Today’s news brings a true blast from the past: Ronald Reagan’s legendary budget director and former Congressman, David Stockman, has been indicted on charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and obstruction of justice in connection with his operation of an auto parts firm that went bankrupt in 2005. He faces up to thirty years in the hoosegow, along with fines that could reach over a billion dollars. Many younger readers may have never heard of Stockman, who masterminded the massive budget and tax bills that characterized the core of Reaganomics. But he was virtually a pop culture figure in the early 80s, before losing power and eventually being forced out of office after incautiously admitting to journalist William Greider that the Reagan budgets were creating a fiscal disaster, mainly because Republicans had caved in to special interest demands while lavishing unnecessary hundreds of billions of excess dollars on the Pentagon.Shortly after leaving the administration, Stockman published what still stands as one of the best political “insider” books ever written, The Triumph of Politics, which expanded on his Greider interviews in fascinating detail. As the title indicates, the book chronicled the abandonment of the lofty objectives of Reagan’s initial budget blueprint thanks to an orgy of vote-buying and constituency-tending by GOP pols. Two sections of the book particularly stand out in my own memory: Stockman’s angry account of then-Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger’s exploitation of an accounting error to secure a vast increase in the Pentagon budget above and beyond what Reagan had originally proposed; and his graphic description of the bipartisan special-interest bidding war that made the first Reagan tax bill fiscally and morally ruinous, eventually requiring a big fix in the 1986 tax reform legislation. Aside from its historical value, Stockman’s book remains relevant because he so clearly anticipated and analyzed the political dynamics that ultimately produced the systemic fiscal profligacy and corruption of the Bush/DeLay-era GOP. Indeed, it was Stockman who coined the phrase “starve the beast” for the cynical conservative argument that unfunded tax cuts and huge deficits could restrain big government down the road without the political pain associated with specific budget cuts. The Bush-DeLay era of corruption, which pervaded corporate as well as political circles, led among other things to enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. In a special twist of fate, that’s the law under which Stockman has been indicted. I have no idea whether Stockman is guilty as charged, but it would be highly ironic if the man who offered the first and best analysis (and confession) of the moral rot infecting latter-day conservatism succumbed to corruption himself.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I’m certainly old enough to remember lots of these pre-election “agenda” documents, and couldn’t help but mock the latest one at New York:
In Thomas Pynchon’s 1965 cult novel The Crying of Lot 49, a character who has taken too much LSD decides that if everyone on earth repeats the marketing phrase “rich, chocolatey goodness,” it will represent the voice of God. With or without drugs, a lot of people in politics have a similar delusion that getting candidates to make the same noises like chirping cicadas will produce electoral victories. It’s a particularly strong belief among congressional Republicans, who share the dubious conviction that Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” is what flipped control of Congress in 1994.
With the assistance of Gingrich and former Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, the House Republican Conference has released a new “agenda” document, entitled “Commitment to America.” The document, clearly designed for online consumption, has lots of bells and whistles and factoids about the hellish reign of Joe Biden and his “Democrat” Party. What it doesn’t have is a whole lot of specificity, unlike the unfortunate “agenda” that Republican Senate Campaign Committee chairman Rick Scott released earlier this year to the near-universal horror of his colleagues, who don’t want to be identified with the proposed sunsetting of Social Security and Medicare.
The relatively anodyne character of Kevin McCarthy’s pet project doesn’t mean it is entirely useless. Candidates mouthing the approved pieties will presumably not be expressing their pithy views on Jewish space lasers or repeating QAnon slogans.
Still, it’s hard to take seriously an agenda for the nation that does not mention climate change, Russia, or extremist threats to democracy — or one that suggests the sole cure for inflation is to cut “wasteful government spending” without explaining what that means (in the indictment of Democrats that accompanies the agenda, there is much criticism of direct stimulus payments, which Donald Trump preferred to virtually every other form of government spending).
Most interesting was how House Republicans handled a red-hot issue they dare not ignore completely, given the obsession it commands among a very big chunk of the GOP party base: abortion. You have to look pretty hard to find it, nestled as it is under the unlikely heading of “A Government That’s Accountable,” and the downright misleading subheading of “a plan to defend America’s rights under the Constitution.” And it simply says Republicans will “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.” So they checked off a box for anti-abortion activists in the manner least likely to draw curious or unfriendly attention to the extreme abortion views so many of them have expressed, which don’t poll well. Perhaps voters will be too mesmerized by the overall party message to notice. Repeat after me: rich, chocolatey goodness.