DUNCECAP REVISITED

by E.C. Fish on March 5, 2001

With the change of one of the local “alternative classic” stations to an explicitly ’80’s format, I have had to face the prospect of the pop culture looking back with fondness and longing at an era I remember as being wholesale horrible. I suppose it was inevitable that the 1980s would, at some time down the line, become a subject for the sort of commercially sponsored nostalgia trip every other consecutive decade of the 20th century has been through, but I never quite thought they could bring it off. 1980 saw the election of Ronald Reagan and the death of John Lennon, and the rest of the decade was downhill from there. Everything about the ’80’s, from the music (just how badly do you miss the rains down in Africa?) to the movies (_Tron_ , anyone?) to the politics (see rest of column) tended towards commerce and conformity, and generally sucked a great deal.

I probably wouldn’t mind too much if it were just pop culture doing it, however, the W administration seems to have extended the idea of ’80’s nostalgia into government and politics, two areas where it definitely does not belong. Not only has The Dauphin publicly announced that he will be a president in the tradition of Ronald Reagan (something that must chill the blood of anyone who was around and politically aware at the time), he’s also shown a real talent for Reagan’s naive, credulous, anti-intellectual approach to political discourse. The bullshit hasn’t flown around quite like this for many a year…

Let’s take, for instance, Bush’s issue #1, which, despite his supposed status as a “different kind of Republican” happens to be the same kind of across the board tax cut just about every Republican candidate of the last twenty five years has run on. The tangled web of internal contradictions, willful disregard for fact, and just plain silly-ass assumption woven around this one would do the “Great Communicator” proud. First, it would seem that Bush has no real policy reason to push this tax cut, having argued for it both as “the right and fair thing to do” when the economy was at the top of its game and a necessary curative measure for an economy that he now insists without evidence is about to head into recession. One or the other would be fine– both strains any credulity but the President’s to the breaking point.

So– Bush is pushing a tax cut we don’t need and claiming it will alleviate economic conditions that do not currently exist. Further, he is basing the entire premise that such a cut can be fiscally afforded on one of the more tenuous notions to have come down Pennsylvania Avenue in many a moon, that of the surplus. Not only is the surplus not a current reality– it used to be more accurately called “the projected surplus” until it fell victim to the American tendency to get everything down to the lowest possible number of syllables– but its very existence is posited on some pretty questionable notions above and beyond the fact that the government may never actually see it. To call a certain amount of tax revenue “surplus” is to assume that there is no pressing use for it, a highly questionable premise when school buildings are deteriorating, infrastructure is crumbling, and there are still kids in this country suffering malnutrition. To say that it’s more fair to give it to a person in the top 1% of earnings (the fate of a large chunk of the Dauphin’s tax cut) because its somehow “extra” is to once again strain credulity.

So– what can we learn from a President who is pushing an unnecessary tax cut based on a nonexistent surplus to alleviate economic conditions that probably won’t come to pass? Apparently, all the stuff we failed to learn last time. As I write this, the Bush tax cut is part of the national dialogue, being soberly considered by common and elite, pundit and public, layperson and legislator, instead of being laughed at for the claptrap collection of lies and insinuations that it is. Just like last time.

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