Monday, August 3, 2009

Kristol Channeling

When William Kristol left his job at the New York Times in January after a year of error-riddled and gobsmackingly goofy op-eds, he must have left the keys to that filing cabinet for Ross Douthat. His column today is so full of gross generalizations and just plain silly comparisons between Republican and Democratic states and what it portends for the Obama administration that you have to wonder if Mr. Kristol didn’t sneak in to the editing room and have at it.

Mr. Douthat compares the status of two big states — California and Texas — and guess which one comes out smelling like a rose.

In the Bush years, liberal polemicists turned the president’s home state — pious, lightly regulated, stingy with public services and mad for sprawl — into a symbol of everything that was barbaric about Republican America. Meanwhile, California, always liberalism’s favorite laboratory, was passing global-warming legislation, pouring billions into stem-cell research, and seemed to be negotiating its way toward universal health care.

But flash forward to the current recession, and suddenly Texas looks like a model citizen. The Lone Star kept growing well after the country had dipped into recession. Its unemployment rate and foreclosure rate are both well below the national average. It’s one of only six states that didn’t run budget deficits in 2009.

Meanwhile, California, long a paradise for regulators and public-sector unions, has become a fiscal disaster area. And it isn’t the only dark blue basket case. Eight states had unemployment over 11 percent in June; seven went for Barack Obama last November. Fourteen states are facing 2010 budget gaps that exceed 20 percent of their G.D.P.; only two went for John McCain. (Strikingly, they’re McCain’s own Arizona and Sarah Palin’s Alaska.) Of the nine states that have raised taxes this year, closing deficits at the expense of growth, almost all are liberal bastions.

As long as we’re making gross generalizations, let’s throw in one more: California and Texas both have Republican governors. And if California truly was a “liberal bastion,” it wouldn’t have passed Prop 8. Just because a state voted for Obama last year doesn’t make it a liberal bastion, either; North Carolina also went for Obama, as did Florida. California’s budget woes go back a lot further than just the current recession, back through administrations of both parties. Meanwhile, Texas may have a balanced budget, but that also may be due to the fact that the state doesn’t spend a whole lot of money on things like education, and it shows. He also throws in the knock on universal health care and points out that the president is pushing “a health care plan that looks a lot like the system currently hemorrhaging money in Massachusetts.” What Mr. Douthat forgets — or ignores — is that the Massachusetts plan was promoted and signed by Mitt Romney, who is often mentioned as the leading contender as the GOP candidate in 2012.

To complete the Kristol-vision, he brings up the false-equivalency argument; the Republicans have their scandals with their mistresses and hikes along the Appalachian trail, but the Democrats are corrupt, too; look at Rod Blagojevich in Illinois and William Jefferson in New Orleans. Fine; no one said the Democrats were pure, but while Gov. Blagojevich has been impeached and removed from office and former Rep. Jefferson is awaiting the verdict, none of the GOP horn-dogs have resigned their offices or given any indication that they intend to. Holding up your opposition as being just as corrupt as you are is not a good place to start preaching about political purity.

Mr. Douthat concedes that “Obama is still broadly popular, and the public is still broadly sympathetic to his administration’s agenda. But the money has to come from somewhere. You can’t have a bold new liberal era without the growth to pay for it.” Well, maybe if you hadn’t stood silently by or cheered on the people who pissed the money away in the first place, we’d have it. And then you could complain about liberal agendas without sounding so much like a flaming hypocrite.