Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

It Ain't Necessarily So

Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

It Ain't Necessarily So

Article excerpt

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Not just a lame excuse, it's an explanation of fads, those evanescent trifles that waft through our culture but thankfully lack staying power: hula hoops, Nehru jackets, streaking, Pong, the Michelangelo computer virus, "Baby on Board," deelybobbers, '70s nostalgia, everything about Madonna except her bank account.

Washington, D.C., capital of the free world, of course couldn't care less about those. It has its own affliction - thought fads that displace serious analysis the same way "It's the ____, stupid" has superseded "Ask not what your country...." Momentary mantras incubate and spread like swine flu in TV's Sunday a.m. public affairs ghetto, where the power elite chats with itself. From there it's just a matter of time before le tout Beltway crowd is spouting the same', often incorrect idea.

That's why the press got snookered a year ago on the Clinton State Department files (Did anyone really think a young man trying to keep his "political viability within the system" would renounce his citizenship?); why Kimba Wood isn't attorney general; and why health care reform went in one month from being impossible ("too many enemies") to inevitable ("a mandate") to difficult ("Somalia"). Group-think at work - McLaughlin Group, that is.

A thought fad is a fragile thing, although a skillful handler can nurture one to full-grown conventional wisdom. That's Virginia Republican Bill Scott's claim to fame. His achievement: Holding a news conference in the 1970s to deny an out-of-town magazine's report that he was the dumbest sitting senator, thus confirming the judgment and cementing his place in Capitol Hill lore.

Faux facts seem especially plentiful this year, with all the dust kicked up by an activist president, energetic first lady and truculent Congress. Take the budget deficit. Can't we eliminate it, or at least cut it substantially, by wiping out pork? Would that we could. All domestic discretionary spending totals $235 billion; throw in defense and international, and discretionary spending goes up to $549 billion. The deficit is $290 billion. So Congress would have to kill more than half of all discretionary programs to balance the budget. That's a lot more than "pork."

And speaking of the first lady, didn't she permanently alienate everyone by putting Rodham back in her name? "What's all this about?" Sally Quinn demanded in Newsweek. "It bugs people." For a few minutes, maybe.

But we digress. Here are a few of this season's fads for thought. Store them with your pet rock.

GOVERNMENT

SHOULD BE

RUN LIKE A

BUSINESS.

What's Said: This pearl has recently dropped from the lips of President Clinton, Ross Perot, Postmaster General Marvin Runyon, Sen. William Roth (R-Del.), Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, legions of local pols and Hollywood's President Dave, who said in the movie: "If I ran my business this way, I'd be out of business." In a poll last summer, 63 percent of Perot supporters said goveniment could be run like a business.

What's Real: No one says exactly which business. Presumably not General Motors or IBM. Not to mention the agribusinesses that fight to preserve government subsidies, mining conglomerates that extract about $4 billion in minerals annually from government land but pay no royalties, deregulated airlines that are fare-cutting each other into bankruptcy or ranchers that have been paying one-fifth of market rates to use federal grazing lands. Besides, not many businesses change the top management every four years, have 4.8 million workers and a trillion-dollar-plus annual budget, and use a decision-making process that involves a 535-member board and more than 100 million voting shareholders.

The private sector can be divided into nine broad categories. In the business stampede that was the 1980s, just three of the nine significantly outperformed the gross domestic product: wholesale trade, which includes auto and other imports; retail trade. …

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