Just Above Sunset
September 19, 2004: It seems to be 1660 again ...

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

The basic goal?  End the idea the government should do anything for the public good.  Only the private good matters – folks should be free to accumulate wealth and businesses free to do what they want, and individuals who are hurt in process should turn somewhere else if they find themselves in trouble.  The government owes them nothing.  There’s too much of this “mommy” government.

Grover Norquist is clear -


“My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”


Clear enough.

That blunt statement is not new. You will find that comment and more here, in The Nation, April 26, 2001

Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a coalition of taxpayer groups, individuals and businesses opposed to higher taxes at both the federal, state and local levels.  And he serves on the board of the National Rifle Association of America, and the board of the American Conservative Union.  He was key member of 1988, 1992, 1996 Republican Platform Committees.  He is a chief theorist for the Republican Party.  He has the ear of the key players, and a BA and MBA from Harvard, where George Bush earned, so to speak, his own MBA.

Bush at Harvard Business School?  Imagine that.  Or note what Yoshi Tsurumi, now a Professor of International Business at Baruch College, the City University of New York, says here -


At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that "people are poor because they are lazy." He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to "free market competition." To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was "socialism." …


There’s much more but you get the general idea.  (See the footnote.)

Paul Krugman, the Princeton economist who writes opinion pieces for the New York Times, in his collection of recent columns, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century (Norton, 426 pp., $25.95) has as his thesis that we are now governed by a reactionary party with a radical (he says "revolutionary") agenda, basically that of undoing the legacy, domestic and foreign, of FDR.  Bush and his team even says this - Norquist rather bluntly - but people, especially the pundits who endless analyze policy, discount it, because they don't realize that, like any "revolutionary power," the folks in power now really do mean it. They aren’t kidding.

You might find this amusing – Krugman defending his views on the Fox News “Hannity and Colmes” show on October 17, 2003.  He gets beat up.

Anyway, it does seem the current group in power want to change how we think of government.  You’re on your own now.  Grow up.

Josh Marshall in The Washington Monthly points out this has been going on for a long time –


Newt Gingrich and the House Republicans who came to power in 1995 held a very different, neo-Reaganite view. Deriding the whole notion of a federal response for every crisis, they argued that society's problems could be solved only through a radical reordering, both of government in Washington and of America's relationship with the world. This required tax cuts to drain money out of the Beltway; radically scaling back regulation on business; pulling America out of many international agreements; and cutting funding to the United Nations. The Gingrichites were not pragmatists but visionaries and revolutionaries. They wanted to overthrow the existing structure of American governance, not tinker with it.


The whole thing is detailed, and instructive.

But this week the issue is Social Security, specifically, and we find Teresa Nielsen Hayden saying this -


I’ve been ruminating about a one-liner that’s been floating around the meme pool since lord knows when. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times:

By the time you retire, there’ll be nothing left in the Social Security retirement fund.

It’s untrue, of course; but for those who aren’t aware that it’s untrue, it’s profoundly frightening.

We’re set up to be a cooperative society. We believe that by working together, we can as a people be richer, safer, smarter, and happier. However, this cooperation requires a certain basic level of trust. The belief that you could be left penniless in your old age, after a lifetime of contributing your regular fraction to the public good, creates a huge breach in your sense of trust.

It’s not the kind of idea that turns you into a monster overnight. I’m inclined to believe that the commonest reaction to it is dull, low-level grief: you thought life in America would be better than this. Still, if that’s what you have to look forward to, you’d better get while the getting’s good. You’re going to need that money.

Meanwhile, you find yourself resenting calls on your generosity. True, you’re probably a lot better off than the people you’re being asked to help; but you’re not comparing them to your present self. Lodged in your heart there’s an elderly, needy, cast-off version of you, whispering that when the time comes, nobody’s going to pay to help you. Children stop looking like our hope for tomorrow. Instead, they’re the heartless little bastards who’re going to let you live on dogfood in your SRO until a heat wave finally does you in.

The other thing about believing there’ll be nothing left when you retire is that it makes you far less likely to scream in outrage over the long-term looting of the national treasury. After all, you already know you’re not going to get any of that.

It’s not inevitable. I think we need to say so, early and often.


Well, Brad DeLong, the noted government economist now on the faculty at UC Berkeley, explains here in precise terms just why it is not true that after paying into social security for a lifetime we all will now get back nothing at all.  It doesn’t work that way.

But that is beside the point.

Hayden has latched onto something else that is the inevitable byproduct of the political theory, and policy practices, of those in power – and of the uninformed sneers of the current president about those who are not as rich is he is.

And it is far larger than social security.  As before, we are carrying an enormous federal deficit that will impoverish us for decades, or end most government social programs.  Forty-four million of our people are without any health coverage, and millions more out of work.  And the Social Darwinists have been given the power to do what they think best.

The result is Hayden’s idea that this slowly turns us into monsters, all of us.  The idea that we’re set up to be a cooperative society is tossed away – as useless trash.  Believing that by working together we can as a people be richer, safer, smarter, and happier is derided as stupid – as “personal responsibility” is posited as the only value.

And trust is for fools.

And life is poor, nasty, brutish and short – just as Hobbes said it was back in 1660.

This is progress?

Assume we are neither a purely communist society, where the individual doesn’t matter but only the good of the collective matters, nor a purely Darwinian survival-of-the-strongest-and-most-vicious society, where you look out only for yourself and anyone else be damned.

What happened to the middle ground, where “personal responsibility” is fine and dandy but when some of us stumble we make sure they are okay – out of common decency if nothing else?

We are no longer all in this together? I guess not.



Mary Jacoby of Salon.com interviews Yoshi Tsurumi

See The dunce
His former Harvard Business School professor recalls George W. Bush not just as a terrible student but as spoiled, loutish and a pathological liar.
September 16, 2004

Key paragraphs -


The future president was one of 85 first-year MBA students in Tsurumi's macroeconomic policies and international business class in the fall of 1973 and spring of 1974. Tsurumi was a visiting associate professor at Harvard Business School from January 1972 to August 1976; today, he is a professor of international business at Baruch College in New York.

... "He [Bush] showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that. Students jumped on him; I challenged him." When asked to explain a particular comment, said Tsurumi, Bush would respond, "Oh, I never said that." A White House spokeswoman did not return a phone call seeking comment.

In 1973, as the oil and energy crisis raged, Tsurumi led a discussion on whether government should assist retirees and other people on fixed incomes with heating costs. Bush, he recalled, "made this ridiculous statement and when I asked him to explain, he said, 'The government doesn't have to help poor people -- because they are lazy.' I said, 'Well, could you explain that assumption?' Not only could he not explain it, he started backtracking on it, saying, 'No, I didn't say that.'"

… Students who challenged and embarrassed Bush in class would then become the subject of a whispering campaign by him, Tsurumi said. "In class, he couldn't challenge them. But after class, he sometimes came up to me in the hallway and started bad-mouthing those students who had challenged him. He would complain that someone was drinking too much. It was innuendo and lies. So that's how I knew, behind his smile and his smirk, that he was a very insecure, cunning and vengeful guy."

Many of Tsurumi's students came from well-connected or wealthy families, but good manners prevented them from boasting about it, the professor said. But Bush seemed unabashed about the connections that had brought him to Harvard. "The other children of the rich and famous were at least well bred to the point of realizing universal values and standards of behavior," Tsurumi said. But Bush sometimes came late to class and often sat in the back row of the theater-like classroom, wearing a bomber jacket from the Texas Air National Guard and spitting chewing tobacco into a cup.

… Tsurumi's conclusion: Bush is not as dumb as his detractors allege. "He was just badly brought up, with no discipline, and no compassion," he said.

… He said other professors and students at the business school from that time share his recollections but are afraid to come forward, fearing ostracism or retribution. And why is Tsurumi speaking up now? Because with the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq and Osama bin Laden still on the loose -- not to mention a federal deficit ballooning out of control -- the stakes are too high to remain silent. "Obviously, I don't think he is the best person" to be running the country, he said. "I wanted to explain why."


Yoshi should make sure his life insurance premiums are paid up, in full.  He’s living dangerously.


Rick, the News Guy, in Atlanta, adds this:


Yes.  And, um, I hate to bring this up, but, well, was Yoshi born in this country?  I mean, is he an American citizen?


I hadn’t thought of that!


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....