Wednesday, July 09, 2003

How to Lose Without Even Trying

President Bush has decided that he's going to be really tough on petty thugs in random African countries (Liberia?) but will absolutely surrender to- and even abet what can only be described as the looting of the American treasury.

Now that the Medicare Prescription drug benefit is almost a fait accompli, I'm left asking myself, "What the hell happened?"

For an excellent and concise run-down of what is wrong with the prescription drug plan, read Deroy Murdock's analysis. The long-and-the-short of it is that the nation cannot afford an unfunded liability of $7.5 trillion when we are already running deficits in the hundreds of billions per year. Even worse is that rather than being a band-aid solution (i.e., too small for the wound), this is a case of swatting a fly with--what's the right analogy here?--a nuclear bomb.

I am the non-economist on this blog so let me offer a little bit of political analysis.

Bush apologists--amongst whose ranks I occasionally count myself--will argue that the President has no choice but to support this. It is widely viewed by the American people as a necessary policy remedy to the problem of runaway drug prices and it is especially popular amongst those most politically active Americans, the elderly.

The failure to resist is a willful blindness combined with gutlessness by pro-market types. Some of that failure is due to the fact that the usual line-up of pro-market types is marching in lockstep with the administration even when the administration is pimping policies that are rabidly protectionist (steel bills) or hopelessly socialistic (farm subsidies). Some of the pro-market, anti-government army just forgot to show up for work--perhaps they were too busy swooning before George Bush's exalted visage. But reality is a harsh master; when mountainous national debt crushes future economic growth and/or inflates our tax burden beyond recognition, history will be unkind to those who prefered "our jerk" to their principles.

Sometimes losing is ok. As someone who has studied political science, I can summon a begrudging respect for those times when one is tactically outmaneuvered by a brilliant, cunning or ruthless opponent. When one is defeated by a giant or a genius or a bad turn of events, the honorable loser shrugs his shoulder and says that he had at least given everything that he had.

But this is much worse because this was a forfeit, not merely a loss.

How difficult would it have been to explain to the American people these three (3) things?

(1) This benefit covers Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Jordan and any other member of the super-rich

(2) Medicare is already going bankrupt.

(3) This increases the cost of Medicare without doing anything to stabilize its finances

A significant contingent of principled, intransigient Congressional Republicans could have said "no" to the President's plan, and instead backed a means-tested plan tied to medicare reform, saving this country from decades of misery in the future. But the current band of spineless losers was not up to the challenge. Before centrist Democrats become too smug, let me note that it might be fair to say that this battle was really lost in 1995, when Newt Gingrich's good faith effort to reform Medicare was exploded by a campaign of demonization and lies.

How embarassing will it be to have to explain to our children that our nation's finances, medical system, and their hopes for the future were wrecked because Congress decided to bankrupt their generation?

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