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 V.19 No.31 | August 5 - 11, 2010 

Ortiz y Pino

Sleight of Mouth

When professional magicians make coins, cards or pigeons disappear, we call it “sleight of hand.”

That suggests to me that when professional politicians or pundits succeed in making issues vanish or slyly switching something unimportant for something worthy of our attention, we ought to describe their craft as “sleight of mouth”—verbal prestidigitation. Now we see it; now we don’t.

How better to explain the hullabaloo over our “crushing national debt”? It suddenly reappeared on the collective radar like some gold coin plucked from behind our unsuspecting ear by the very same tuxedoed characters who whisked it out of existence just two short years ago. I’m talking about the congressional Republicans and their puppets (or puppeteers?) at Fox News.

... the only president in 30 years that created a budget surplus was Bill Clinton (yes, a Democrat), and no Republican administration since the Great Depression has reduced the deficit.

The deficit is the right’s newly discovered crusade, the latest menace that we should be waging war against. In fact, we are told, Congress and the Obama administration shouldn’t do anything else. They should undertake no other national problems (not educational reform, not unemployment, not infrastructure decay, nothing) for fear we might inadvertently wind up aggravating that old injury we had been ignoring since the early days of the Bush Jr. administration.

Keep in mind that the only president in 30 years that created a budget surplus was Bill Clinton (yes, a Democrat), and no Republican administration since the Great Depression has reduced the deficit. And don’t take your eyes off the fact that it took President George W. Bush less than two years in office to completely wipe out the Clinton surplus. With all that in mind, you can realize the incredible sleight of mouth skills involved (to say nothing of the astounding chutzpah it takes) for the Republicans to begin wringing their hands over deficit spending.

I want to say this slowly and clearly: Social Security has absolutely nothing to do with the national debt.

This is the party that over a half-century perfected the art of running up unapologetic tabs.

This is the party that continuously opened the public purse to raids by corporate piggies and their never-appeased appetite for public money: subsidies, incentives, credits, no-bid contracts, monopolies-granted and flat-out gifts just for being so wonderful.

This is the party that keeps snapping its fingers to the right of the stage to pull our attention away from how GOP tax cuts for the wealthy failed to increase economic activity despite all promises, smoke and mirrors.

And this is the party that tricked us into simultaneous wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Terror and Drugs—none of which are winnable but all of which hemorrhage tax revenue the way a BP deep well does oil.

This is the party (and FOX is the network) that led us down the primrose path to the economic destruction we now face. So now they want us to do something about the deficit? Gimme a break. Sleight of mouth can be tricky stuff, but the American public ought to see this clumsy maneuver for what it is.

And yet, never underestimate the ability of the congressional Democrats to take the heat off the Republicans, to save them from themselves.

How else to explain why the Obama administration inexplicably collaborated in the creation of a national commission to study reducing the national debt? President Obama has not yet pulled the plug on this phony exercise in political prestidigitation, even when Alan Simpson (the co-chairman of the commission! What, Newt Gingrich wasn’t available?) charted an agenda that begins with considering how to privatize Social Security?

I want to say this slowly and clearly: Social Security has absolutely nothing to do with the national debt. Tampering with it under the guise of trying to gain a handle on America’s deficit is sleight of mouth, nothing more. And starting the deficit commission’s work with Social Security reveals that no one in Washington is seriously interested in wrestling with the twin causes of budgetary deficits: spending too much and earning too little.

We will all know when the administration and Congress get serious, and it has nothing to do with PR statements about “declaring war” on the deficit. It will be when they end the four useless, futile and linked wars and when they eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. No task force needed. Do those things and the red ink stops flowing immediately.

Until then, all the talk about excessive spending or impending doom is just talk. Just fakery. Just sleight of mouth.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail jerry@alibi.com.
 
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