Gimme Sacrifice

Think Progress objects to President Bush’s statement on PBS last night in answer to a question from Jim Lehrer about whether he has demanded enough “sacrifice” from the American people:

Lehrer: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you’ve just said–and you’ve said it many times–as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it’s that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military–the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They’re the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.

Bush: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we’ve got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.

Now, here in Washington when I say, “What do you mean by that?,” they say, “Well, why don’t you raise their taxes; that’ll cause there to be a sacrifice.” I strongly oppose that. If that’s the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I’m not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy. And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life’s moving on, that they’re able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table. And you know, I am interested and open-minded to the suggestion, but this is going to be–

Lehrer: Well–

Bush:—this is like saying why don’t you make sacrifices in the Cold War? I mean, Iraq is only a part of a larger ideological struggle. But it’s a totally different kind of war, than ones we’re used to.

Think Progress’ take on this answer is that Bush ignores the cost of the Iraq war — $700 billion through 2008 — which the blog writer implies ought to result in higher taxes on the wealthy.  One of TP’s commenters, “upside 100,” elaborates on this point:

WTF!!!!!

Peace of mind?? WOW, what a great sacrifice, and we sure wouldn’t want those Corporate Scumbags supporting this Cabal to suffer any more.

Let’s just have the troops carry all the death and injury and missed time with families. Wouldn’t want any “real” people to feel it.

What a bunch of elitist crap from Dubya and his whole merry band of NeoCon assholes!

WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

Of course the idea that watching disturbing TV equates to the kind of rationing regime this country experienced in World War II is ridiculous.  (Millions voluntarily watched a nuclear bomb explode near Los Angeles on 24 Monday night.) Although many American soldiers enlisted for WWII, many more were draftees, and this pattern continued through Korea and Vietnam.  I remember my high school economics teacher predicting that Lyndon Johnson’s refusal to raise taxes to pay for the Vietnam War would lead to inflation, and I think it’s common wisdom now that LBJ’s decision was a contributor to the high inflation of the 1970s.  

But there is an inconsistency in the views of Bush’s opponents.  They’re talking about taxes on “the wealthy.”  Does terrorism only affect “the wealthy?”  Do the remaining achievable war aims in Iraq only benefit “the wealthy?”  What if, as many assert, the wealthy already provide a disproportionate share of the government’s tax revenues?  There’s a lot of empirical evidence to this point.  Does that mean the wealthy have paid enough?  And if so, who do we tax next? 

Regardless of the need for them, or the equity of them, taxes are a drag on the part of the economy that is taxed.  There is no argument on this point — it’s classical economics.  You can tax the wealthy, but the wealthy simply will refuse to suffer very much.  They will, instead, reduce or relocate their economic activity, which means someone further down the economic ladder suffers. 

It would be optimal if we could raise taxes on the wealthy, and force them to earn the same amount as they did before the higher taxes, and to buy just as many luxury items as before, so we could be assured that the government’s revenue take would increase, and the economic harm would be forestalled.  But you can’t force a wealthy person to buy another yacht or to add a new manufacturing plant, or come up with another high-tech scheme.  They will react to the potential ROI, the bastards, and because higher taxes raise costs and depress the benefits of investments, they are less likely to do make them.

Another issue re: sacrifice.  What about civil liberties?  The Patriot Act is a direct result of 9/11.  Its critics say we are less free from government intrusion, and its supporters don’t disagree, but say the intrusions are necessary to thwart terrorism.   Increased security thus comes at a significant cost that permeates society — a sacrifice in my book.

Beyond that?  The sacrifice promoters need to make the case for specific sacrifices.  I’m certainly ready to make them.  But first tell me, what do you need? 

During WWII, we needed to ration fuel and meat in order to keep our troops supplied.  Do we need to do anything like that now?  We needed dramatically higher taxes in part because our defense systems were lacking at the outset of the war; we built a modern air force and navy almost from scratch, and we didn’t have a global military infrastructure. None of that pertains now.  Today’s American economy is a powerhouse; while $700 billion is a lot of money, we are apparently absorbing it. The deficit as a percentage of GDP is not especially high, and it’s shrinking.

It’s true; members of our military are paying the heaviest price.  Recruitment goals are being met, but in the future, we might need more than what voluntary enlistment gives us.  When the battles are over, if our country doesn’t do right by these heroes, that would be outrageous.  But my guess is, the leadership of this country in the 2020s and 2030s will heavily come from those who served and from their families. The sacrifice of our soldiers during this era won’t be forgotten.

Don’t just say “sacrifice” as if it’s self-evident.  Do your homework.  We need to sacrifice X for the cause of Y.  Then we’ll have something to debate. 

3 thoughts on “Gimme Sacrifice

  1. I saw most of the Lehrer interview with Bush. Very interesting. Lehrer asked good questions, but they were heavily loaded with his own opinions about what’s going on in Iraq. Heavily loaded. He seems unwilling to understand the world TODAY…the political, economic, and military environment that Bush is operating in. One of the eye-openers of this whole era is how much journalists, politicians and other key opinion leaders have mindsets rooted in the past.

    Lehrer just doesn’t seem to get that our economy is incredibly dependent on consumer spending. We now have a largely service-based, consumer economy. So, “sacrifice” has to be thought of very differently by the Bush Administration. He has to keep the economy humming — that is, keep consumer spending, real estate buying and all that — humming.

    Bush, however, is either unwilling or too inarticulate to explain this to Lehrer. He could be unwilling; the guy is a card player and likes to keep his cards close to the vest. The problem is — and I think David Brooks nailed it in the analysis afterwards — Bush just keeps missing opportunity after opportunity to explain and include the American people on this adventure. While “sacrifice” might no longer be the right concept, Bush has to find a way of including people and tapping into the full strength of this country to make the outcome positive in Iraq. I’ve lost faith that he will ever do this, I’m afraid. Still, a good outcome is not impossible….in time. Maybe a long time.

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