Fuzzy Math Revisited
     by Gene Lyons

                "How can I help it," he blubbered. "How can I help seeing
                 what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four."
                "Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five.
                 Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once.
                 You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane."
                             --George Orwell, "1984"

      Orwell's great theme was that political ideology, like religion, can
blind its most perfervid adherents to reality. But Americans flatter themselves
that they are a pragmatic people, immune to abstract theory. New Englanders
pride themselves on "Yankee ingenuity." Missouri calls itself the "Show Me State."
My brother and I think the official motto of our native NewJersey ought to be
"Oh yeah, who sez?"

      So how on earth did we end up with this crackpot Bush budget plan?
Exactly one year ago, Newsday's Marie Coco points out, the U.S. budget was
showing a $127 billion surplus. President Junior was taking bows for sending
$300 "tax refund" checks to us humble groundlings--even though they weren't
actually refunds, and Democrats had insisted upon adding them to a scheme
mainly benefiting Bush's pals in the luxury skyboxes.

      Last week, the administration was forced to admit that the U.S. budget
is now $165 billion in the hole, 60 percent worse than it predicted. Budget
director Mitch Daniels also distributed a dandy Enron-style chart duly reproduced
on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette front page. It showed deficits morphing
magically into surpluses in 2005--that is, after the next presidential election.

      For that to happen, Daniels forecast corporate profits rising a preposterous
70 percent, government expenditures shrinking even as the White House presses
for sharp increases, and tax revenues rising 25 percent just as the costliest of
Bush's save-the-billionaires tax cuts kick in. Oh yeah, and a runaway bull market
on Wall Street. There's a better chance of the fun-loving Bush twins, Jenna and
Barbara, entering a convent.

      How can anybody capable of counting his own fingers act surprised?
Almost nine years ago, on August 6, 1993, Bill Clinton won the closest, most
crucial political battle of his presidency. Having promised during the campaign
to "focus on the economy like a laser," he persuaded Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey
to support his then-controversial plan to cut the federal deficit, including marginal,
but hardly confiscatory, income tax increases upon the very wealthy.

      Kerrey's vote brought the U.S. Senate to a 50-50 tie, enabling Vice President
Al Gore to cast the decisive vote. The Clinton plan passed without a single
Republican vote amid GOP predictions of disaster. Newt Gingrich said the tax
increase would cause "a job killing recession." Rep. Robert Michel of Illinois
called it "a silent, greedy destroyer of family budgets, a dreadful virus in the
economic bloodstream of our nation."

      Instead, the exact opposite happened. Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin
summed it all up in the Washington Post on July 19: "Unemployment fell from over
7 percent to 4 percent and was under 5 percent for 40 consecutive months;
private investment in productive equipment grew at double-digit rates for eight years;
annual productivity growth more than doubled by the end of the period; inflation was
low; GDP growth averaged roughly 4 percent per annum, and 20 million new
private-sector jobs were created." Budget deficits vanished, surpluses appeared,
and prosperity spread.

      Apart from the current debacle, it's hard to imagine a more dramatic
demonstration that the cherished economic dogmas of the Republican right-wing
are simply wrong. During the 2000 campaign, Al Gore warned that Bush's proposed
tax cuts--$1.7 trillion, including interest on the national debt--would undermine fiscal
discipline and eat into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.Most of our
esteemed Washington press corps treated these warnings as the tedious meanderings
of a joyless scold.

      Temporarily incapable of adding and subtracting whole numbers, pundits affected
not to recognize Bush's bogus statistics. Few noticed that his Social Security privatization
scheme counted almost a third of the system's revenues twice--once to "invest" it in
private accounts, twice to pay seniors' benefits. Instead, they focused upon Gore's
clothing, and made a big deal of his exasperated sighs at Bush's absurd pronouncements.

      One lonely dissenter was New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. "Mr. Bush
has made an important political discovery," he wrote. "Really big misstatements, it turns out,
cannot be effectively challenged, because voters can't believe that a man who seems so
likable would do that sort of thing." Indeed, happy throngs of Bush supporters echoed
his imbecile taunt of "fuzzy math."

      Well, math can't get any fuzzier than the administration's new budget projections,
the GOP equivalent of an old-fashioned Stalinist Five Year Plan. Somebody's got to
start dealing with reality, and relatively soon. Democratic politicians had better find
some courage, because sure it won't be anybody in the ideologically-blinkered
Bush administration.

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