Monday, August 11, 2003

Q: Is Bush a moderate or an extremist? A: Both! Peter Berkowitz, writing in the Globe's Ideas section yesterday, wants you to believe that George W. Bush isn't really a right-wing crazy. His evidence: the president has been generally moderate on cultural issues such as religion, abortion, gay and lesbian rights, affirmative action, even his court appointments. Plus, he's got black people in his Cabinet! (No link. The Globe's website is in the midst of redesign hell, but Berkowitz's piece might pop up here later today.)

Sorry, but this is argument by straw man. I'm prepared to accept all or most of the above, although I have some quibbles. Certainly a few of Bush's judicial picks have been dangerously right-wing, for instance. And the president's views on homosexuality, although arguably within the mainstream of moderate conservatism, are ugly nevertheless: no marriage, no civil unions, not even domestic-partner benefits.

But, still, what Berkowitz does is raise a whole host of matters on which Bush is moderate in order to frame the two really important issues -- his budget-busting tax cuts and his hyperaggressive foreign policy -- in a less threatening way.

On taxes, Bush really is a right-wing crazy. For some non-fuzzy math, check out this chart (PDF format) put together by Citizens for Tax Justice. Okay, I know you're not really going to take a look, so here's the lead:

As a result of the three major tax cuts enacted at President Bush's instigation in 2001, 2002 and 2003, taxes on the best-off one percent of Americans will fall by 17 percent by the end of this decade. For the remaining 99 percent of taxpayers, the average tax reduction will be 5 percent.

The share of total federal taxes paid by the best-off one percent will fall from 23.7 percent to 21.3 percent in 2010 compared to prior law -- a drop of 2.4 percentage points. The top one percent is the only income group with a substantial reduction in its share of the total federal tax burden.

Berkowitz seems to think that Bush's runaway spending shows that he's not really a conservative when it comes to budgetary matters. He's right! In fact, it demonstrates that Bush is a radical who wants to match or even exceed the borrow-and-spend policies of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, running up hundreds of billions of dollars in debt, a situation that benefits wealthy bond-holders, but certainly no one else.

As for foreign policy, what needs to be said? Here's Berkowitz on the run-up to the war in Iraq:

Today, Bush's critics, usually upholders of international law, rarely acknowledge the manifestly inaccurate and incomplete accounting of WMD that Saddam submitted to the UN Security Council in December 2002. This put him in clear material breach of Resolution 1441, which was unanimously passed by the Security Council one month before. On the Bush administration's reasonable reading, Saddam's defiance of 1441's terms authorized the use of force to disarm him and suggested he had WMD to hide.

Who are these critics who refuse to acknowledge the lies contained in Saddam's December 2002 report? Berkowitz doesn't say. This is, in fact, another straw man. It was, after all, UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix who took the lead in denouncing Saddam's refusal to come clean about the weapons of mass destruction that he had been known to possess in the past.

But in the absense of the imminent threat that Bush and Tony Blair talked about so many times, Blix and most of the rest of the world called for a stepped-up inspections regime, not war. The Bush administration kept pushing for war, building a disingenuous case on not just those 16 words, but on phony claims about aluminum tubes, doctored intelligence, and allegations of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Berkowitz concludes of Bush:

[A]s his administration makes its mistakes, rolls with the punches, and adapts to changing circumstances, the president reveals himself to be a pragmatic conservative who knows in his gut that it is a liberal welfare state that he wishes to reform, and to conserve. This will continue to discomfit purists on both sides. And it may prove attractive to a majority in 2004, not only in the Electoral College but in the popular vote as well.

Berkowitz's argument, essentially, is that Bush is not uniformly extreme in his conservative views. Rather, he's moderate in some areas and extreme in others -- mainly the ones that really matter. Berkowitz intends all this as an endorsement. Seen in a different light, it looks a lot more like an indictment instead.

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