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The Next Ross Perot will be a Democrat

I was inclined to go easy on David Brooks this weekend. Why? For one thing, I had a moment that kind of made me feel like it's David Brooks's blue state caricature and we just live in it: At the Whole Foods, they now offer bags of what look basically like Fritos or Bugles -- reconstituted, molded corn chips. Except they have now been relabled "Polenta Chips," and sell for $4.99 for a 5 oz. bag.

And, more to the point, I basically agreed with Brooks' point on Saturday that "a leader will arise" who will speak about the deficit and fiscal irresponsibility in a way that is as compelling as Ross Perot, possibly more so.

So I was basically nodding along with Brooks's column, even choosing to overlook his characterization of the new cost estimates of the Medicare prescription drug bill as some sort of accounting oversight, as opposed to information that was fully known, easily figured out by any member of Congress who wanted to know, and probably the largest systematic fraud in human history. ($900 billion is even beyond the Ebbers/Scrushy/Lay zone.)

But this sentence turned me back:

[This new leader] is going to slam Democrats who loudly jeer at Republican deficits but whose own entitlement proposals would make the situation twice as bad.

And what entitlement proposals are those, exactly? Not John Kerry's. Not Hillary Clinton's or Evan Bayh's. I worry that such a sentence passes by most readers without a moment's hesitation. We take it as a given that even if the Republicans are bigger spenders than they said they would be, the Democrats must be even worse. If the Republican Medicare plan will cost $1.2 trillion, then it is assumed that the Democrats' must have had a $2.2 trillion plan.

This makes me angry -- not only at Brooks, but at Democrats for failing to press this point every single day. Back when the Medicare bill was on the floor and I was just starting this blog, I argued that the Democrats, rather than proposing a $1 trillion prescription drug benefit, should have proposed something that cost less and did much more, such as the Clinton bill of 2000, which at the time cost $253 billion and even three years later would certainly not have cost more than the $400 billion claimed cost of the Bush bill, while doing much more. Such an alternative would have put the handful of real conservatives, who were being told by their leaders that if they didn't vote for the Republican bill, the Democrats would sweep in with something even bigger, in a very awkward position. But now that the real cost of the Bush bill is $1.2 trillion, I realize that I was wrong: the Democrats were perfectly responsible, and did propose a bill that cost less and did more than the Bush bill. And because it contained some real cost controls, its cost was not likely to escalate much beyond that.

There is no reason that the "leader who arises" should not be a Democrat. We have nothing to apologize for, certainly not in the department of huge, out of control government programs that don't deliver what's promised.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 22, 2005 | Permalink


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The Democratic Perot is also going to have to insist, like Bill Clinton, that revenues have to be raised to match expenditures. And I think the country will be ready for it.

Posted by: Bob H | Feb 22, 2005 7:22:19 AM

could you add a link to some information about the Clinton 2000 plan, or other Dem alternatives?

i thought at the time that a bill that focused on catastrophic protection & low-income subsidies, with little or no first-dollar coverage (maybe just some guidelines for medigap drug coverage), would do the most good at the least cost. it would be minimally disruptive to existing coverage arrangements, could be easily integrated w/ private drug benefits (in fact it would make those benefits much cheaper to provide, and therefore probably more prevalent), and would focus the help on the people who really need it. even better would be to combine it with some steps to collect & build drug purchasing power to contain drug cost inflation, and a comprehensive overhaul of cost sharing under medicare (which would appropriately be designed to help offset the cost of the new benefit, too).

but i never saw any concrete plan along those lines. The Progressive Policy Institute put out a couple of briefs that talked about some of these ideas, but not a plan as far as i know.

Posted by: Tom | Feb 22, 2005 12:57:09 PM

Please note that this reinforces the idea that Brooks isn't stupid, but seriously dishonest.
As the saying goes, if he says that the sun is shining, grab your umbrella.

Posted by: Barry | Feb 22, 2005 3:48:29 PM

I was a volunteer for Perot in '92, before he dropped out and in again. Perot ran an Independent campaign, so if there is "another Perot" it might well be an Independent again.

I like Warren Buffett, but he'll be 78 in 2008. He has the wisdom to run the country, but not the time.

Any Democratic billionaires out there (not counting those born overseas)?

Posted by: Rick (Centrist Coalition) | Feb 22, 2005 10:08:12 PM

Good catch. I didn't see that line. The other line for which Brooks was paid by his handlers was the conclusion:

Before too long, some new sort of leader is going to arise, especially if we fail to reform Social Security this year. (emph. added)

That's the key to this Brooks piece. 700 reasonable, implicitly anti-Administration words, capped with 100 words which let current Party Doctrine pass as uncontroversal truths.

Brooks reminds me of what I imagine it must have been to read Stalinist publications such as the Yiddish-language Morgen Freiheit in the 50s. Smart people determined to advance a Party line that they swore loyalty to but couldn't quite believe.

Posted by: Larry Y. | Feb 22, 2005 11:05:08 PM

what bothered me about the "new leader" was that he is described him as a "millionaire". As if being a millionaire was a requirement to have ideas about public policy.

Posted by: cedichou | Feb 24, 2005 2:03:53 AM

You're full of it. Really. Kerry was on the campaign trail saying, over and over, that the government should spend much more on both health care and education. Who do you think you're fooling by denying this obvious fact?

Posted by: pudge | Feb 24, 2005 1:35:01 PM

This very discussion somehow refutes itself. Bush can get away with selling the hugely expensive prescription drug program precisely because A) he lies about the real cost and the corporate media covers for him and B) the program redistributes wealth (via regressive taxation and importation restrictions) from lower- and middle-class taxpayers to corporations. These same corporations will always, always, always miscast any "responsible" Democratic alternative becuase that alternative doesn't put money directly in their pockets. The idea that another Ross Perot could sneak up on them again anytime soon is naive. The Democrats will not soon regain their footing until they A) move social liberalism from the top (but not off) of their agenda and B) they promote plans that are so loaded with enticing benefits and funded by such steeply progressive taxation that no lower- and middle-class voters will be licking their chops. Look at the New Deal, which was funded by a very few wealthy Northeasterners. Today, Democrats offer programs that are A) so complicated, B) of such marginal benefit, and C) funded by flat or regressive taxes that it's a wonder anyone ever supports them. It's just another sign of what happens when people who aren't in touch with those who really worry about how their going to pay for health insurance or their children's college when they get laid off end up running the Democratic Party.

Posted by: TD | Feb 25, 2005 10:08:18 AM

That sentence in the Brooks article didn't pass me by, and it made me just as angry as you were.

What that sentence does state clearly though, is the long road the Democratic Party needs to travel to undo the damage to its reputation (some self inflicted), and to convince...once again...that they are the best hope for fair fiscal policy and fair and equal application of the Constitution.

Posted by: Liberal AND Proud | Feb 25, 2005 12:32:55 PM

Are you guys certain that Cheney voted for Bob Dole? You shouldn't be worried. We have no principles or platform or party activity, right? No need for any Democrats to debate me about this, I'm just Reform Party.

Posted by: HaouleKine | Mar 11, 2005 12:30:29 PM