The Means-Based President

While reading some post-mortems of the just passed Screw The Poor Bankruptcy Bill, I came across this sneaky little stat:

"With 90% of bankruptcies attributable to job loss, divorce or excessive medical bills, it is clear that better economic policies, social services and affordable healthcare is the way to reduce bankruptcy," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma).

Most of us already knew that about half of bankruptcies are precipitated by crushing medical emergency, though I'd no idea such innocuous and understandable trials as job loss and divorce made up for the rest. But isn't it weird that the answer to bankruptcy from medical bills and job loss was to make it, well, harder to declare bankruptcy?

If the Bush administration had wanted to end bankruptcies, they could have offered federal reinsurance for catastrophic medical costs. You would've ended half the bankruptcies right there. If they'd wanted to do more, they could have instituted better unemployment insurance and transitional services and shrunk the crowd of spurned creditors to negligible numbers. But they didn't. When given the choice of achieving X (where X is reducing the costs of bankruptcies) through helping Americans or helping industry at the expense of Americans, they chose the latter.

It's fascinating, though, to look at how often and reliably the make that choice. Think back to Bush's constant mention of the shortened life expectancy for black males. Clearly he thought it a public policy program, but not in the way a normal person would. Rather than putting money towards addressing the causes of the shortened life expectancy, he tried to privatize Social Security on them.


It goes on. We've got a surplus, so we need tax cuts for the wealthy. We're in a recession, so we need tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats wanted to target the cuts so as to spur middle class investment, but no, make 'em for the wealthy. We've got a problem with terrorism, let's invade Iraq. And that's why, when some of the conservatives on the site ask me why I don't support this or that policy from Bush when I likely would from a Democrat, I can only answer that I don't trust the guy.

Bush's presidency is means-based, he wants to institute certain policies and he'll do it no matter what the facts on the ground are. It's a mistake to conceive of him and his advisors looking at a problem, groping for a solution, and just getting it wrong. It's much more a case of the administration deciding on a policy and then groping for a problem with which to justify it. And since their policy shop is a gathering place for every industry lobbyist in the country, the folks profiting from their a priori solutions are not the ones who need the windfall.