Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Stupid Questions, And How They Might Be Answered

The New York Times today permitted political partisans to pose "questions" that they would like to ask the other party's candidate (Questions for Bush; Questions for Kerry). I guess this is the power of celebrity - they got low-caliber "questions" which the letters editor would have trashed, and printed them anyway. Let's take 'em on.....
Charles Murray - Five percent of Americans pay 54 percent of all personal income taxes. They do not use more government services than other Americans; they use fewer. Why is this fair?
Mr. Murray, as you certainly know, the tax figure you present ignores payroll taxes. Yet payroll taxes, which are another form of income tax, take a huge bite out of the paychecks of working men and women. As you also know, you are ignoring sales taxes, state and local taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, so-called "sin" taxes, and many other taxes which fall on the shoulders of this nation's working men and women. You are also ignoring user fees and license fees. But you know all of that. You wish to distract people from tax realities in order to justify even more tax cuts for the richest of the rich. I favor a system of taxation that is fair to all people, Mr. Murray, rich and poor, not one that favors any particular group of people, and that is what I will work for.
Charles Murray - Would you be willing to sponsor tort reform that requires plaintiffs to have used common sense before being eligible for damages?
Mr. Murray, do you mean a calculus whereby the judge or jury deciding the case would allocate a percentage of fault to the victim, and adjust the verdict in proportion to the parties' fault - or even eliminate an award where a plaintiff was more than 50% responsible for his own injury? Such adjustments already occur, Mr. Murray, and they have existed for hundreds of years at common law. I am surprised you don't know that.
Charles Murray - You promise to create millions of jobs, but many people who run businesses say that nothing in your life has taught you how much effort, risk and sometimes heartbreak goes into creating one real job. Could you describe your experiences when you last had to meet a payroll, or when your boss had to meet a payroll?
Mr. Murray, as a Senator I have an office staff, which I manage, and for which I have a budget. This is not really different from any other mid-management position. In terms of "making payroll", during the Clinton Presidency the government made payroll and turned a tidy profit - call it an enormous budget surplus. Under Bush, the government cannot make payroll, and has borrowed astronomical figures to make ends meet. Call it a record-breaking budget deficit. If you are suggesting that President Bush's dubious record in business is a qualification as President, the facts suggest something completely different.
Christie Whitman - You have been critical of President Bush's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, yet in 1997 you joined 94 of your Senate colleagues in effectively rejecting its terms. What has changed to make you accept now what you then rejected?
Christie, as you know, President Bush has done far more than reject Kyoto. He has politicized the EPA, rejected scientific opinion, buried official reports, and has otherwise taken a very non-scientific approach to the issue of climate change. Meanwhile, evidence of climate change is all around us, perhaps nowhere more strikingly than in the President's brother's state of Florida. You ask what has changed? What hasn't changed? Whatever disagreement may exist as to its cause, climate change is very real and it would be a priority for any competent President.
Christie Whitman - The president's Clear Skies proposal calls for a 70 percent reduction in some of the worst air pollutants, including mercury, over the next decade. While the current Clean Air Act has made a difference, it is cumbersome, it almost always involves lengthy litigation that delays any benefits, and it doesn't set any specific level for the reduction of mercury. Why haven't you led the fight to avoid lawsuits and instead demand the results the president has advocated?
Christie, it is almost comical that you mention mercury levels, given that one of President Bush's first acts when he took office was to attempt to raise the acceptable level of mercury in drinking water - water than the men, women and children of this nation trust to be safe and clean. And while portions of the President's proposal would diminish harmful emissions, independent analysis indicates that it will be less effective in doing so than the existing legislation. You should also know from your extensive experience in government that "simpler" is not always "better". The President has attached a pretty name to a proposal which is in many ways a license to pollute. It is better to fix the existing legislation, flawed though it may be, than to replace it with a pro-industry bill - which is I guess what people like you would have us call "results" - that will damage our environment, and endanger the health of the people of this nation.
Stephen L. Carter - During the long period it would take to carry out your plan to improve the public schools, would you, in the interest of racial justice, support a system of vouchers to enable the parents of poor inner-city children to pay for private schooling to cover the transitional years? Throughout the five or more years that your plan envisions, many inner-city children will continue to receive substandard educations, and to suffer in other material and spiritual ways.
Stephen, I would of course encourage states to develop the systems they deemed necessary to ensure that inner city children get quality education during the transition, and states may well choose to use vouchers. But as you surely realize, you cannot "fix" a system by emptying it of its best students, nor can you transfer students into private schools and charter schools which don't exist. A voucher system does not magically create additional space in existing schools - that takes years, and as you have implicitly stated we can't wait. Unfortunately, opportunists who latch on to voucher and charter school programs can create cataclysmic failures for parents and students, as occured in California this fall when a single "charter school" provider failed, shuttering sixty schools around the state, and leaving 6,000 students scrambling to enroll elsewhere. You don't fix an educational system by diverting resources to untested programs and profiteers.
Stephen L. Carter - If the answer to the first question is no, would you call on well-to-do Democrats to show their support for public education, and for the poor, by voluntarily sending their children to the schools that the inner-city parents are required to use? After all, a sudden influx of middle-class families might force a cure for many of those schools' deficiencies.
Stephen, as you know, that is a ridiculous question. I want to ensure that all parents, rich or poor, receive quality education. I don't begrudge President Bush his years at Andover, Yale and Harvard, even though his well-connected family might have pressed for serious improvement in any public schools he might have instead attended, because they wanted to provide him with the best education and opportunities. That, as you know, is achieved by making the system better, not through absurd stunts such as the one you propose. I wouldn't ask you to send your children to the worst school you could find, merely to prove a point, and if I did I would fully expect you to reject my invitation. Where did your kids go to school?
Stephen L. Carter - If the answer to the second question is no, are there any sacrifices that you would call upon middle-class Americans to make for the sake of improving the condition of the worst-off among us?
Stephen, perhaps you aren't aware of this, but the middle class pays a tremendous price to fund the public education system. States like Michigan have enacted elaborate systems to create fairness in educational funding, such that the City of Detroit has funding per pupil which exceeds the state average. Again, I am very surprised that you don't know this, but the middle classes are already contributing.
David K. Shipler - You speak of "compassionate conservatism," yet you rarely talk about the poverty that afflicts millions of Americans, including many who work hard at low-wage jobs. Your administration has inadequately financed or reduced the budgets of housing, child care, job training and other programs vital to helping the working poor. What do you see as government's proper role, and how would you change policies in a second term to demonstrate true compassion?
David, there is a difference between being "compassionate" and giving handouts. If I see a vagrant on a street and give him change, I may subsidize a sandwich, or perhaps a bottle of booze, but I do nothing to lift him out of his situation. I see the government's role as being to help people climb the ladder, not to subsidize them so that they are comfortable sitting on the floor when they could be climing. Not that I like to resort to the cliche, but compassionate conservativism is a hand up, not a handout. It's teaching a man to fish. There's no compassion in keeping poor people poor, even if you make their poverty somewhat more comfortable. You display compassion by helping them to achieve.
David K. Shipler - The federal government has begun to finance "faith-based initiatives." Previously, religious groups had to create separate, secular entities to receive federal money for services for the poor. Now, grants go to religious organizations that can discriminate against people of other faiths in hiring. Some will inevitably use tax dollars to promote their religious beliefs. Are you trying to break down the First Amendment's wall separating church and state?
No. Further, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the boundaries between church and state, and to the best of my knowledge my proposals have been held constitutional. What I will not do is put arbitrary hurdles in front of an organization that wants to help people, merely because it is affiliated with a religious organization.
David K. Shipler - Using the Patriot Act and other means, you have tried to evade the courts and minimize the rights of those accused of terrorism. Your administration has conducted searches without warrants, obtained gag orders on those forced to turn over records, monitored conversations between lawyers and their clients, employed unverified intelligence reports in criminal proceedings, and claimed the power to imprison Americans indefinitely without indictment or trial. Now that a couple of major cases have collapsed, what proof exists that these measures are actually being used against the right people? How many terrorist plots have they foiled?
David, you have asked a lot of questions there, perhaps because you are aware that your questions don't stand on an individual basis. On September 11, 2001, our nation faced a terrorist attack on an unprecedented scale, and it became obvious that we needed to root out sleeper cells which might be planning additional attacks on our people. Congress passed the legislation required to achieve that necessary end. How many terrorist plots has this foiled? So far, on the home front, all of them. But we can't drop our guard, because while we have to succeed 100% of the time the terrorists only have to succeed once. Congress is presently revisiting provisions of the Patriot Act which are due to expire under the sunset provisions of that legislation, and if provisions are deemed unnecessary Congress will presumably permit them to expire.
Alice M. Rivlin - According to your former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, Vice President Dick Cheney believes that "deficits don't matter." Do you agree with the vice president? If so, why promise to cut the deficit in half in your next term? If not, what dangers do you think large sustained deficits pose for our economy? Do you worry about burdening your daughters and their children with rapidly growing federal debt and interest payments?
Alice, I have expressed that deficits matter, and I have expressed that I intend to halve the deficit over the next four years. It is not always bad to have a deficit - sometimes it is necessary to stimulate the economy, and sometimes it is the necessary result of national emergency, sometimes both. And that's what we faced after 9/11. But I have consistently advocated for eliminating the deficit.
Alice M. Rivlin - You say that you want to allow young workers to put part of their Social Security taxes into personal accounts. They could invest these accounts in stocks or bonds and leave them to their heirs. At the same time, you promise not to reduce scheduled benefits for current and soon-to-be retirees. But taxes paid by working people are used to pay benefits to current retirees. If the taxes paid by younger workers are diverted to their personal accounts, where will the money come from to pay those benefits? Would you try to borrow the additional money (estimated to be at least $1 trillion)? Would you take money from other programs? Would you raise taxes?
Alice, obviously the plan would be for a savings program that also permits Social Security to continue to self-fund. That would not require any new taxes or debt.
Alice M. Rivlin - In a recent open letter, 169 economists and business school professors, including 56 professors from Harvard Business School, your alma mater, sharply criticized your economic policies. They said your proposals for Social Security and making the tax cuts permanent "only promise to exacerbate the crisis" and that "your tax policy has exacerbated the problem of inequality in the United States." Do you dismiss these critics as uninformed? If not, what would you say to persuade them they are wrong?
Alice, if you have ever tried to have a discussion with a group of economists, you would know that they rely upon theoretical models, and they frequently disagree over the most basic of economic projections, and it just so happens that they disagree with this Administration's economic advisers. For every fifty six economists who are adamant that their projections are 100% right, there are countless others who are just as certain that they are 100% wrong. The classic joke about an economist, stuck at a bottom of a hole, is that his solution for escaping is "first, we assume a ladder". With all due respect to Harvard's economists, life gets more complicated outside the ivory tower.
Alan Ehrenhalt - As a candidate in 2000, you argued in favor of compassionate conservatism and a restoration of decency and moderation to the national government. Those of us who voted for you took this seriously. But your personal demeanor as president has been belligerent and dismissive of virtually anyone who opposes your policies. You state flatly that anyone who is not with you is against you, and at least imply that disagreement is equivalent to disloyalty. You refuse to admit making mistakes, even when it is obvious that you made them. You all but invite attacks on the country with "bring it on" taunting that makes you sound more like a gang leader than a responsible head of state. What happened to your promise of compassion? Have you concluded that moderation and decency are not useful qualities in a president?
How can I respond to your question without first observing that, as you caricature and misrepresent my statements and record, you engage in the very conduct you are supposedly criticizing me for having done. I have already addressed the compassion my Administration seeks to bring, and I am sorry that it is not the welfare state you want. There we disagree, and there, presumably, despite all evidence of the failures of the welfare state, you will stick adamantly and without reflection to your desire for the expansion of the failed welfare state. Moderation and decency are very useful qualities in a President. But adhering to a failed welfare policy is not moderate, is not decent, and is just plain wrong.
Alan Ehrenhalt - When you were governor of Texas, you complained about the long list of mandates that Washington was imposing on the states without supplying the money to pay for them. You criticized the Republican Congress for ignoring legitimate state complaints. "Mandates are mandates, regardless of the philosophical bent of the person doing the mandating," you said in May 1998. "It starts at the White House." But your administration has imposed billions of dollars in mandates without even a pretense of offering sufficient money for states to meet them. Did your concern for fairness to Texas and the 49 other state governments simply evaporate when you moved into the White House?
Alan, I am not sure what you are trying to criticize. You don't appear to have a problem with unfunded mandates, just the fact that I have in the past criticized them. I think if you had a problem with any particular mandate I have created, or had evidence that it was unfunded, you would have presented it as an example. The usual example people bring up of a supposedly "unfunded" mandate is "No Child Left Behind". Yet that Act brought billions of dollars of federal revenue to the states. While you seem to think that we can tax and spend, tax and spend without regard to consequences, we face real world budget constraints. You surely aren't proposing that we eliminate "No Child Left Behind", so are you asking me to raise taxes? People who want to pay more taxes already know who to vote for, and it's not me.


  1. Has no one told Charles Murray his fifteen minutes are up?!

  2. Perhaps somebody should tell the New York Times....


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