Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Novembert 23, 2004

To: White House Press Corps
From: The rest of us.

Which is more likely to affect the quality of our lives, terrorism or the economy?

The chances of us personally becoming a victim of a terrorist attack rank right up there statistically with getting hit by lightening –twice – on the same day – while taking a bubble bath in a tin bucket in your backyard while waving a golf club over your head.. Forget about terrorism, it’s the economy that will determine if you live a good or crappy life during the next decade or so.

If that’s so -- and it is -- why then haven't you.. the media -- jumped on administration for its catastrophically ruinous economic policies? I know it’s not as sexy as the Scott Peterson trail or a big an adrenalin rush as a breathless report from embedded reporters in Iraq.. but everything this country does and needs to do ultimately hinges on its economic health. And this administration has given the US economy the fiscal equivalent of AIDS. Our green cell count is way down and our red cell is way up. We are weak and getting weaker. Nevertheless the administration continues to drive us deeper and deeper into debt, with no plan to pay it back, or curb new borrowing and spending.

We are heading for a fiscal train wreck of enormous proportions. A mess so big and expensive it will cripple the US as world power in ways that bin Laden could only dream of causing.

So, where is the media on that story?

This week it took a Colombian journalist to pop the only relevant question to President Bush -- the kind of question that should dominate every White House news conference. Bush was busy yesterday spreading around more borrowed money, this time promising to continue US financing for Columbia’s war on drugs at the tune of about $3 billion a year. The Columbian reporter asked the President just how he could make such a promise at a time when he was faced with record budget deficits at home? (Me to the US press corps on the trip: DUH!)

Bush, of course, blew the question off by replying in his mangled TexMex Spanish, “By working very hard.” He then smirked THAT smirk before moving on.

I suggest that that question, and questions like it, should become a US media obsession. Questions like that should be asked, and asked, and asked and asked, every time the President or his surrogates start slinging around promises to fix Social Security, reform Medicare, wage an international war against terrorism and rebuild the US military.

Here’s the kind of news conference the President should face here at home every time he mentions spending:

Journo: “Mr. President, how are you planning on paying for that?”

Prez: “We are not going to raise taxes, I can tell you that! (Look around ….smirk) “We are going to continue policies that free business to grow.. so that we can grow the economy. That’s how.”

Journo: Follow up please Mr. President. But, exactly how will you do that? You already cut taxes by nearly $2 trillion dollars and the only thing that grew was the deficit. Do you have a new plan? And if so, what is it?

Prez: (Frown, shuffle notes… muster another smirk.. revert to talking points) “When I took office four years ago we were already in recession and my tax cuts….”

Journo: Excuse me Mr. President. That was not what I asked. I want to know how you intend to cut the deficit in half as you promised during the campaign, and still come up with the $2 trillion it would take to privatize a portion of Social Security and….

Prez: Ah, excuse me.. but I think you already had your follow up. Next question.. Oh, wait.. I want to remind you we have a new rule… no follow-ups. Okay.. you, the guy from CBS… how’s Dan…(smirk…chuckle)

Journo #2: Dan’s fine Mr. President... Picking up from where my colleague left off… in the coming year you increasing spending on the Dept. of Education to $56.6 billion, the National Institute of Health to $28.4 billion and kick up foreign aid to $19.4 billion. How are you going to pay for all that without either borrowing more money, raising taxes or both -- and cut the deficit in half?

Prez: (Shake head and look disappointed.)You don’t understand how it works (smirk.. look around.. smirk) Taxes strangle business… (pronounce “taxes” the way a six year old would pronounce “puss.”) taxes cripple growth. I want growth. I will only support policies that promote growth.

Journo #2: But Mr. Pres…..I ...

Prez: No, no… no follow-ups.. . remember? ….just said that…..a moment ago. See, you folks are bad listeners. (smirk at Journo #2) Bad listeners. Next question.. over there.. the lady in the red dress.. you look lovely today. How did you get mixed up with this crowd? (chuckle,.. look around)

Journo #3: Mr. Thank you Mr. President, but we are all still very unclear on just how you plan to fund all these initiatives and programs without either raising taxes or cutting spending to the bone. Our people have tried to figure it out on our own but the numbers don’t add up any way we work them.

Prez: (Looking annoyed) Maybe you’re using that liberal new math or maybe you need to invest in a conservative calculator. Doesn’t anyone have a question about Iraq? I mean…we are about to have that nation’s first free elections and the press should be reporting the significance of that. Good, yes, over there.. little brown guy.

Journo #4: Operations in Iraq have cost American taxpayers nearly $200 billion already and continue to run at about $5 billion a month. How can the US afford that level of expenditure without a tax increase or massive program cuts?

Prez: Tax increases. That’s the liberal solution to every problem. Raise taxes. Tax and spend. Tax and spend.

Journo #5: But, sir, just explain your plan. Answer that question and then we can move on to the elections in Iraq. But you have not answered that question yet. Tell the American people – exactly how do you plan to cut the deficit in half AND pay for all this other stuff you promised during the campaign? Sir, we are waiting for an answer. And if we don’t get it at this news conference we will begin the next one with the same question.. until we get an answer where the numbers add up. Sir?

There! That’s how every news conference should go until the press gets answers that add up. The truth of course, is devastating, which is why it’s avoided at all cost. It’s the media’s job to expose the truth, not simply to parrot administration policies that can be easily exposed as false.

To encourage the administration to come clean with us and itself, the media should also run prime time reports produced by economic investigative journalists that layout in lay person’s language exactly what’s going on and where it will take us, as a nation, if we continue on the current path. If the administration objects, fine, then maybe they will stop shucking and jiving and present a case that makes economic sense when subjected to analysis.

Yo! White House journalists – listen up. Don’t you think it’s time to wipe that smirk off the president’s face when he talks about taxes and spending and Social Security? Start asking the hard questions:

  • What’s it going to cost?
  • Where are you going to get the money to pay for it?
  • Cut programs? Which? How much? When?
  • Spend now pay later? But you said you were going cut the deficit, not grow it?
  • Low interest rates will stimulate business growth? But deficits raise interest rates? So how can you be running up deficits and still claim your programs will keep interest rates low?
  • You will not raise taxes. You will not cut important programs. You will not withdraw from Iraq. How will you pay for all this?
  • How, how.. how… damn it, HOW ????
Demand real answers. Don't stand for the usual supply side dogma. Demand the kind of answers that can be checked and assumptions verified. Remember Reagan: "Trust, but verify." Or Bush's own "facts are stubborn things." So demand facts and be stubborn about it.

And, if the president dodges a question and outlaws follow ups, then agree between yourselves that the next reporter will pick the question up, and then the next and the next and so on until Bush runs out of canned talking points and either answers the question or storms off the stage in a huff.

This administration snookered the media on Iraq’s WMD. Now they are snookering you again on domestic economic policy. So get with it White House press corps. We want answers that add up -- or liars exposed.

That’s your job… in case you forgot.

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