July 01, 2004

Bruce Bartlett Calls Clinton a Successful Eisenhower Republican

Well, Bruce Bartlett has eaten his wheaties this morning:

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: Those Were the Days: Like most conservatives, I thought Bill Clinton was a terrible president when he was in office. Especially after the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, we all dreamed of the paradise that would be ours if we could just get a Republican in the White House. We could fix the budget and the tax system, rein in the bureaucracy, neuter the trade unions and trial lawyers, and do all those other things that could never be done because Democrats were always blocking the way. It was foolish to think like this, of course....

Conservatives should rethink the Clinton presidency. At least on economic policy, there is much to praise and little to criticize in terms of what was actually done (or not done) on his watch. Bringing the federal budget into surplus is obviously an achievement. After inheriting a deficit of 4.7 percent of gross domestic product in 1992, Mr. Clinton turned this into a surplus of 2.4 percent of G.D.P. in 2000 — a remarkable turnaround that can be appreciated by realizing that this year's deficit, as large as it is, will reach only 4.2 percent of G.D.P., according to the Congressional Budget Office....

More important, from a conservative point of view, Mr. Clinton achieved his surplus in large part by curtailing spending. Federal spending fell to 18.4 percent of G.D.P. in 2000 from 22.2 percent in 1992.... Mr. Clinton was also steadfast in his support for free trade. It is doubtful that anyone else could have persuaded Congress to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement. On monetary policy, he reappointed Alan Greenspan, a Republican....

By contrast, Mr. Clinton's Republican successor has caused the surplus to evaporate, raised total federal spending by 1.6 percent of G.D.P., established a new entitlement program for prescription drugs and adopted the most protectionist trade policy since Herbert Hoover. While President Bush has done other things that conservatives view more favorably, like cutting taxes, there is no getting around the reality that Mr. Clinton was better in many respects...

I have only two comments:

First, can we please please please please please please PLEASE!! stop talking about Bush's "tax cuts." There are no tax cuts. There's a tax shift--current taxpayers pay less, and future taxpayers pay more. Only by pretending that nobody has to service and amortize the growing federal debt can you talk about Bush's "tax cuts." They aren't there, any more than a $5,000 increase in your VISA limit is an increase in your income.

Second, the "Eisenhower Republican" Clintonian economic policies were only Phase I, only the first part of a Clever Plan. The Clever Plan was to restore fiscal stability, promote economic growth, create a high-investment economic recovery that would produce rapid productivity and real wage growth. Then in a decade would come Phase II: a more prosperous and confident America would have a less mean-spirited politics and be more open to the government's taking on the missions it needs to take on in order to make the twenty-first century the Second American Century.

From today's perspective, the Plan does not look so Clever.

Posted by DeLong at July 1, 2004 08:10 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Re "Neutering the unions": Do Selfish Republicans
really wish to see every U.S. business operate
a la Walmart; with wage earners having to work
two or three unrewarding jobs?

A century ago Upton Sinclair described a lovely
unionless environment in the Chicago stockyards.
Do Selfish Republicans in their hearts long for
the return of such conditions? In "The Jungle"
they only worked one job; cause it lasted from
dawn to dusk.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on July 1, 2004 08:38 AM

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"Mr. Clinton achieved his surplus in large part by curtailing spending. Federal spending fell to 18.4 percent of G.D.P. "

Bruce is not being candid with the above. Spending increased, but GDP exploded. Which is how we attained the very temporary 18.4% of GDP result. By 1998 politicians of both parties were already making plans to spend the surplus.

"Then in a decade would come Phase II: a more prosperous and confident America would have a less mean-spirited politics..."

Sure, the party of Paul Begala, James Carville, and Michael Moore wanted to be nice.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on July 1, 2004 08:40 AM

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Politics is politics. To pretend that there would ever be such a thing as an era of non-mean-spirited politics (or that there ever has been one in the past) is wishful thinking.

Posted by: a lesser mongbat on July 1, 2004 08:45 AM

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I always thought that Clinton was a Republician that betrayed the working class. I'm glad to hear someone else state it.

It's time for a 3rd Populist party in this country that represents the working people. I can't tell the difference between Repbulicans and Democrats anymore.

Posted by: Lynne on July 1, 2004 08:48 AM

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Sorry, Patrick. You've failed statistics. Your options are to repeat the course next term, or take a term off to try to recover from your Republican lobotomy.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on July 1, 2004 08:58 AM

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From today's perspective, the Plan does not look so Clever.

Oh, come on. It was a Clever Plan with a fatal flaw -- the 2000 election (both Gore's lackluster campaign, and the Florida Fiasco) was not predicted. W. was the Mule to the Clintonian "Seldon Plan".

Posted by: cmdicely on July 1, 2004 09:23 AM

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Patrick, by your standards on this matter, Bush now oversees the largest deficits in history. Is this really what you want to say?

PS. I was passing through an airport yesterday and with limited time, chose to look at page 337 rather than get something to eat - just for you! And indeed, you are completely correct: Clinton got the Bork/Scalia timing wrong.

Posted by: howard on July 1, 2004 09:26 AM

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The proprietor complains, not without justification:

"First, can we please please please please please please PLEASE!! stop talking about Bush's 'tax cuts.' There are no tax cuts. There's a tax shift--current taxpayers pay less, and future taxpayers pay more."

I hear you, but even as much as I think the Bush tax cut is awful, I really don't like these kind of theological-linguistic demands. The same sort of thinking makes it heretical for Republicans to talk about tax expenditures.(*) A present-day tax cut is best described, simply, as a tax cut. Will future taxpayers have to pay more? Very probably, yes. Could some chain of events cause there to be no future offsetting tax increase?(**) Sure. Until we know, let's just call it a tax cut but go on to talk about what its consequences will probably be.


(* Tax expenditure: subsidy granted by means of special tax treatment. If Congress passes a law saying that all economists named Brad DeLong get a $10000 refundable tax credit, that's no different than the government writing a $10K check to DeLong. Some Republicans complain when people treat the two cases are equivalent, purportedly because the tax credit just lets DeLong keep his own money whereas the check is taxpayers' money -- as if money weren't fungible by nature. If we can't talk about tax expenditures, it makes it exponentially more difficult to talk sensibly about the tax code.)

(** Example: some unforeseeable amazing technological breakthrough that makes energy vanishingly cheap over the next 20-40 years.)

Posted by: alkali on July 1, 2004 09:28 AM

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The answer to:

"Do Selfish Republicans in their hearts long for
the return of such conditions?"

is "yes."

If

"I can't tell the difference between Repbulicans and Democrats anymore."

you can't see trillions in tax cuts and a war, just for starters.

As for:

"It's time for a 3rd Populist party in this country that represents the working people. "

All that would do is ensure continued Republican domination of govenment. For the consequences of this see above.

Posted by: Oracle on July 1, 2004 09:29 AM

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It always seemed to me that Clinton's greatest crimes (in the eyes of the Right) were:

1) Daring to be insolent enough to get elected

2) Looking at GOP programs and often saying, "Hey, that's a good idea, let's do it."

Posted by: Saintperle on July 1, 2004 09:33 AM

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I love how Brad selectively edits the article. The last sentence of his first cut-and-pasted paragraph (“It was foolish to think like this, of course....”) is actually the first sentence of a new paragraph in the original article (“It was foolish to think like this, of course, just as it is foolish for Democrats to think that every mistake President George W. Bush has made would have been avoided if Al Gore had won in 2000.”).

I can see why you wouldn’t necessarily post the article in its entirety but why the need to reformulate the paragraph structure?

You shouldn’t need to use Michael Moore style editing to get your point across.

Posted by: Kahlil on July 1, 2004 09:41 AM

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Kahlil, i'm trying to undertstand what damage to meaning you think was done. I don't see it, myself. So Bartlett also thinks that Dems can be foolish? Why does that relate to the essence of what the prof is pointing out here, namely Bartlett's evaluation of Clinton's macroeconomic performance....

Posted by: howard on July 1, 2004 09:51 AM

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Cutting off remarks you don’t want posted is one issue but why the need to reformulate paragraph structure? It couldn’t have been by accident. It takes deliberate effort to do this and I’m just curious why he feels the need to do so. That’s all.

Posted by: Kahlil on July 1, 2004 10:01 AM

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Isn't it Bruce Bartlett, not Bill?

Posted by: Abhishiktananda on July 1, 2004 10:25 AM

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Does anyone ever wonder if Clinton might have been too talented for our good? We had an unbelievable decade when all manner of indexes went in the right direction (the economy, crime, my relative success with women, etc.), and Clinton was d*cking around with Monica while playing his part.

Does anyone else ever think that the electorate looked at that last bit and decided that being president must be easy, so why not give it to the guy we like more?

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim on July 1, 2004 10:43 AM

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"First, can we... stop talking about Bush's 'tax cuts.' There are no tax cuts. There's a tax shift"

Totally agree with the point, but I think you're more likely to get the Pro-Life crowd to rename themselves "Pro Abortion-Control."

Posted by: fling93 on July 1, 2004 11:12 AM

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Ah, so a leading Repub is favoring a Clintonian economic and budget policy... ah, what could that mean?

Methinks they're getting scared of the consequences of their own one party rule.

Bad sign! (for the wage slaves among us)

Posted by: camille roy on July 1, 2004 11:25 AM

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Brad,

Keep harping on the "tax shift." It'll get out there. We got a tax delay, not a tax cut.

Posted by: Oberon on July 1, 2004 11:31 AM

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"Could some chain of events cause there to be no future offsetting tax increase?.....Example: some unforeseeable amazing technological breakthrough that makes energy vanishingly cheap over the next 20-40 years."

One of W.C. Fields' characters supported his family by playing the lottery and entering puzzle contests in newspapers. Planning the future on the basis of a Moore's Law for energy production makes that much sense.

I can't be completely sure about what alkali intended by what he wrote, but I frequently run into cornucopian followers of Lomborg and Simon who feel that plans for the future should made on the W.C. Fields lottery-winning principle.

"Cornucopian" is Lomborg's self-description, BTW.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on July 1, 2004 12:04 PM

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Brad, you've identified a remarkable journalistic and partisan event, and then partly squandered it. If BB can think that Clinton was good at fiscal policy, plain and simple, and better than Bush to boot, the appropriate response is a big, toothy grin. This is a real break-through. Just look at Sullivan being forced to accuse BB of a lack of candor, without proof and without identifying a motive. Save the tax cut/shift argument, worthy as it is, for another time.

I assume the "politics" you had in mind in "less mean-spirited politics" is not partisan politics, but public policy politics - politics in which impoverishing the poor to enrich the rich is no longer thought good. If so, then somebody seems to have misconstrued...

Posted by: kharris on July 1, 2004 12:50 PM

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Bartlett's out of touch. He seems to think that the the current-day Republicans in power like "classical liberal" values like balanced budgets, limited government, free trade, and that sort of thing. Eisenhower doesn't stand out as a successful president to the Republicans, nor does Nixon: they prefer thinking of the days of Reagan or of Coolidge and before. Hoover was too much of a progressive technocrat for them (if only he'd let the depression ride out its course rather than trying to talk to companies in a collaborative attempt to stabilize prices, wages, and employment! That darn Carterite engineering mentality...). No, the Republicans don't like Eisenhower Republicans. They want Reagan or Bush II Republicans.

I think the simplest explanation of Republicans today is that they love power, and they aren't Democrats, so they seek to rule by catering to right-wing special interests, since their appeal to left-wing special interests is limited by Democratic competition. The more charitable one is that they are benevolently seeking to destroy American culture by limiting the scope of prosperity and forcing people into unpredictable, poor lives that will, ideally, turn them into fearful, religious conformists too crouched into weathering the storm of their lives to express themselves in a way that would be discomforting to Republican sensibilities (homosexuality, secularism, humanism, etc), so that their souls would be saved by the impoverishment of their material circumstances.

Sorry, Bruce Bartlett: there is no inconsistency in Bill Clinton being a successful Eisenhower Republican and current Republicans in power disliking Bill Clinton. They think Eisenhower was a wimp too (a Bush II would have stayed the course in Korea, darnit! Or at least would have established wildly fluctuating, consistently ineffectual policies on Korea while straining the importance of staying the course and not cutting-and-running!).

Patrick Sullivan -- I think you misunderstand the meaning of "mean-spirited." I think -- though am not sure -- that Brad DeLong meant that we would have less mean spirited public policies (e.g. fewer three-strikes-your-out rules and the like), rather than less mean spirited politics (e.g. fewer comparisons of opponents to Hitler, Saddam, etc). He could have meant both, of course, but I think Brad's more concerned about the former than the latter.

Posted by: Julian Elson on July 1, 2004 12:53 PM

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zizka writes:

"I can't be completely sure about what alkali intended by what he wrote, but I frequently run into cornucopian followers of Lomborg and Simon who feel that plans for the future should made on the W.C. Fields lottery-winning principle."

Well, I'm not one of them, and that was completely clear form what I wrote. Please read it again if you are uncertain.

Posted by: alkali on July 1, 2004 01:28 PM

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I have to chip in just a little bit here:

The surplus during the Clinton administration was actually a cyclical surplus. The government's revenues were going up due to a rapidly expanding economy while outlays either stood still or shrunk. The measures I have seen indicate that if the economy had been producing at what the Congressional Budget Office considered to be potential then we would in fact have had a deficit in the $12-18 billion range.

Not bad!

Now we can argue over the structural deficit under Clinton and whether it was sustainable or not. The most mainstream answer is yes, that level of deficit spending could have been financed through GDP expansion and the "inflation tax."

Posted by: Iain Babeu on July 1, 2004 02:13 PM

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Great post. 'Bout time some conservatives recognized what was right in front of their faces.

One little aside though, on a personal note, that concerns me. Do you really mean that the increase in my VISA account limit isn't considered income? Oh crap, I'm in trouble now.

Posted by: carsick on July 1, 2004 02:23 PM

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Its a tax cut if you never have to pay it pack. When Jesus calls home the faithful Republicans, they won't have to pay it back, and it will just be the "Left Behind" crowd to pick up the tab. But with so many jobs opening up, and so many people dying in the Apocalypse, there will be almost no unemployment. With no entitlements required and everyone working, a huge budget surplus will ensue.

Its really a win-win situation, if you look at it the right way. Faith-based budgeting!

Posted by: TMorgan on July 1, 2004 02:30 PM

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Wait a second Brad. Shouldn't the analogy be not to an increase on your Visa limit but instead to the outstanding balance on the card? The increase to your limit is free, the balance you have to pay.

Posted by: leglaw on July 1, 2004 02:30 PM

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Its a tax cut if you never have to pay it pack. When Jesus calls home the faithful Republicans, they won't have to pay it back, and it will just be the "Left Behind" crowd to pick up the tab. But with so many jobs opening up, and so many people dying in the Apocalypse, there will be almost no unemployment. With no entitlements required and everyone working, a huge budget surplus will ensue.

Its really a win-win situation, if you look at it the right way. Faith-based budgeting!

Posted by: TMorgan on July 1, 2004 02:31 PM

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So OK, alkali, why DID you make that bizarre speculation?

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on July 1, 2004 02:55 PM

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PLEASE!! stop talking about Bush's "tax cuts." There are no tax cuts. There's a tax shift--current taxpayers pay less, and future taxpayers pay more. Only by pretending that nobody has to service and amortize the growing federal debt can you talk about Bush's "tax cuts."
~~~~

This is Milton Friedman's line, of course -- as you've noted on a couple other blogs -- that "the cost of goverment is spending not taxes", since the cost of servicing $1 of debt discounts to exactly $1 of future taxes.

However you haven't noted that Friedman repeatedly uses this logic to *urge more tax cuts* taking the public's dislike for piling on debt as the only practical political constraint on spending increases.

We know that some like to riducule "starve the beast" by attributing it to that modern Robespierre, Grover Norquist, and his band of merry Jacobins, but with the likes of Friedman, Becker, Buchanan, Murphy and so on actually behind it, it has rather more substantial paternity.

I'm still waiting for some progressive who wants to take from the rich "for the common good" to propose means testing the rich out of transfers from those less rich than themselves that cover the many items that they can well afford to pay for themselves -- rather than raising taxes on everyone so we can assure our ability to continue to pay all promised transfers to the rich. With such a policy we could take from the rich and appease all these Jacobins by containing future tax burdens too.

A progressive and bi-partisan solution. What's to argue?

Posted by: Jim Glass on July 1, 2004 04:12 PM

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"Second, the "Eisenhower Republican" Clintonian economic policies were only Phase I, only the first part of a Clever Plan. The Clever Plan was to restore fiscal stability, promote economic growth, create a high-investment economic recovery that would produce rapid productivity and real wage growth. Then in a decade would come Phase II: a more prosperous and confident America would have a less mean-spirited politics and be more open to the government's taking on the missions it needs to take on in order to make the twenty-first century the Second American Century."

Brad, what dream world were you living in when you occupied my office at the Treasury Department?

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett on July 1, 2004 04:20 PM

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The tax-shift is not just temporal. There is also a likely shift in which economic class of future citizens will pay for today's decreases in taxes which accrue largely to the ultra-wealthy.
In less there is a huge shift in political fortunes, it is not likely that the coming tax increase will as disproportionately be applied to the ultra-wealthy as was the recent decreases. So, the shift is from today's ultra-wealthy to tomorrow's middle class.

Posted by: EdSez on July 1, 2004 04:27 PM

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Patrick when you say,
"Bruce is not being candid with the above. Spending increased, but GDP exploded. Which is how we attained the very temporary 18.4% of GDP result."

Federal Expenditures are part of GDP. Therefore for them to fall they must not have grown as quickly as growth in GDP, therfore some control must have been exersized in preventing the rise in expenditures. You really don't understand growth rates, or GDP, or you would not have made such a silly remark.

Posted by: Lawrence on July 1, 2004 06:45 PM

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Was the contrast between Bartlett and Wessel intended?

Bartlett:
"Yet presidents are not impotent. Sometimes their impact comes from what they don't do, rather than what they do. Sometimes the most important thing a president can do is resist the demand or temptation to act when the right course is to do nothing. And sometimes a president is forced to do things against his will. In the end, however, a president can be judged only by what actually happens on his watch; not by what he thought or intended or by what he might have done but wasn't able to."

Wessel:
"Presidents don't have that much power. But presidential economic policies do matter; it is just that effects doesn't show for a decade, maybe even a generation."

Posted by: bakho on July 1, 2004 07:48 PM

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Lawrence, all you need to understand is that a fraction contains both a numerator and a denominator.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on July 2, 2004 10:17 AM

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All this Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus astonishment on discovering that Clinton's two terms were Eisenhower II! Doesn't ANYone remember the well-noted fact that in the early weeks of 1993, during a economic skull session, President Bill himself remarked to his aides: "Christ! We're going to have to be Eisenhower Republicans!" (Meaning: these Bush-Reagan deficits will require a lot of house-cleaning before we do anything more.)

But two funny things happened on the way to FDR II -- our media's liberal-reactionary obsession with Whitewater and sex along with an inventive obsession with Gore's "lies."

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