THE KERRY DELUSION
by Virginia Postrel • Jul 8, 2004 at 10:34 am
This Jacob Levy post is typical of growing anti-Bush sentiment among some libertarian hawks. Andrew Sullivan writes something similar just about every day. The general argument is that Bush is bad not just because of his social conservatism but because of his less-than-principled (to say the least) economic policy--a giant new medical entitlement, ag subsidies, tariffs, etc.
Now, there is an argument to be made for sitting out the election. Florida 2000 notwithstanding, your vote probably doesn't count, so why vote for a guy you don't like? There's also an argument that divided government might give us desirable gridlock. Would President Gore have pushed through a new Medicare drug entitlement? (Maybe so. A lot of Republicans were deathly afraid to oppose it.)
But all rationalizations aside, I have a sneaking suspicion that Kerry-leaning libertarian hawks (now that's a small demographic!) are simply kidding themselves in order to stay on the fashionable side of politics. They need to read a couple of recent NYT articles and think hard about their implications. The first is about fashion:
"There's always been a lot of liberal rhetoric that you associate with any arts community, but it usually doesn't translate into action," said Dale Peck, 36, a novelist and critic, who helped organize a reading at Cooper Union to benefit Downtown for Democracy, which included Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers and Jhumpa Lahiri. "But something about this presidency galvanizes a response."
"The word 'cool' is probably appropriate," Mr. Peck said. "It's 'fashionable' to hate George Bush right now."
More substantively, this Louis Uchitelle article should puncture any fantasies about a Kerry administration being fiscally responsible:
THROUGH months of campaigning, Senator John Kerry has presented himself as a centrist on economic policy, a New Democrat directly out of the Clinton mold. He has pledged to cut the deficit, move the country toward budget surpluses and recreate the booming economy of the Clinton years. As if to underscore the point, he has recruited most of his economic advisers from the former president's administration.
But centrism is an easier position to maintain when the economy is in trouble, as it seemed to be in the early days of the campaign. Back then, Mr. Kerry could convincingly denounce President Bush as a miserable manager of the American economy. That argument is harder to make now that a stronger economy has been generating jobs, although at a slower rate in June. So Mr. Kerry is talking more boldly about policy.
Of course, the centrism still comes through loud and clear in speeches and in interviews. But in the heat of the policy debate, deficit reduction appears to be taking a back seat to what is easily Mr. Kerry's most significant economic proposal: an expensive expansion of government-financed health insurance.
He says he would subsidize health insurance for millions of people not covered now. That is the jewel of his economic plan. An omnibus health insurance bill would be the first legislation sent to Congress in a Kerry presidency, he says. But while the centrist Kerry still advocates shrinking the budget deficit, a bolder Kerry, less noticeable so far in the campaign rhetoric, adds that if the deficit threatens to rise rather than fall, well, so be it - he'll go ahead with his health plan anyway.
"Health care is sacrosanct," Mr. Kerry said in a telephone interview, offering the most explicit commitment to date to a program that he estimates would cost $650 billion. That is an amount greater than the cost of all his other economic proposals combined.
"Listen," he said, "if worse comes to worst, you make adjustments accordingly in other priorities."
And not in health care? Mr. Kerry says that he will not have to face that choice, and that in his overall economic plan there is leeway for deficit reduction and expanded, subsidized health insurance. But if a choice has to be made, deficit reduction will have less priority. "Health care is too important," he said.
The cost of health-care entitlements is always underestimated, so $650 billion is almost certainly low. And that's just the spending side. New entitlements also bring new regulations and further distortions in a system that's already horribly distorted.