Friday, April 10, 2009

Email to Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan wrote about the tea party protests, which he calls "tea tantrums". My email response:

On your blog you claim that you "spent the better part of an hour" reading various websites in an attempt to decipher what the tea parties are all about. I have my doubts. In your entire piece the word "stimulus" or "deficit" does not appear a single time. This is phenomenal considering that a simple click on the "about" section of contains the following:

The Tea Party protests, in their current form, began in early 2009 when Rick Santelli, the On Air Editor for CNBC, set out on a rant to expose the bankrupt liberal agenda of the White House Administration and Congress. Specifically, the flawed “Stimulus Bill” and pork filled budget.

And yet somehow you remain puzzled. You are either being disingenuous or have atrocious research skills, and given your obvious intelligence and internet savvy I am left to conclude it is the former.

You then go on to state:

As a fiscal conservative who actually believed in those principles when the Republicans were in power, I guess I should be happy at this phenomenon. And I would be if it had any intellectual honesty, any positive proposals, and any recognizable point. What it looks like to me is some kind of amorphous, generalized rage on the part of those who were used to running the country and now don't feel part of the culture at all. But the only word for that is: tantrum.

The only one missing any intellectual honesty here is you. This is a movement that stands for some of the very principles you claim allegiance to and yet rather than embrace it you instead castigate and mis-characterize. Do you really believe that the average citizens taking part in these protests were used to "running the country?" Does that even make sense?

It is quite apparent that what is taking place here is that your professed embrace of limited government is in conflict with your love affair with the Obama Administration. The rage that you speak of is your own. Having thrown your lot in with the White House you are reflexively hostile to anyone that disagrees with their agenda. The man that authored "The Conservative Soul" now marches in lockstep with an administration that demonstrates fiscal irresponsibility at home and fecklessness abroad.

It took you about 3 years to separate yourself from Bush, I wonder how long it will take to admit to yourself that you have once again been led astray. It is indeed a constant struggle to see what is in front of one's nose.


I will of course publish any response I receive, which is doubtful.

Update: I'm wrong! Sullivan responds:
but what does the stimulus bill have to do with taxes? and santelli
was complaining, as i recall, about easing of mortgage foreclosures,
not a budget that hadn't yet been introduced.
as for pork - my point is that pork is tiny and trivial in the grand
fiscal picture, which is why the fixation on it is a sign of
unseriousness, but sincerity.
but conceding your premise, why were these not annual events from 2001
onward? spending and borrowing is surely less defensible in times of
growth than in a second depression.
My reply:

Thanks for responding.

The connection is not between taxes and the stimulus bill specifically, but government spending in general. The deeper we sink into debt and the more the deficit expands the more we will have to eventually pay back in the form of higher taxes. Surely you grasp this, just two months ago you wrote about how taxes will have to go up -- and attributed this to Bush!

Santelli was complaining specifically about the mortgage bailout in particular and more generally about a political culture that rewards failure, where no one is responsible for their own shortcomings and poor decision making. That resonated with people.

While the budget had not yet been introduced it was unlikely to be an exercise in austerity given the enormity of the stimulus bill and talk about the need for further government spending. In this regard it surely did not disappoint once unveiled.

And yes, pork is relatively trivial but is symbolic of a larger culture of wasteful spending.

Why these were not annual events beginning in 2001 is something I can only speculate on. I would imagine that it has a lot to do with the fact that in 2001 the budget ran a surplus. I imagine that the lack of anger in subsequent years was because the deficit was seen as a product of the tax cuts -- which people favored -- a recession and war.

Yes, Bush also engaged in added spending on areas such as education and the drug bill, but at least he campaigned on them. They weren't a secret. In stark contrast Obama campaigned on a "net spending cut" and then only weeks after the election talked about the need for a massive stimulus bill. We now have half-trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. Indeed, if you look here you can see that the deficits in Obama's best year are still worse than Bush in his worst year!

Also, if you look at that same graphic you can see that deficits declined steadily after 2004, another reason why perhaps there wasn't the same level of anger. Protesting an outgoing president in 2008 during the bailout didn't seem like a particularly useful exercise either when your voice could be better heard at the ballot box.

It's deeply interesting to me that you -- correctly -- criticized Bush for overspending during his tenure, but now that Obama is in power -- who is making Bush look like a miser -- you are not only silent but actually belittle those who dare to speak out. It reflects very poorly upon you.


Update: Another blogger takes on Sullivan here.

Update: Instapundit takes on the "intellectually dishonest" argument by noting that the Porkbusters movement actually began in the Bush era and uses the same graph that I have been highlighting.


Dan Bock said...

Obama makes Bush look like a miser? Look at the numbers.

Bush's medicare entitlement: $32 trillion
Obama's stimulus: $0.8 trillion

I think Bush makes Obama look like a miser.

Colin said...

How completely dishonest. Comparing a one-off expenditure against a continuing liability spread over many years? Really?

And if you think that the Medicare entitlement was expensive, just wait until Obama gets through with health care reform.

The simple fact, which you are either unwilling or unable to address, is that the federal deficits projected for the next 10 years are gargantuan and make Bush's own deficit figures look like the height of fiscal responsibility in comparison. Spin it all you want but that simple fact remains.

Also, if you think that the stimulus will truly be a one-time expenditure and won't become part of the future baseline then I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you.