Monday, April 12, 2004

The Political Is Personal (Because Our Policy Stinks)

Weird headline this week, not quite what the column was about. It's not hypocrisy, but rather the focus on the personal instead of the political--because the political (and the policy) isn't working very well for the Republicans. Newspaper version here.

I especially enjoy this talk about how we can't spend any time looking back and assigning blame, not like how we focused during the late '90's on what was really important: did Bill Clinton lie under oath about sex? When you have a spare moment, compare the budget for the 9/11 commission with the amount of money spent by the Starr investigation. Ah, but those were simpler times.

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 11, 2004

Hypocrisy may be the tribute vice pays to virtue, but during the state budget season, much tribute gets paid to hypocrites, too.

Last Thursday, Arizonans for Cultural Development hosted its annual legislative reception at an Arizona Theatre Company production. ACD brought a number of legislators to a reception, then the play, introducing the dignitaries to the audience before the curtain.

An ACD board member then spoke briefly in support of state arts funding. The Arizona Commission for the Arts funds programs in schools, for people with disabilities, and in rural communities not otherwise able to support the arts. It’s a worthy cause, and one always threatened with cuts every budget.

The evening’s top dignitary was state House Speaker Jake Flake, who perhaps needed reminding that the governor’s budget included the same funding as last year for the Commission, and the state Senate budget includes the same funding as last year for the Commission, but Flake’s House budget doesn’t.

Not only does the current House budget being developed under Flake’s control cut the Commission, but last year Flake voted to eliminate arts funding.

And yet that wasn’t enough. When Gov. Napolitano used her line-item veto to overturn some legislative sleight-of-hand that would have eliminated arts funding, Flake sued to stop the Commission from getting the money.

Now, people who know him say that Jake Flake is a really lovely guy, and is married to an accomplished musician. Let’s concede he’s personally wonderful and really likes the arts. But as a legislator, he’s not only voted consistently against the arts, he filed a lawsuit to stop arts funding. With friends like that, who need enemies?

But that seems to be how politics works, at least in the Republican parallel universe, where actual results don’t much matter, as long as we can make people believe you’re a nice guy. Jake is just our local version of what the right wing is doing nationally.

Just watch the Tribune’s op-ed pages to see this tactic in action. While you may read the occasional plea for substance and issues in the campaign, the facts aren’t really working in George Bush’s favor this year. Instead, we’ll get the Tribune’s Paul Green writing that John Kerry shouldn’t be president because of the way he skis.

Exactly how large would the budget deficit have to become before Bush supporters show a teensy bit of concern? Exactly how much borrowed spending will happen before it’s possible to suggest that we might not be able to afford all those tax cuts, much less making them permanent? Exactly how badly would things have to go in Iraq before the Tribune might consider that Bush might have made just a minor error in postwar planning?

It’s wonderful to hear that we have no choice but to “stay the course” in Iraq. But can anyone explain exactly what is the “course” that Bush has chosen -- other than a July 1 ceremony transferring something (anything) to somebody (anybody)?

In 1988, Michael Dukakis said that the election would be about competence, not ideology. He was spectacularly wrong, and for half of America today, not only is the election still about ideology, but “competence” is completely irrelevant.

We’ve got a president who can send troops to war, but who can’t appear before the 9/11 commission without Dick Cheney. We’ve got a National Security Advisor who says she didn’t get a plan against terrorism, she got only a “list” of “actionable items.” We’ve got deficits, lost jobs, no Iraqi WMD, and Medicare’s going bankrupt.

But that’s only competence, and those failures must not matter. Isn’t how John Kerry skis much more important than mere results?

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