Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
The way a debate is framed and choices are posed is often more important than which
option is chosen. That's because the framing of the debate sends a powerful message to
the public about what's at stake. It sets the boundaries of discourse. For politicians to stray
beyond requires too much explaining and runs the risk of appearing irrelevant or radical.
In Washington, a "gaffe" occurs when a high-level official accidentally says what he means. The Bush administration has been remarkably gaffe-free so far, with almost everyone sticking to the same bland script. All except Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, that is, whose gaffes offer a glimpse into the real philosophy of the Bush corporation that now runs the United States. O'Neill's latest occurred in a recent interview with the Financial Times in which he questioned why the government should provide Social Security, Medicare or any other social insurance. "Able-bodied adults should save enough on a regular basis so that they can provide for their own retirement and, for that matter, health and medical needs," he said.
The economy is slowing, yet the surplus keeps growing. President-elect W. wants to use both to justify a big tax cut. How should the Democrats respond? (A) Warn once again that a big tax cut will jeopardize Social Security and that a better use for the surplus is to pay down the nation's debt. (B) Reject any fiscal stimulus and trust Alan Greenspan alone to achieve a "soft landing." (C) Agree with Bush that a fiscal stimulus would be useful and appropriate, but argue that it should take the form of new spending on education, health care, child care and public transit rather than a tax cut. (D) Concur with Bush that a tax cut is appropriate but demand that it favor poor and working families instead of the rich.
Presidents are lucky if they accomplish one big thing in a term of office. The American political system is designed to make even one big thing difficult to get done, especially if there's no economic or foreign crisis to coral public support. President Bush has already got done one very big thing -- a tax cut of large proportion, approximately the size of the cut he campaigned on.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has told Congress to wait and see what happens before enacting a stimulus package. Congress is heeding his advice. It shouldn't. A stimulus is needed right away.
Even before the September 11th terrorist attack, American consumers were in a deep funk. Personal savings rates were nearing a 70-year low, and debt was at record heights. Jobs were already disappearing. No wonder that, according to the Conference Board survey released this week, September marked the largest one-month drop in consumer confidence since October 1990, and almost all that survey was done before the terrorist attack.