Magazine article The American Conservative

Red State: Forget Campaign Promises. the Next President Will Face a Stack of Unpaid Bills

Magazine article The American Conservative

Red State: Forget Campaign Promises. the Next President Will Face a Stack of Unpaid Bills

Article excerpt

IMAGINE THREE well-dressed people on a sidewalk: a white-haired man in his early 70s, a woman in a pantsuit with the tails of her jacket splitting over a protuberant behind, and a young, spaghetti-thin African-American man. They are absorbed in a dispute, but they carry on in polite, moderated tones.

Across the street, a building is collapsing, another one is on fire, a woman is jumping from the roof of a third structure. Others kneel, gasping for air near inert human forms, more dead than alive. The police, hands clapped to their heads, run to and fro like ants after a squirt of insecticide.

Firefighters arrive, jump out of their glistening red machines, and attach their hoses to the hydrants. But no water comes out.

Not so many feet away, the three continue their disagreement, oblivious to the tumult.

Thus the presidential campaign soldiers on, all but ignoring the largest economic upheaval since the disaster of 1929. Given the chaotic state of no-longer-so-high finance in America, they have good reason to stay as far away from the daily debacle flooding out of Wall Street and, inch by foot, putting the nation under water.

But whoever wins the White House will enter it under conditions undreamt of when this long presidential season began. Long-held delusional assumptions have ceased to be tenable, owing to the catastrophic brew mixed up by Wall Street.

On day one of his administration, to borrow a phrase from Hillary, John McCain would have to make some agonizing reappraisals of his war policies. His website proclaims, "More troops are necessary to clear and hold insurgent strongholds; to provide security for rebuilding local institutions and economies; to halt sectarian violence in Baghdad and disarm Sunni and Shia militias; to dismantle al Qaeda; to train the Iraqi Army; and to embed American personnel in Iraqi police units. Accomplishing each of these goals will require more troops and is a crucial prerequisite for needed economic and political development in the country." He does not discuss how he is going to pay for the first installment on his vow to camp in Iraq for a century if need be. The United States has been borrowing the funds needed to carry on the war, but those days are over.

Owing to the ever shrinking dollar bill, foreigners are ceasing to buy U.S. government securities. Last year they bought $126 billion less than in 2006. Every war before this was paid for, at least in part, by raising taxes. This time we lowered them and borrowed the money. Although there have been times in McCain's career when he recognized the necessity of raising taxes, of late he has been a hard-line member of the school that believes tax cuts are good for whatever ails. A big thwack at the capital-gains tax rate will cure cancer.

For their part, the two Democrats vying for their party's nomination have left the impression that some of their programmatic ambitions will be paid for by money saved by ending the Iraq War. They would do well to recognize that there is no money to be saved. The best that can be hoped for would be less money borrowed, which will not go far toward paying for things like the "affordable, high-quality child care" Obama's website says he will "provide ... to ease the burden on working families." They may be able to do that kind of thing in Sweden, where they tax the bejabbers out of the citizenry and where, much more to the point, the krona is as rock solid as our greenback is not.

If one of the Democratic contenders is elected, he or she will be hampered by financial constraints while withdrawing from the Iraq conflict. The endgame they envision would take months, or more probably years, and all that time the meter will be clicking.

Both parties have acknowledged that large sums are needed to repair a rusted-out highway system, and the Democrats have been promising a hatful of new or expanded government programs that are extraordinarily costly because they are labor-intensive in fields such as education and health. …

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