Wednesday, January 5

I Can Keep This Up As Long As You Can

David Leonhardt, "Daniels Campaign Rewrite v. 6.0". January 4

REGULAR readers may have begun to suspect that there are aspects of daily life, or "life", and popular "culture", that I simply cannot understand. That attitude is often ascribed to some philosophical quirk or emotional deficit, or to the increasingly Not With It-ness of galloping old age, but mostly by people who are hopelessly ensnared in the culture and whose testimony is therefore suspect. I find my objections practical, personal, and completely reasonable, although, of course, this is precisely the sort of thing I would say.

I think I have a fairly complete understanding of the process of fashion, say: the restlessness of creativity, the attraction and staling rate of the New, the desire to define oneself as both unique and as belonging, the contempt for the familiar, the child's view of the world's, and especially his parents', stasis, and the rock-steady birth rate of the Sucker. I celebrate that in all its messy glory. What I don't get are the particulars. I don't get eye makeup trends for the last decade. I don't understand why some talent-free careerist with a cooking show or a network hosting gig has a hairdo swiped from Stiv Bators. Or, rather, I do; what I don't understand is why the public sits still for it. I don't understand why millions of otherwise normal-seeming adults flock to buy trendy eyeglasses which flatter something south of 10% of 'em, and make even those look like their faces have a sidebar. At some point this stuff stops being about a moment's perception, and starts getting graded on an absolute scale; there's a clear distinction between Groucho Marx and Fidel Castro. There's geek chic, and then there's lining up to be dunned for your ovine behavior. I understood why Elvis Costello wanted to look like a cracked Buddy Holly. What I don't understand is why Seth at the Floor Covering Counter at Lowe's wants to look like the love child of Melina Mercouri and John Lydon.

Or, rather, I do; I just don't understand why he has to be so goddam enthusiastic about linoleum at the same time.

Similarly, I understand the impetus behind these endless mass-market rewrites of Mitch Daniels' campaign bio--the modern Economic Republican is simply the medicine show tout or itinerant driveway resealer with a bigger vocabulary--but I don't get what these people imagine they're seeing in the mirror every morning.

At this point I've lost track of the thing. I do recall that the seams were already showing when the National Review climbed on in the spring of '09, which, I don't believe coincidentally, was about the time Mitch resurfaced after his '08 landslide, meaning the point at which the Daniels campaign decided everyone had forgotten all the lies he'd told about his record during the campaign. Either that, or it was time to start slapping new labels on the old bottles for the 2012 roll-out; Mitch certainly saw the timing of the Iraq War Victory Parade in 2002 from up close. I know we've mentioned it before, but it's instructive to note the subtle changes and Stalinesque photoshopping the story has undergone. It began with the huckster's tout of his "balanced" budget, the roaring success of his Toll Road sell-off, his brilliant Randian privatization schemes, and his superhuman tax cutting abilities; now that the Surplus he intended to run on is owed three times over the the Federal government, the Toll Road proceeds turn out to be stacked on a couple of pallets in an INDOT warehouse somewhere, awaiting the conclusion of Mitch's term so the next governor can find the money to actually build something with them, the $1 B privatization of the Family and Social Services Agency has turned out to be the biggest boondoggle in the state since the Michigan Road bankrupted it in 1837, and some scalawag somewhere pointed out that a 17% increase in sales taxes--to the second highest rate in the nation--does actually qualify as raising taxes, it's time to find a little different focus, or a new set of lies for the old one. So let's see how the thing is playing today:
Of all the Republicans talking about the deficit these days, Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, has arguably the most credibility.

Well, I'll grant you: none of the others has ever overseen such a colossal reversal of the Federal deficit.
Mr. Daniels, who took office in 2005, has reduced the number of state workers by 18 percent and held spending growth below inflation. He has raised the sales tax to help make up for a property tax cut. Largely as a result, Indiana finds itself in better fiscal shape than many other states.

It is a mere accident of history that the Bard did not write "First we kill all the economists."

Here's an interesting little note. In case you haven't been following the story, that "property tax cut" was the end result of a serious fucking mishandling of the property tax situation in Indiana by one Mitchell Elias Daniels and his legislative henchmen in 2005. The courts struck down Indiana's generations-old property tax arrangement in 1999 (or '98; I disremember exactly); 2005 was the last time the General Assembly could address the issue before the new ruling took effect. He, and it, did nothing, because doing something would have required addressing a serious budgetary issue in a serious fashion, not preening for the cameras. As a result, property taxes in many areas went through the roof. This was followed by an orchestrated astroturf anti-tax campaign, centered on the Old Money section of Indianapolis. (The event was covered like an approaching Category 5 hurricane by local teleprompter readers, who haven't mentioned the topic since; particularly when it was announced, sotto voce, that somehow homeowners are reaping four whole percent of the resultant tax break. This did not result in any more protests.) The pre-fab outrage just happened to fixate on the Democratic, or "Democratic" mayor of Indianapolis, Bart Petersmythe, perhaps the one politician in the area who'd had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Petersmythe was the leading "Democratic" contender to knock the hugely unpopular Daniels out of the Governor's Mansion, or, as the lovely Cheri Daniels refers to it, That Dump, except he's never lived there. As a result Petersmythe lost to Marine Lt. Col. Gomer F. Ballard, the Human Bell Jar, and Daniels won reelection over a woman who, it turns out, was legally comatose.

So now this was An Issue, meaning there was no way it could be solved rationally, or reasonably; instead Low Property Taxes have become enshrined as a Constitutional guarantee, the anti-tax procedure which has stood California state government in such good stead for so many years. And sales taxes--the most regressive tax of all, naturally--rise to make up the difference.

Freedom! Except they don't; there's a nearly two-year period when Indiana tax revenues fall short of predictions, because we've managed to eliminate stability from the equation. The shortfall sparks a 20% across the board cut in state government which, if anything, is the single reason why someone can say "Mr. Daniels has reduced the number of state workers by 18 percent", though, to be honest with you, it's the first time I've heard that one trotted out. Maybe it's taken Team Daniels this long to come up with a positive spin for "He cost the state 20% in revenues over a 20-month period through cheap political grandstanding and a lack of courage". I mean, it's not like he campaigned in 2005 on cutting one-fifth of the state's workforce in the teeth of an awful economy.

(Y'know, I can't quite understand why the ability to subtract is held in such high esteem. There's not a whole lot of distinction between Republicans and Democrats in Indiana, not that that bucks a national trend or anything. Indiana Democrats, given the cards Daniels holds, would probably have protected education, somewhat; that's the only difference between the last Democratic-controlled House budget and the solidly Republican Senate one. They might've solved the Property Tax Crisis more reasonably, and without the Constitutional B&D routine, but no party bucks abject stupidity for long. So Indiana cuts services. News flash. It's like congratulating the conductor because the strings and woodwinds were all playing the same tune. That it was done means nothing. How is the question.)

And it doesn't end there, of course; much of the savings at the state level have come from sloughing off responsibilities, often unfunded, on cities and counties, a result of Mitch Daniels having operated in permanent campaign mode since 2005. Our reward is not just to hear the bleating about his record, which was designed all along to trade sense and stability for good PR heading into 2012. It's to hear it while knowing that it's been achieved by cutting through the meat of state education, now in line for a good boning as a Republican-controlled legislature has to come up with that $1 billion in phony surplus to hand over to the Feds, because we've been playing with borrowed money. It's to hear this shit about a man who nearly destroyed Indiana's social services by "privatizing" them to his political cronies, who's just signed us on for a 30 year natural gas crapshoot no one else would touch, who's laid the groundwork for Indiana to become the Prairie California. It's to hear "better off than many other states" and to know that's a rewrite of 2008's "better of than all surrounding states", which was a spurious claim then and is now simply untenable. It's to hear about a Budget Hawk who somehow fails to spot the biggest tax increase East of the Mississippi in the last decade, or that red ledger entry of $1 billion plus.

It's to know, finally, that some people just can't get enough of the Reagan Myth, no matter how many times they hear the punchline. And that some of 'em work for the New York Times.


Unknown said...

I'm pretty sure Marx was wrong; there is no tragedy, it's all farce.

StringonaStick said...

And this guy keeps getting on the "rethug front runners for 2012 prez" list? The media is more thsn just dead; they've all been eaten by zombie St. Ronnie.

timb said...

String --

They just don't know yet. They are lazy and haven't done their homework, but they will get a chance to shortly. I know from the utter kook right wing sites I visit that Daniels is suspect because he supports a VAT and (you have to whisper the next part) grandparents are from Syria! That's right, one cannot win a right wing nomination if one attempts to pay for government in any way (not that Mitch would; he's a plutocrat for a reason) or if one's grandparents were from an A-Rab country!