Friday, September 21, 2007

Peggy Noonan calls Greenspan the weakling (and Bush the bully)

I think she gets it exactly right:
[Greenspan] feared the budget surpluses enjoyed in 2000 would be transformed into long-term deficits. He worried that entitlement spending would leave "a very large hole in future budgets." Not facing this was "a failure." He disdains the Great Pork Spree of the '00s. The unifying idea that governed Bush White House economic thinking--"deficits don't matter"--was, simply, wrong. Mr. Greenspan found it a "struggle" to accept that this is what the Republican Party had come to. Scrambling for political dominance became the party's great goal. "The reality was even uglier": They would spend and spend "to add a few more seats to the Republican majority."

This is all strongly, and clearly, stated.

But when the tax cuts, and the impact of spending, were being debated, Mr. Greenspan allowed his congressional testimony to be interpreted as supportive of the Bush plan. And he did this even though he had been warned in advance by those who'd seen his testimony that it would be seen as an endorsement of the tax plan.

Indeed his testimony--airy vaporizing about long-term trends--was quickly seized on by the White House and its congressional supporters as support for their approach. Mr. Greenspan describes himself--literally, in an aside he seems to find witty--as "shocked, shocked" that politics is going on in Washington, and his words are being twisted.

But he never quite cleared it up, not at the time. He does it now, with the book, and after the advance. As a writer I am in passionate support of large advances, but $8.5 million to tell the American people what he should have told them when his views might have had an impact?

When Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress, before the Iraq war, that postinvasion troop levels should be "something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," his views were called "outlandish" by administration officials. He was bureaucratically undercut, and he limped to retirement. When economic adviser Larry Lindsay told this newspaper the war would likely cost up to four times what the administration asserted, he was sacked.

Early and brutal examples were made of those who did not echo the party line. Perhaps Mr. Greenspan was watching, or rather observing certain trends.

The deeper story is not that those who've been silenced have often come forward to speak in harsh terms. The deeper story is that the Bush White House hurt itself by using muscle to squelch alternative thinking--creative thinking, independent judgments--that would, in retrospect, have benefited them. Big spending became a scandal. So did not enough troops, and the financial cost of the war. It was this tendency that led to the administration's gym-rat reputation, all muscle and no brains.

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