Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, is famous. But I knew him back when he was merely infamous, as chief Republican spokesman on the House Ways and Means Committee. He spoke with a cool, quick certainty, unhindered by any sense of conscience. A profile in GQ--not many Hill staffers receive such attention--dubbed him the "flack out of hell."The typical press secretary shovels out fairly blunt propaganda, the kind reporters can spot a mile away and sidestep easily. But Fleischer has a way of blindsiding you, leaving you disoriented and awestruck.
The latest in what has become a steady stream of bad budgetary news arrived last Friday, when newspapers reported that this year's deficit is estimated to be about $100 billion--twice as large as previous forecasts had suggested. President George W. Bush immediately offered a multilayered defense packed with jaw-droppingmendacity. First came denial. "Of course, it's all speculative to begin with," he told reporters.
John Weaver hunches his angular frame over a Styrofoam cup of coffee in the basement cafeteria of the United States Senate and tries to explain what might seem--to an outsider--his peculiar political loyalties. Once a loyal Republican strategist who directed the presidential aspirations of uber-conservative Phil Gramm and helped plot John McCain's maverick primary run in 2000, he has since re-registered as a Democrat and severed consulting ties to all Republicans except McCain, for whom he still serves as chief strategist. "I only work for Democrats now," he tells me.
John weaver hunches his angular frame over a Styrofoam cup of coffee in the basement cafete ria of the United States Senate and tries to explain what might seem--to an outsider--his peculiar political loyalties. Once a loyal Republican strategist who directed the presidential aspirations of uber conservative Phil Gramm and helped plot John McCain's maverick primary run in 2000, he has since reregistered as a Democrat and severed consulting ties to all Republicans except McCain, for whom he still serves as chief strategist. "I only work for Democrats now," he tells me.
It was during the summer of 2000 that Peggy Noonan’s adoration of George W. Bush began in earnest. The GOP candidate, she wrote in her Wall Street Journal column, “seems transparently a good person, a genuine fellow who isn’t hidden or crafty or sneaky or mean, a person of appropriate modesty.” Over the next year or so, she went on to call him “respectful, moderate, commonsensical, courteous,” and “a modest man of faith.” She has seen in him “dignity” and “a kind of joshy gravitas.” And this was before September 11. Since then, he has risen in her estimation.
Every political movement benefits from nurturing in its adherents the sense that powerful interests are arrayed against them. For American liberals, this is relatively straightforward. As they traditionally represent the economically weak, they regularly find themselves opposed by the economically powerful. American conservatives come to their persecution complex less naturally, particularly given their political ascendance over the past 20 years.
As he went about crafting last year's budget, President Bush had a problem. He wanted a big tax cut more than anything else, but polls showed the public was more interested in social spending. So Bush set out to obscure the trade-off between these objectives. His method? Hide his priorities behind the supposedly huge budget surplus.
During the 1990s boom, Alan Greenspan was considered almost superhuman--a crinkled sorcerer whose cryptic words wielded magical power over the markets. But as the economy slid into recession a year ago, Wall Street grew increasingly immune to Greenspan's hypnotic sway, and the financial world began to turn on him. "A stream of disappointing profit announcements, and growing worries about what lies ahead, are undermining confidence in the powers of Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve," noted The Economist last February.
Does the Enron scandal prove we need campaign finance reform? Of course it does. When a corporation that has insinuated itself into the political process through a massive combination of financial donations and high- pressure lobbying is revealed to have built its fortune on a stack of lies, it's no great leap to think that the system of political influence it exploited shares some of the blame.Yet not everybody sees it this way.
It's hard to think of a fiscal argument that's been refuted as quickly and spectacularly as the one President Bush made on behalf of his tax cut last year. (Sure, in 1993 just about every Republican economist and politician argued that President Clinton's tax hike would destroy the economy, but that prediction took several years to be disproved, by which time almost everybody had forgotten about it.) Just six months ago Bush insisted we could pass a huge tax cut, save the entire Social Security surplus, increase military spending, and fund new domestic programs--and still leave aside plenty of