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Back to Nixon-loving, Bush-hating

David Bernstein, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy, combines two ideas that are both wrong: First, that Bush is like Nixon (a point I've written about before, and, second, that Bush-hating is an irrational response, given Bush's Nixonian spending on health and education, which liberals would applaud if they weren't so blinded by Bush-hatred. Here's Bernstein's main post, and there are some follow-ups later.

Bernstein claims that those who disagree with him take one of three positions: (1) deny that the increases occurred or argue that they weren't enough, (2) argue that spending on these and other domestic needs will be horribly constrained by the revenue shortfalls in future years or (3) complain that they money goes to purposes they don't agree with, such as school vouchers. I won't take the first position, the second is true even under Bush's own budget assumptions, and as for the third: well, different people have their own views, but I favor experimentation with school vouchers, so for me, that's not the point.

I've done this topic to death, so I should try to respond briefly and calmly.

First, there were plenty of reasons to hate Nixon, and social spending isn't the only thing that even liberals measure a president by. It's not for no reason that Nixon resigned under imminent threat of impeachment, after a group of Republican leaders decided they had had enough of a lawless presidency. It's true that only the hindsight of history has fully revealed the degree to which Nixon's domestic presidency was a continuation of, rather than a break with, the generally expansive trend of government in the Kennedy and Johnson years, and had liberals understood that, they might have looked at Nixon in a slightly different light, though he's no less guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. But the difference between Nixon and Bush is simply this: Nixon's initiatives, except for wage and price controls, were good, serious efforts. They were relatively clear-cut, well-designed, and the resources were appropriate to the task. The EPA and SSI (the Social Security benefit for people who can't work because of disabilities), to take two examples of Nixonian liberalism, are generally popular, sound programs that no one questions. The Bush initiatives, on the other hand, are a mess: complicated, intrusive, and ineffective.

Second, liberalism is not about throwing money at problems. It's about trying to solve public problems by public means. As a liberal, do I celebrate the news that the Medicare bill will cost more than $500 billion, rather than $400 billion -- a 25% cost overrun in just two months? Of course not. In fact the news gives me a pain in the pit of my stomach. It doesn't mean we're doing 25% better at solving the health care problems of seniors. It just means we're doing whatever it is the bill does even less efficiently. The bill doesn't do the job, at any cost, and so every dollar spent on it is a dollar that's taken away from what could be a more effective program, or from long-term fiscal stability. The same is true in education, where No Child Left Behind is a mess, and makes so many more promises and demands than can possibly be met with the funding available, and thus invites deceit.

The shorter version of Paul O'Neill's complaint inThe Price of Loyalty, after all, is "I thought this would be the Nixon or Ford administration, but it wasn't." What liberals dislike about Bush is the very same thing that O'Neill disliked: reckless incompetence, Karl Rove running policy, nihilism on a grand scale.

Here's the difference between Nixon and Bush: When Nixon left, his successor could proclaim that "our long national nightmare is over." With Bush, we'll be feeling the consequences for generations.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on January 29, 2004 | Permalink


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"It's about trying to solve public problems by public means."

I hope your kidding.

Entitlements worked for a while, but social security was nothing more than a life insurance plan, easy to nationalize, efficient to operate.

But, other than progressive taxation, I cannot believe that anyone seriously believes that government can take on the more serious social engineering tasks that need to be done. Right now, the cash labor market comprises 28% of the Los Angeles eonomy, and closer to 50% of the minimum wage market. The reason for this is simple, liberals attempting to solve social problems with more government have saddled the low end ot the legitimate work force with a 15% payroll tax, making it impossible to compete.

Government is an unmanagable conglomerate that consumes nearly 50% of the economy (direct, indirect and regulatory). A government this size itself probably causes far more misery and poverty than anything the free enterprise system has done. Yet, to seriously believe that we can expand government, reform it, and use it to remove poverty is denied by your own observations of the mess Bush made of his own social engineering efforts.

Liberals should think seriously about the one single successful poverty reduction program the Democrats ever pursued. Clintonian; tax the rich and cut government. It worked better than anything tried before or since.

On the other hand, look at a country like Israel, spending directly 52%% of the economy via government, and generating a fertility rate that most certainly dooms the place in 20 years.

Posted by: Matt Young | Feb 1, 2004 3:57:10 AM

What is your thing with fertility rates? Is that the measure of success for a government? I read your screed from a while back and have to wonder if you are just excited to find a common trend among some set of countries.

Posted by: heet | Feb 1, 2004 2:32:41 PM

excellent post Decembrist! The Sunday NYT review of books, has just review "The Price of Loyalty" and the reviewer makes the point that Nixon, for all his warts, had a concept of public service, totally unlike Bush, who for all intents and purposes, has none. Nixon would actively solicit opposing viewpoints in policy discussion. Bush, on el otro mano, discourages all dissenting viewpoints in policy meetings. There is a political agenda to be supported, and any oppositions, cavils, or qualifications are discouraged and indeed seen as indicating disloyalty. What a sad contrast to the Clinton White house with its endless brainstorming sessions with literally scores of sides to any policy hashed out and argued vigorously. The Bush White House is, in contrast, like a closed political cult. Comparing the Clinton White House to the Bush White House is like comparing a major research university to an underfunded trade school. It is indeed sad.

Posted by: michael the wanderer | Feb 1, 2004 4:09:44 PM

"I read your screed from a while back and have to wonder if you are just excited to find a common trend among some set of countries."

Common trends are the grist of discovery. I started with the intriguing notion that Western civilizations are dying, and that academics in Western universities were pretending it was not a problem.

It became all the more interesting when the decimation off populations was correlated with social welfare policies commonly advocated by the liberal left.

I would think it a scientist's dream to discover the cause of this scourge, yet is is universally ignored by social scientists in major universities, other than a few simple math calculations that pinpoint the actual dates of death.

The key is a sort of denial of an awful truth. The civilizations that are dying the fastest are usually those that have used big government social welfare policies the most. I suspect, though, it is not the welfare policies per se, but simply the size and inefficiency of government that is killing of our civilizations.

I wonder at the moral view which states it is acceptable to wipe us out as long as we feel good about it along the way.

Posted by: Matt Young | Feb 1, 2004 4:27:44 PM

I suspect, though, it is not the welfare policies per se, but simply the size and inefficiency of government that is killing of our civilizations.

Er, have you considered what role women's education plays in all of this? From everything I've read on the subject, it's clear that as women have greater access to education, fertility rates go down. (Which is not surprising, when you think about it.) What makes you think that government is the issue, rather than education?

Posted by: Josh | Feb 1, 2004 6:23:24 PM

"Er, have you considered what role women's education plays in all of this?"

Yes, this comes up all the time. I presume by the "Er" you mean to imply that there is no solution but to accept our collective death. Big government enthusiasts always blame women for our problems, I think is a bit of the leftist sexism.

A couple of problems with this scenario.
First, women have loved mankind and children for 1.5 million years of evolution. It's unlikely that anything natural has driven them from this natural emotion. More likely, it is something we did with our culture that has driven women away from an evolutionary function. I know of no biological reason for the problem, hence, it must be an error in our culture. Now we could say it is natural for humans to create a culture that ensures its own death, but this needs to be proved.

Second, the two income household arose precisely as government costs rose, and the likely cause is the government burden that is placed proportionally on young families.

Third, it doesn't make sense given the potential longevity of a woman's work life. She could easily have two or more children immediately out of college, and continue her professional life within a year to 10 years. In fact, most men spend so much time out of work that the difference in professional lives is rather small.

Finally, I would actually say it is the leftists agenda in college that downplay childbirth and family, and this goes back to the central theme. Academics simply are afraid to tackle this problem in a scientific manner. The studies barely get past a summary of the demograophic followed by a handwave of some possible causes.

Posted by: Matt Young | Feb 1, 2004 7:03:56 PM

There's a number of possible causes for all the things you sited that don't involve the "leftist agenda" or "intrusive government." Especially in your leap from declining birthrates to it being the fault of social programs.

There's a number of possible causes for declining birthrates in the West, starting with environmental ones. You breathe, drink, and eat zillions of chemicals every day, lots that don't occur in nature. There were a number of studies of, IIRC, alligators, that showed their sperm counts were declining due at least in part to chemicals that built up in their swamps. Generally, the "West" includes the most industrialized nations, that have been industrialized the longest. Thus, the longest exposure to many kinds of chemicals (and radiation, for at least parts of the US).

Secondly, medicine, by ensuring more children survive childhood and extending the lifespan of people, creates pressures that encourage lower birth rates. Contrast children nearly assured to survive childhood and live to 70+ to many third world countries (and most of the world, even 150-200 years ago) where you could expect a fairly large percentage of children to die in childhood. So only a couple, or even one child is necessary to carry on your genetic heritage. Combine this with economic pressures, having fewer children becomes more advantageous, as they recieve more of the parents time, money, and other resources than they would if there were a dozen kids. Heck, it's the similar to the kind of evolutionary pressure that helped make it so people only have one or two kids usually, as opposed to litters.

Simply because people are having less children doesn't imply that females don't "love mankind and children" any more, especially in light of alternate explinations.

Two income houses rose based on a number of things, most of which are economic. Rising costs and inflation and other factors, which add up to a simple situation: When adjusted for inflation, many non-CEO jobs actually pay LESS now than they used to.

Add in things like rising health care costs as the insurance companies and drug companies try to maximize profits by cutting costs (As an aside, health insurance is basically people pooling their money so that when one of them becomes sick, the treatment can be paid for, where does the need for profit come from?), and many families need two incomes to break even. There's a more credible link there to the pressure to measure success only by profit and material wealth than government spending, I think.

I wonder at your proclomation that women don't seem to 'love mankind and children' enough any more, then you advise that women could have children and return to working between one and ten years later. So, during this time, what, precisely, is to happen to the kids?

While you proclaim about "scientific studies", your own explanation is very un-scientific, taking leaps of logic from one position to the conclusion that supports your own idealogical views, and saying this "must" be the cause, when there are a number of other plausible theories. And the drifting into attacks at large, undefined groups ("leftists" "academics" etc) doesn't help support your argument either.

Posted by: Nate | Feb 2, 2004 1:45:56 AM


Nice try, but Italy is dead anyway. So something went wrong. Italy will be the first Western nation to die off without any academic research into its causes.

By the way, the best predictor for population decline is the size of government. Check out the numbers:


Its not perfectly correlated, but it is indicative. The more a government spends in Western Europe, the faster the population dies off.

Nor is it a voluntary desire to reduce the population because many of these nations are being replaced with foreign populations.

All of these nations are in a political war trying to reduce the burden of government. If you ask the German socialists why they want to reduce government, their answer is simple, they want to save their population. Italian and French government are going through the same reform battles, trying to reduce government burdens and return resources to young families. Spain and Italy are actually trying the opposits, grow middle family income supplements, and Italy is running fair deficits in the process.

To get a better understanding of the problem, just consider the difficulty of a low income American family trying to compete agains cash labor in California, and suffering a 15% wage differential because of entitlement taxes. In all major cities of California,underground cash labor competes for about half the entry level jobs. The entitlement system is shot, and low income legitimate labor is bleeding trying to save it.

Posted by: Matt Young | Feb 2, 2004 2:13:36 AM

Someone needs to tell Matt Young about the economically and socially dying country of Sweden. Yeah, he's got a great thesis. Wonder what his agenda is?

He's better off in FreeRepublic-land, a place where the marginally ignorant can lord over the fully ignorant.

Posted by: Hypocrisy Fumigator | Feb 2, 2004 1:51:54 PM

Italy? When did I mention Italy? And, unsurprisingly, you ignored everything I mentioned as possibilities, going back to just your claim of "no academic investigation." Cherry-picking the evidence to match your preconcieved notions isn't a good way to do science or war, Mr. Young. You've presented no actual evidence or description of how "government spending reduces fertility," only anecdotal statistics from a limited selection. Science isn't making the facts fit your theory and ignoring the ones that won't.

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