Too much of our critical political discourse depends on one single virtue: consistency. This is why Pat Buchanan, a man who writes articles (I am not exaggerating) in praise of Hitler–is a kind of pundit saint. Since consistency matters, and consistency depends on memory–or rather, detecting someone's inconsistency depends on remembering what she's said in the past, let's have some fun with our favorite son on an economist, Robert Samuelson. Samuelson, is like the captain bringdown of the Post editorial page. He's got a droopy mustache, a dour expression, and he poo-poos just about everyone who tries to do something about something–environmentalists are dumb and self-indulgent for buying Priuses!.
For a while–for those who remember–Samuelson been poo-pooing Obama's "self-indulgence" on health insurance reform. A more competent rhetorical analyst, by the way, might have fun with the way he always goes ad hominem on Obama–treating his own impoverished and uncharitable image of Obama rather than Obama's stated positions (he even admitted once that this was his own problem). But it's worthwhile to poke fun at Samuelson's priorities. Way back before we spent 700 plus billion dollars in Iraq, chasing what turned out to be an easily uncovered deception, here is what Samuelon wrote:
A possible war with Iraq raises many unknowns, but "can we afford it?" is not one of them. People inevitably ask that question, forgetting that the United States has become so wealthy it can wage war almost with pocket change. A war with Iraq would probably cost less than 1 percent of national income (gross domestic product). Americans have grown accustomed to fighting with little economic upset and sacrifice.
Pocket change. In reflecting on this piece (called "A War We Can Afford") Samuelson wrote:
Yes, that column made big mistakes. The war has cost far more than I (or almost anyone) anticipated. Still, I defend the column's central thesis, which remains relevant today: Budget costs should not shape our Iraq policy. Frankly, I don't know what we should do now. But in considering the various proposals — President Bush's "surge," fewer troops or redeployment of those already there — the costs should be a footnote. We ought to focus mostly on what's best for America's security.
When it comes things that are actually real, on the other hand, Samuelson is skeptical:
When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody's Investors Service — the bond rating agency — published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama's health-care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already-bleak budget outlook.
900 billion? That figure is almost exactly what we've spent in seven years of war. Weird. But this time cost is all that matters.