids in an auditorium on a Saturday night.
Candidate Paul is talking about “cutting a trillion dollars out of the budget in one year.” Do you know the size of the federal budget? If you do, you know that Ron Paul’s budget proposal is just flat bat-shit insane.

Alas! Michael Steele didn’t seem to know that Ron Paul’s proposal is bat-shit insane. But then again, neither did Karen Finney, another member of the august MSNBC panel.

Finney seems like a very nice person. Not long ago, she was communications director for the DNC. Responding to Steele, this is what the MSNBC contributor said:
FINNEY (continuing directly): That’s truly an important point. Ron Paul seems to be the only Republican candidate who is really made a play for the youth vote. I mean, he’s really done well in Iowa and New Hampshire, for example, among youth voters, though I would be curious to see in terms of Nevada how that helps in terms of his goal of doing better in the caucus.

You know the other thing is, in the last election cycle, the Republicans really didn’t make the effort to go after the youth vote, because there was such the assumption that President Obama would get the youth vote. But what Pew is reporting is that in the course of the last four years, young voters, millennial in particular, are becoming more frustrated about the role of government. And whether or not—and so I think, you know, Ron Paul’s message really resonates. They don’t see government working as much as they used to be the most sort of optimistic about.
Gack! Steele praised Paul for a crazy proposal—and Finney discussed a process question. Never mind explaining the fact that Paul’s proposal is bat-shit insane. The “important point” lay in the fact that Paul has pursued the youth vote! Finney thinks that Ron Paul's message "really resonates" too!

That’s how discussions often go on our liberal channel. Thanks to decades of such discussions, Republican candidates are allowed to make budget proposals which “resonate with lot of voters” even though they’re bat-shit insane. Because no—Ron Paul isn’t the only Republican candidate making crazy proposals.

At present, GOP proposals are all insane. But how often do voters hear this?

Paul’s proposal is transparently nuts. But then again, how about Mitt Romney’s budget proposals? In a recent editorial, the Washington Post discussed the sheer absurdity of his tax proposals (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/2/12). But look at the way Romney’s proposals are described by Michael Tomasky, one of our favorites, in the current New York Review of Books. The very brightest of the liberal elite will see them limned this way:
TOMASKY (2/23/12): Romney’s proposed tax cut, writes The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, is roughly three times the size of George W. Bush’s 2000 proposal. It’s far more regressive—it would actually raise taxes on many working-class people, which Bush did not do—and would add to the deficit a hefty $600 billion.
Is that really what Ezra Klein wrote? Sort of. Following Tomasky’s footnote, we found Klein writing that Romney’s plan “amounts to a tax cut of $600 billion in 2015”—in that one year alone! Given the size of our ongoing deficits; given the size of the annual budget; given Republican screeching about deficits/debt, that $600 billion isn’t a “hefty” amount; such a tax cut would be bat-shit insane. But you’ll never see the liberal world explain such facts to voters. We just don’t know how to do it.

Tomasky’s account is technically accurate—and yes, he’s one of our favorites. Having said that, you can bet the house that the New York Review’s elite liberal readers can’t begin to explain the absurdity of Candidate Romney’s tax cut proposals. We liberals have been failing such tests for the past forty years. As a result, the country is crawling with regular people, young and old, who believe all sort of crazy things. (If we lower our tax rates, we get higher revenue!) People like this are easily swayed by all sorts of crazy proposals. Borrowing Steele’s unchallenged language, proposals which are utterly crazy “resonate with” such voters, who number in the scores of millions.

We liberals simply don’t know how to talk about serious matters. What are we left with instead? In this morning’s New York Times, Helene Cooper offers this sad report about the DNC’s ongoing “flub watch.” In that strategy, the DNC and related groups in wait for small imperfections of speech by Romney and broadcast these “flubs” to the world.

Cooper’s “Political Memo” describes a liberal world which doesn’t know how to discuss things which actually matter. In fact, the DNC which Cooper describes has been getting its brains beaten out for years; it may or may not defeat Romney this way, but progressive interests will never prosper in the process. Good God! Just look at the way these losers reacted to Romney's latest “flub.” For several decades, this has been your DNC at work:
COOPER (2/6/12): The Internet ad cobbled together by the Democratic National Committee hit the Web on Wednesday afternoon.

“In a shallow attempt to show concern for the middle class, Mitt Romney told CNN today he’s not concerned about the very poor,” the ad said. “But his policy proposals make clear that he also isn’t very concerned about the middle class—his tax plan provides a modest tax cut, about $167, for middle-class families but provides about $146,000 for families making more than $1 million.” It continued: “Mitt Romney: Not concerned about the poor, or the middle class.”
According to the DNC, you can tell that Romney isn’t concerned about the middle-class because the tax cuts he’s offering them just aren’t large enough!

Romney’s tax cuts for the highest earners are in fact bat-shit insane. But in that text, you see the DNC adopting the RNC’s most basic frameworks: Taxes must always be cut! The measure of a pol’s concern lies in the size of his tax cuts! But then, President Obama has proposed extending the bulk of George Bush’s tax cuts.

Just twelve years ago, when those cuts were proposed, Democrats opposed them en masse.

Republicans propose the darnedest things—and the liberal world doesn’t know how to say so. All week long, we’ll look at the way prevailing “flub culture” makes a joke of our world. We’ll look at Bruni; we’ll look at Dowd; we’ll review the analytical skills of Maddow. We’ll look at Cooper as she tries to "be clear" about what Romney said in that latest flub.

Over and over, we’ll see the truth:

In the mainstream press and on our TV machine thingy, poorly trained minds pursue flub culture, making a joke of our world. This has been happening for a good many years. Plainly, it has helped create our current large predicament.

Alas! This “Flub Watch” seems to be all we have. It follows decades of liberal incompetence. This approach may or may not prevail against Romney—but uh-oh! In the modern mainstream and liberal worlds, we’re all sons and daughters of Flubber!

Fooling with flubs is all we have. This is the way we got here.

Tomorrow: The way Frank Bruni reasons


  1. The federal government spends about $4 trillion per year. Ron Paul has specific proposals to cut a trillion, bringing the total down to $3 trillion -- a move Bob calls "just flat bat-shit insane."

    And yet, Bill Clinton's Presidency ended with spending at only $2 trillion. I don't remember any any problems with Chiroptera manure in 2000.

    The trouble with Bob's analyis, I believe, is that he assumes we can continue to run enormous deficits indefinitely without consequences. The examples of Greece, Portugal, etc., remind us that, even for a nation, borrowing has its limits. And, when those limits are reached, the consequences are a lot more dreadful than shutting down a bunch of wasteful federal agencies.

    1. David,

      What is the evidence we are suffering from "enormous" deficits?

      [You have no evidence, it's just a blank assertion. On the contrary, our current and future projected deficits are primarily the result of our other, real problems -- stagnation of the economy, very high unemployment, and a uniquely wasteful for-profit healthcare system.]

      What were current deficits running at the end of the Clinton era?

      [We didn't have current deficits then. We had surpluses. Interestingly, Republicans proposed that those current surpluses were a problem. They had a solution: reduce tax rates, to "give the money back to the taxpayer." Lower rates, together with assorted increases in spending under Bush II, did indeed eliminate those problematic surpluses. (let us leave to the reader to wonder how that could have been proposed in the first place, as Republican dogma would suggest that lower tax rates would increase tax revenue, increasing surpluses...)]

      "Greece, Portugal, etc?"

      [You are aware, aren't you, that your "Portugal, et cetera" reveals that you either don't have a clue or are a charlatan? Europe's problems are are hardly due to governmental fiscal imprudence:

      Excluding Greece, the countries now in trouble in Europe were on a strong downward trend in debt-to-GDP ratios since at least 1999. Only *after* the crisis has that changed.]

      Why would anyone trust a guy (you, David) who can't tell the cart from the horse, to tell us which way to go?

  2. Exactly how is it "bat-shit insane" to scale back the expenditures of the federal government to where it was five or six years ago?

    Even after a trillion dollar reduction, federal government expenditures would still exceed revenues by around $500 Billion (based on FY2011).

    It is far more "bat-shit insane" to keep spending so much and keep running up the federal debt at such an alarming rate, as will become obvious by the end of this decade, when it will require far higher interest rates to attract buyers of US debt.

    1. If cutting the budget by one trillion makes sense, shouldn't there also be discussion about exactly what will be cut; about who will be affected by the cuts; what the negative (or positive effect of the cuts will be? who will lose their jobs as a result of the cuts? Also, if the deficit is so bad, why is it so vital to eliminate the estate tax? Why can't the well off pay more taxes? It doesn't seem that the press thinks these are questions worth asking.

    2. Why do we have to wait until the end of this decade? The market is a forward looking mechanism. If it thought the US would have trouble borrowing money in several years, it would be reflected in bond yields now. Where is that reflection? As I type this, 10 year treasury yields are less than 2%. With un-adjusted CPI at 3%, that means a yield of negative 1%. Why are people willing to, in effect, pay the US government to hold their money now, when in a few years they will, according to you, be worried about its ability to pay them back? Is big money just stupid?

    3. “Exactly how is it "bat-shit insane" to scale back the expenditures of the federal government to where it was five or six years ago?”

      Oh, I don’t know, perhaps because we are not the same country we were in 2005?

      There have been 1,632 additional U.S fatalities in Afghanistan and 2,303 in Iraq. In addition, 15,839 were wounded in Iraq and 13,661 in Afghanistan since Dec. 2005.

      U.S. healthcare costs went from $2 trillion in 2005 to $2.6 trillion in 2010 an increase of 30%.

      The US population in 2005 was 298.2m.

      It is now 313m an increase of 5%.

      Inflation has increased 15.6% from Dec. 2005-Dec. 2011.

      So if Federal spending was 2.47t in 2005, then per capita spending was $8,283 in 2005 and would now be $7,891. Adjusted for inflation it would be $6,826 in 2005 dollars. If you can’t understand why an almost 1/5th (17.4%) cut in per capita spending, while recovering from the worst recession since WWII, with the numerous new commitments the U.S. government must now honor is not "bat-shit insane", then I don’t know how to help you understand it.

    4. You can't help us understand because you don't understand a thing.

      Healthcare costs are astronomical in this country, per person, compared to any where else.

      That is a huge problem. And no sane person believes excessive government spending is the reason for it.

      Also, you do not cut spending to recover from recessions/depressions -- if that worked, Europe would be recovering. It isn't.

      You don't understand economics, and Wikipedia isn't helping you.

    5. Sorry, when I typed not in the last sentence it contradicted everything I wrote previously. It should have read.

      "If you can’t understand why an almost 1/5th (17.4%) cut in per capita spending, while recovering from the worst recession since WWII, with the numerous new commitments the U.S. government must now honor is "bat-shit insane", then I don’t know how to help you understand it."

      We have more people and prices have increased (most people don't take into account these factors when hearing or reading something that "seems" resonable), especially in healthcare which is a large percentage of the federal budget. A return to an arbitrary FY budget like 2005 is actually a masive cut that would have numerous ripple effects on the rest of the economy I did not even detail. Paul is taking advantage of Americans innumeracy and the media's inability to explain these subjects to the general population. A trillion dollar cut in a year to year budget is bat-shit insane.

  3. To answer David in Cal and Anonymous: if we were enjoying good times, then spending reductions (though hardly on the order of $1 trillion in ONE year) would indeed make a lot of sense. It must also be noted, however, that the American infrastructure has been starved so long, thanks to low taxes and business-stoked anti-government sentiment, that what otherwise might be prudent fiscal retrenchment poses real dangers to the functioning of the country, including business.

    However, budget cutting and austerity in the age of 15-20% real unemployment is madness, unless and until proponents of same have proof that austerity is good for economic growth and employment. And kindly don't point to Latvia or Ireland. What you need to show is that countries get out of depressions be cutting spending (and not 50 years later). There is no such case on record.

    And this notion that we have to return to budgetary figures of earlier years and eras ludicrously ignores growth in GDP, and population and demographic changes, not to mention inflation (amazingly, you even find folks comparing 2012 to 2000 spending, without correcting for reduced buying power of the dollar).

    Needless to say, the country in 2012 has greater obligations than it did in 2000. GDP is significantly higher, population is higher, we're fighting more wars at the insistence of the same folks who want to cut their own taxes and cut the budget, etc.

  4. If cutting defense spending is part of ron pauls plan, why is that insane?? War is insane- Ron Paul wants to defund wars. Calling that insane is inhuman!

  5. The Democrats tell us to ignore the 15 trillion dollars in debt. The Republicans pretend to worry about the debt, but their solution (as always) is to reduce revenue with more tax cuts. Both seem insane to me.

  6. @John Powell, who writes:

    "The Democrats tell us to ignore the 15 trillion dollars in debt ... seem[s] insane to me."

    Step back just a moment and ask yourself, how do we assess the debt of a country like the U.S.? Are we simply horrified by the figure $15 trillion because it's a big number? Are we using budgetary analogies from own our lives, which are inapplicable to a national economy? Or is our assessment grounded in an actual macro-economic knowledge?

    Even assuming Democrats were telling us to ignore $15 trillion in debt (which no Dems are actually saying; economists like Krugman are asserting instead that cutting domestic spending at this time is likelier to *raise* deficits than lower them), do you have solid evidence that a country which takes debt on debt in its own currency can't easily sustain that debt load?

    In other words, are you fighting a bogeyman, or your own gut?

    Truth is, we Americans seem to be terrified of absolutely everything. What if that $15 trillion is as much a chimera as WMD, or commies under the bed or the latest "threat" from Iran?