Former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson plays fast and loose with the facts:
The primary economic debate between now and the election will concern the tax reductions of 2001 and 2003 -- President Bush's economic stimulus -- which are due to expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress acts. Obama has proposed to eliminate the portion of that stimulus that goes to wealthier taxpayers.
Set aside Gerson's description of tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year as "stimulus"; that's garden-variety spin. Focus instead on the shell game Gerson plays. First Gerson rightly notes that Bush's tax cuts are "due to expire" under current law. Then he claims Obama has "proposed to eliminate" a portion of them. Well, no. Obama has talked about not extending them. One needn't propose their elimination; that's set to occur under the current law -- the one signed by Bush himself.
Democrats might break a Senate filibuster by persuading some Republicans to support an extension of Bush's tax cuts for the middle class but not the wealthy. Momentum, however, runs in the other direction. Republicans are unlikely to give the president a legislative victory immediately before the midterms, particularly one that increases taxes.
Again: That isn't honest. Such a package would not "increase taxes" on the wealthy. It would allow them to increase in accordance with current policy, as signed into law by President Bush.
Obama's tax increase on the rich would be used to reduce the deficit, resulting in a net contraction of economic activity. Tax increases to pay for past spending do not stimulate the economy.
There's no such thing as "Obama's tax increase on the rich." You can give Gerson credit for persistence if you like, but regardless of how often he blames Barack Obama for policy signed into law by George W. Bush, it simply isn't true. The Washington Post is allowing Gerson to lie to its readers. That's sad, but not surprising.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto tells the truth about the Bush tax cuts:
Don't call it "extending the Bush tax cuts." Call it "repealing the Bush tax increase." This would be entirely accurate: Taxes are going up pursuant to legislation enacted by a Republican Congress and signed by Bush.
You know things have gotten bad when a conservative columnist for a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper is more likely to tell the truth about the Bush tax cuts than a Washington Post columnist.
From the August 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the August 8 edition of ABC News' This Week with Christiane Amanpour:
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Michael Gerson, one of the Washington Post's growing stable of Bush administration officials-turned-columnists, is upset at Sen. Al Franken, taking to the Post's op-ed pages to denounce the Minnesota Democrat as an "ideologue" who has become an "embarrassment." The source of Gerson's ire is Franken's remarks to the American Constitution Society last week, writing that Franken "has tried to control his bile addiction, at least in public," but his ACS speech was a "relapse."
Most of the traditional elements of a Franken rant were employed against Chief Justice John Roberts and conservatives on the Supreme Court. The attack on motives: The "Roberts court has consistently and intentionally protected and promoted the interests of the powerful over those of individual Americans." The silly hyperbole: "What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation's right to profit? And their preferred answer is: None. Zero." The sloppy, malicious mixed metaphor: The Roberts court is putting not a "thumb" but "a fist with brass knuckles" on the "scale" of justice. Franken was clearly summoning all his remaining resources of senatorial dignity not to say something like Roberts is a "lying liar who lies along with his lying lackeys for his lying corporate lying masters."
You get the sense that about halfway through this paragraph, Gerson realized that his examples of "bile" weren't particularly bilious, so he delves into Franken's psyche to tell us what he was really thinking and invents a supposed train of thought that quite (un)cleverly plays off Franken's book, Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.
Gerson goes on to attribute some more invented opinions to Franken, claiming that the senator's view is that "judges should be more like the Committee of Public Safety during the French Revoltuion -- an unelected group of super-legislators who issue binding verdicts based on their advanced conceptions of justice and class warfare." This is obviously ridiculous, particularly since Gerson's column is based on the premise that Franken engages in "silly hyperbole" and spouts "bile." And yet here's Gerson claiming that a sitting senator thinks judges should be akin to the infamous revolutionary body that directed the Reign of Terror in France in which tens of thousands of people were killed.
Now that's "bile."
Echoing Republican Party talking points, conservative media figures rushed to declare Republicans the winner of President Obama's February 25 health care summit. For instance, Fox News contributor and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stated that Republicans scored a "victory" while the Democrats engaged in "a whole lot of lecturing again."
Right-wing media have attacked President Obama by claiming that he ended the February 25 health care reform summit with -- in Gretchen Carlson's words -- "a threat against Republicans and the American public about reconciliation."
From Gerson's February 26 Washington Post column headlined "TR: The conservatives' new demon":
So Glenn Beck, speaking recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference, identified a great enemy of human freedom as . . . Teddy Roosevelt. Beck highlighted this damning Roosevelt quote: "We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used."
Ah, you don't discern the scandal in this statement? Look closer. "This is not our Founders' idea of America," explained Beck. "And this is the cancer that's eating at America. It is big government -- it's a socialist utopia." Evidently, real conservatives defend wealth that is dishonorably gained and then wasted.
The problem with America, apparently, is not just the Great Society or even the New Deal; it is the Square Deal. Or maybe Beck is just being too timid. Real, hairy-chested libertarians pin the blame on Abraham Lincoln, who centralized federal power at the expense of the states to pursue an unnecessary war -- a view that Ron Paul, the winner of the CPAC presidential straw poll, has endorsed.
Lincoln doesn't need defenders against accusations of tyranny -- the mere charge is enough to diagnose some sad ideological disorder. But the Rough Rider also does not deserve such roughing up.
TR picked a number of fights with conservative Republicans, fight-picking being his favorite sport. But Roosevelt hated socialism. "It would spell sheer destruction," he said.
After stating that "few today would wish to return to 19th-century labor, health and antitrust standards," Gerson added:
All those few, however, seemed to be in attendance at CPAC, determined to sharpen an ideological debate. In the name of constitutional purity, they propose a great undoing. Not just the undoing of Obamaism. Undo Medicare and Social Security. Undo the expansive American global commitments that proceeded from World War II and the Cold War. Undo progressive-era economic regulations. Undo the executive power grab that preserved the union. Undo it all -- until America is left with a government appropriate to an isolated, 18th-century farming republic.
This is a proposal for time travel, not a policy agenda. The federal government could not shed these accumulated responsibilities without massive suffering and global instability -- a decidedly radical, unconservative approach to governing.
From the February 27 edition of Fox News' Fox and Friends:
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Yesterday, I noted that former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, in his current gig as a columnist for the Washington Post, crossed the line between making an argument and arguing dishonestly. Today, another Bush-speechwriter-turned-Post-columnist, Michael Gerson, followed in Thiessen's footsteps.
a reconciliation strategy would both insult House and Senate Republicans and motivate them for future fights. The minority would not only be defeated on health reform but its rights would be permanently diminished -- a development that would certainly be turned against Democrats when they lose their majority.
But Gerson includes no explanation of how the use of reconciliation would "insult" Republicans, much less how it would cause the rights of the minority to be "permanently diminished."
This is because there can be no such explanation. See, reconciliation has been used in the past, by Democrats and by Republicans. It has been used for health care. It has been used for health care by Republicans to enact the agenda of a Republican president for whom Michael Gerson worked at the time.
Let me say that again: Reconciliation was used to enact changes to health care laws when Michael Gerson was writing speeches for President George W. Bush. For Gerson to now assert that using reconciliation to pass changes to health care laws would "insult" congressional Republicans and diminish their rights is simply not honest.
On consecutive days, two Washington Post columnists who previously served as speechwriters for former President Bush took to the Post's op-ed page to attack the use of reconciliation for health care reform. In fact, major parts of Bush's agenda were passed through the reconciliation process, and that process has often been used to pass health care related measures.
From Michael Gerson's February 24 Washington Post column headlined: "Obama's health reform gamble raises questions of judgment":
On health-care reform, the strategy of President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders is psychologically understandable -- as well as delusional.
It is easy to imagine the internal dialogue: "Well, they voted for me, overwhelmingly. I didn't hide my views on this issue; I highlighted them. If they actually knew what was in the plan, they'd support it. If I don't believe in this, I don't believe in anything. Sometimes you just have to lead." But there is a problem with this reasoning: After a year of debate, Democratic leaders -- given every communications advantage and decisive control of every elected branch of government -- have not only lost legislative momentum, they have lost a national argument. Americans have taken every opportunity -- the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts -- to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted.
And the proposed form of this insistence -- enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process -- would add coercion to arrogance. Majority Leader Harry Reid has declared that "everything is on the table" -- as though Senate Republicans and Democratic moderates were the domestic equivalents of Iran. This is the political context that Democratic leaders have set for their historically "transparent" health summit -- a threat as transparent as a horse's head in a senator's bed.
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson devotes today's column to lavishing praise upon GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, who -- like Gerson -- once worked on Jack Kemp's staff (Gerson later worked as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.) Gerson lauds Ryan as "crackling with ideas and shockingly sincere" and among the "greatest long-term threats" to Democrats.
"Shockingly sincere" isn't a phrase many are likely to apply to Gerson's column. It is, instead, jaw-droppingly disingenuous. Gerson gushes over Ryan's "courageous" budget proposal, which Gerson calls a "solution to endless deficits" -- a contrast to the "deficits to infinity and beyond" and "path to economic ruin" offered by progressives. Gerson notes that Ryan's budget proposal, "according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), eventually achieves a balanced budget."
Gerson doesn't mention that "eventually" means "in about 50 years." But that isn't the really disingenuous aspect of Gerson's praise for Ryan.
The really disingenuous part is that -- at Ryan's request -- the CBO didn't actually analyze Ryan's proposal. It analyzed only the portions of Ryan's proposal that deal with spending, while ignoring his tax proposals. Here's CBO's explanation (PDF):
The proposal would make significant changes to the tax system. However, as specified by your staff, for this analysis total federal tax revenues are assumed to equal those under CBO's alternative fiscal scenario (which is one inter- pretation of what it would mean to continue current fiscal policy) until they reach 19 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030, and to remain at that share of GDP thereafter.
Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center explains the importance of that disclaimer:
But, and this caveat is a whopper, CBO assumed this wonderful outcome would occur only if the revenue portion of Ryan's plan generated 19 percent of GDP in taxes. And there is not the slightest evidence that would happen. Even though Ryan's plan has a detailed tax component, his staff asked CBO to ignore it. Rather than estimate the true revenue effects of the Ryan plan, CBO simply assumed, as the lawmaker requested, that it would generate revenues of 19 percent of GDP.
We don't have any idea what this plan would do to revenues, but in some ways it resembles former GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson's campaign plan. TPC figured that scheme would reduce tax revenues by between $6 trillion and $8 trillion over 10 years. Unless Ryan can achieve unrealistically large cuts in spending as well, this is not exactly a roadmap to solvency in my book.
Gerson never mentions that the CBO analysis excludes Ryan's tax proposals. He simply pretends that Ryan's entire proposal leads to a balanced budget, and praises Ryan's courage and sincerity. Last March, it should be noted, Gerson lambasted an Obama budget proposal for "illusory" spending reductions based on a "phony assumption" about war spending and "growth assumptions" that are "not remotely realistic." Such criticisms apparently do not apply to those who, like Gerson, once worked for Jack Kemp.
Gerson is badly misleading readers about the CBO's assessment of Ryan's plan. There's a long tradition of columnists ignoring inconvenient facts that undercut their arguments, but this one is a whopper. You have to question the judgement of a newspaper that would choose to feature such a columnist.
In a Washington Post column praising Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Michael Gerson asserted that Ryan's budget blueprint "according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), eventually achieves a balanced budget." But CBO's analysis doesn't show that Ryan's proposal would balance the budget; rather, CBO only analyzed a portion of Ryan's proposal, and at his instructions, did not analyze significant tax changes found in the legislation that would likely alter the legislation's assumed revenues.
In his December 23 Washington Post column, Michael Gerson falsely claimed that Sen. Ben Nelson, in agreeing to language in the Senate health care bill regarding abortion, "betrayed the principle of the Hyde Amendment" and "managed to undermine the logic of Medicaid."
Many media figures have dubbed President Obama's health care reform proposal "ObamaCare," reinventing the terms "HillaryCare" and "ClintonCare" that were used by opponents of the Clintons' reform proposal. In doing so, these media are often seeking to frame the debate in negative terms.