Thursday, September 9, 2010

Political errors have very real consequences.

President G.W. Bush made at least two big political errors that have lingering consequences. One was to rely primarily on suspicion of weapons of mass destruction to gain support for regime change in Iraq. I believed then that it was a very bad gamble. There were plenty of other cases to be made that I believe the public would have gone along with, without assuming WMD's. The result is that the war effort in Iraq received much less support than it might have if we had not sold the whole thing on a 'strong hunch'. Obviously nobody had any concrete evidence, or they would have presented it. Even if you felt there were a 95% probability of being right, the consequences of that one in twenty chance are far too costly when the same goal could have been achieved using absolute facts.

The other was the temporary nature of the tax cuts. I understand the political motivation. That is pretty transparent. In order to get the votes needed, the sponsors softened the blow by promising a future tax hike. This may have gotten the legislation through faster, but proponents could certainly have sold the idea of tax cuts to the public during a recession. There was no real need to make them temporary. If it turned out later that taxes legitimately needed to be higher, Congress could simply make that case and do what they do. This way gives them the semantic cover to raise taxes without having to say 'raising taxes'. They're just letting the cuts expire.

Why can't we have that the other way around? How about we make all taxes temporary? Then we don't have to go about the messy business of tax cutting, we just let the tax expire. Imagine that. Advantage citizenry. Wouldn't that be a hoot.

There are other issues one might disagree with from the Bush administration, but these two stand out to me because you didn't need to have any particular expertise in anything to recognize that they were bad moves. President Obama has made similar mistakes in that they seem very amateurish for people who are supposed to be at the pinnacle of politics; politics being the art of influencing and implementing community behavior and standards. I suppose preceding administrations weren't much better. We get minute to minute coverage these days that just wasn't available then. The public analysis of politicians is now quite thorough and relentless. Politics in and of itself is not bad. It just seems a shame that we haven't held most politicians to a very high standard in terms of real communication and honest brokerage. Maybe the information explosion ultimately will lead us to raise the bar.

No comments: