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The Truth, Mainly - 02/10/1992

Domestic policy: Let the good times roll

I don't read leading economic indicators very well and I can't always see the difference between a Laffer curve and a Bush beanball. But even I could tell the news was not good during the week of what we were told would be the "defining moment" of this administration. That's when we learned that:

• Taxpayers will need to shell out another $55 billion (on top of the $105 billion already committed) to pay for Savings and Loan skullduggery;

• About ten percent of all Americans are now on food stamps, the highest number ever;

• The president's 1993 budget will add $351.9 billion to the federal deficit which is already $3.6 trillion—or $36,000 for every household in the country. That means that under Reagan and Bush, the national debt has quadrupled the total deficit piled up by all the presidents before them.

The good news was that the State of the Union address came through as advertised. The president provided us with the most sharply focused defining moment since Marie Antoinette said "Let them eat cake."

I mean, of course, his joke about people who oppose his capital gains tax cuts, two thirds of which, Ellen Goodman reminds us, would go to the richest one percent of Americans. People who don't like that, the president said (and here's the joke), "kind of remind me of the old definition of the Puritan, who couldn't sleep at night worrying that somehow someone somewhere was out having a good time."

And all along I thought they were going to use that money to make new jobs. They're just going to have a good time?

But enough mean-spirited niggling. In times like these we need to be positive.

The president looked pretty spiffy while he was delivering the speech. He had a fresh haircut and a new necktie and he looked about twenty years younger than he is. Barbara, on the other hand, looked like she might be his mother, clearly the 66-year-old woman she is. Why do I find that in her favor?

Lots of people think the president made a pact with Satan to stay young looking. That's just partisan politics. A little of the president's youthful look comes from his obsessive exercise and probably some tv makeup and hair dye, but most of it comes from good genes.

That's another way of saying that most of it comes from blind luck, even though the Bush-Reagan ideology doesn't recognize luck. Luck implies that adversity or prosperity may be unmerited, may not be something we control. A little medical bad luck, for example, could put most of us in the poorhouse. It's an unsettling idea, but it never seems to unsettle our get-government-off-our-backs presidents.

The Truth, Mainly


That's because the unspoken main tenet of their political gospel is that we all deserve what we have and what we get, good or bad. So despite the way the $160 billion S & L scandal followed deregulation, they see regulation as a barrier to people getting what they deserve. And they see the capital gains tax as blocking our richest one percent from getting even more of what they deserve.

It's a view that simplifies things considerably.

Can't afford health insurance? Don't get sick. Stay vigorous. Choose parents with good genes.

Can't afford other necessities? Just show some initiative: inherit some money and make some lucky investments.

So the president's domestic policy is that while the bad-luck outsiders press their noses to the window, the good-luck insiders continue the orgy. Deregulate. Cut taxes for the rich, pretend to believe in trickledown, and let the good times roll. Only mean-spirited Puritans object to good times. Be healthy. Be born into wealth. Think positive. Eat cake.

The counterpoint to all that revelry is the national debt, the S & L disaster, the food stamps, the health crisis. They bring to mind another pre-French Revolution quotation, this one attributed to Louis XV: "Apres nous le deluge."

That translates roughly into "Let's do what we have to do to get elected and let the grandchildren pick up the pieces." Except it probably won't be the president's grandchildren. My mean spirit tells me they'll probably be among the lucky one percent taken care of by capital gains, untaxed to stimulate the economy, don't you know.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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