Part 4—King of the potted plants: In this morning’s New York Times, Floyd Norris devotes his Business Day column to Rick Santorum’s budget proposals.
What Norris finds isn’t pretty. According to Norris, Santorum has offered “the most amazing [budget] proposal” of all the Republican candidates:
NORRIS (3/2/12): The most amazing proposal came from Rick Santorum...There is nothing new about this; it just doesn't get discussed much. On January 30, the Washington Post used that study by the Tax Policy Center as the basis for a slashing editorial about the budget plans of the GOP candidates (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/29/12). They too stressed the lunacy of Santorum’s budget proposals. The editors stressed the fact that Santorum’s plan—like the plans of Romney and Gingrich—“would add trillions more” to the national debt. According to the Tax Policy Center, Santorum’s proposals would add $900 billion to the deficit in 2015 alone, even after you allow for extending all the Bush tax cuts! So the editors wrote, in amazement.
He would reduce almost everyone’s taxes. He would slash tax rates for all, his campaign Web site promises, while preserving “deductions for charitable giving, home mortgage interest, health care, retirement savings and children.”
He would cut capital gains and dividend tax rates to 12 percent, from 15 percent, and triple the personal deduction for each child. He would repeal the alternative minimum tax. He would cut the corporate tax rate in half, increase the research and development tax credit and set the rate at zero for manufacturers. He would eliminate the estate tax, or the “death tax” in his lexicon. He would eliminate “marriage tax penalties throughout the federal tax code.”
The Tax Policy Center in Washington estimated that in one year, 2015, that set of proposals would reduce federal tax revenue by 40 percent, or $1.3 trillion, from what it would be under current law, which assumes the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
It was against this backdrop that Gilbert Fidler of Gilbert, Arizona rose to ask the opening question at last week’s Republican debate.
CNN’s John King could have asked the opening question, since he seemed to be serving as moderator for the debate. But due to King's vast love for the average Joe, he deferred to Citizen Fidler, who is concerned about the national debt.
“What are you going to do to bring down the debt?” Fidler asked the various candidates. King asked Santorum to answer first. This was the start of his statement:
SANTORUM (2/22/12): Thank you, Gilbert.Santorum went on and on from there, spooning a porridge of fine-sounding claims which no one on earth understood. But as he started, Santorum seemed to say that he was going to cut $5 trillion from the debt over the next five years—or perhaps from national spending, or perhaps from projected deficits.
I put together a specific plan that cuts $5 trillion over five years, that spends less money each year for the next four years that I'll be president of the United States. So it's not inflation-adjusted, it's not baseline-budgeting. We're actually going to shrink the actual size of the federal budget, and we're going to do so by dealing with the real problem.
As Santorum spoke to Fidler, it had been more than three weeks since that Washington Post editorial—an editorial based upon a major study of Santorum’s plan. Fidler was worried about the debt—and the study said that Santorum's proposals would massively add to the debt! This was, therefore, the perfect place for King to perform a journalistic act—to question Santorum’s fine-sounding claims, letting people like Fidler know that there may be a small problem here.
Santorum’s full answer to Fidler had burned some 400 words. But right there as he began, he seemed to say that we would massively reduce federal debt (or federal spending; or something). Because he isn’t the world’s dumbest person, John King knows that this claim is pure shit. So what did Khe say when Santorum was through?
This is what John King said:
KING: Governor Romney, I'm wondering if that answer satisfied you. Just in recent days you said this, quote, "If you want a fiscal conservative, you can't vote for Rick Santorum because he's not." Did he answer your questions there?King threw to Romney. He proceeded to emit a long string of malarkey himself.
At this point, we offer a question: Why is John King still employed? In this moment, he made it clear that he had no intention of serving as an actual moderator at this final debate. All around the country, people like Fidler may have believed that they were seeing an actual journalist trying to illuminate the campaign's basic issues. If anything, many conservatives probably assumed that King was ideologically opposed to these candidates—that he would do whatever he could to embarrass these hopefuls.
Voters who thought that were wrong. Beyond that, King wasn’t trying to illuminate squat, squash or squadoodle this evening. A long discussion of deficits and debt followed Fidler’s opening question. During the course of this wandering pseudo-discussion, John King, king of the potted plants, restricted himself to the following “questions.” Not a word was ever said about the study by the Tax Policy Center—the study which took us right to the heart of Citizen Fidler's concern:
John King's "questions" during the debt discussion:Basically, King played traffic cop, letting the candidates stage a worthless kabuki discussion. To the extent that he offered any guidance, he turned the discussion toward the trivial question of earmarks—even as he noted that they constitute “a tiny slice of the budget.”
KING: Governor Romney, I'm wondering if that answer satisfied you? Just in recent days you said this, quote, “If you want a fiscal conservative, you can't vote for Rick Santorum because he's not.” Did he answer your questions there?
KING: Senator, the governor singled you out. Take a few seconds.
KING: Governor, please quickly I want to bring the congressman and the speaker into the conversation, but respond.
KING: Mr. Speaker, join the conversation. Address Gilbert's question and if you so choose, address some criticism you've received on this issue from this state's senior senator [John McCain] campaigning for Governor Romney. He questioned your credentials on fiscal conservatism. He said when you were the speaker, earmarking became an art.
KING: Congressman Paul, you've questioned the conservative—fiscal conservative credentials of all these gentlemen but particularly this week Senator Santorum. You have a new television ad that labels him a fake. Why?
KING: Senator Santorum, respond quickly.
KING: Congressman, quickly.
KING: As you can see, this is a—it's an important issue to the people in the audience. I think it's one of the reasons this race has been so volatile. Voters are looking and they say which of these candidates can I trust? And each of you are trying to make your case to them. As you try to do so, Governor Romney, you said recently that as governor you're a “severely conservative” governor of Massachusetts. What did you mean by that?
KING: Mr. Speaker, as you know, often when deficit reduction—when deficit reduction and economic growth are priorities at the same time, some people see a collision. Some people see a conflict. You've outlined your views on taxes. Governor Romney today outlined a tax plan that would cut the, put the top rate at 28 percent, eliminate capital gain taxes for incomes below $200,000, cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. Is that the right approach? And is it consistent—and it's a tough one sometimes—with spurring economic growth at a time this state and other states are looking for jobs? But as you have Gilbert's question, also looking to make sure the next president works on the deficit?
KING: The Speaker raises an important point about looking forward, and I hope we spend most of the night doing that. But as you know, there's a lot of anger in the base of the party about some of the things that have happened in the past, and the Tea Party, especially. Now, earmarks, the pork barrel spending, it's a tiny slice of the budget. I think we all know that. But if you talk to a Tea Party activist, they think it’s an example, a gateway to corruption. Senator, you have said there are good earmarks and bad earmarks. And you have talked about your earmarks in the past. Any that you specifically regret? And why have you criticized—why do you think the money that went to Governor Romney for security at the Olympics, why was that a bad earmark?
KING: Mr. Speaker, you were referenced by the governor, you first, then Congressman Paul. Don't worry. We'll get to you, Congressman. I promise.
KING: Congressman Paul, answer Senator Santorum, please, sir.
At one point, King did an amazing thing—he actually cited the new tax cuts Romney had proposed that day! But as he did, he hemmed and hawed, barely daring to suggest the possibility that it is hard to offer so many tax cuts while professing to worry about deficits and debt.
At two points, King referred back to Fidler’s question. But everything King did in this segment demonstrated his abject contempt for Gilbert Fidler—and for the many citizens, all over the country, who watched this debate because they’re worried about their nation’s problems. King pretended to run a discussion, but he was careful to keep things safe. Presumably, CNN doesn’t want to offend its conservative viewers.
Or to bore us with hard stuff!
For decades, information surveys have shown that we the people are pitifully clueless about major budget issues. We believe all sorts of crazy things; during those decades, people like King have refused to stand up and tell us when we’re being deceived. Meanwhile, we in the liberal world are too goddamned stupid—on the leadership level, too store-bought—to bring a serious, sustained complaint against King and the others like him.
Gail Collins prances, minces and plays. But no one is willing to tell the public about what people like King keep doing. Darlings, it just isn’t done! Careers hang in the balance! And party invitations!
Meanwhile, we in the liberal world love to take out our hate on the Fidlers. All too often, we high-minded liberals are empty, stupid, venal, mean. We very much tend to be ditto-heads, not unlike Rush Limbaugh’s followers. We kiss the asses of our “intellectual leaders” even as they lie in our faces.
We kiss the asses of our “leaders” because they tell us the stories we like. What a shame! That the nation’s average Joes—and Gilberts—are stuck with “liberals” like us.
Tomorrow—epilogue: The New York Times’ latest chart