In his brilliant political advice to the leader of Florence in 1512, "The Prince", Niccolo Machiavelli offered four choices:
A. Be honest; Appear to be honest
B. Be dishonest, Appear to be dishonest.
C. Be honest, Appear to be dishonest.
D. Be dishonest; Appear to be honest.
Most American poliiticians follow the advice of the Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Signoria, pursuing Plan D. After hearing President Obama twice claim that he was putting "domestic discretionary spending" on a path to be the lowest since the Eisenhower administration, I figured it was worth a look on some fact checking sites - PolitiFact (relatively liberal) and FactCheck.org.(relatively moderate) It couldn't just be a lie could it?
My first reaction is to revert to Bill Buckley's great put-down: "Sir, I am not going to insult your intelligence by pretending that you believe what you just said." But maybe our president does! And maybe the media does too. This isn't a question of where John Wayne was born which got Michelle Bachmann much attention, it gets at the centerpiece of the liberal philosophy.
Like much of Washington budgeting it is all about timing and definitions. Forget the fact that intervening administrations have created a Department of Education and a Department of Energy. Forget Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind. Hell, forget all of Lyndon Johnson Great Society. The President said it so it must be true. Right?
Well, a few caveats:
1. We'll be on a path. The basic calculation is that Ike's number was 2.2% of GDP and Obama's vision will get us to 2.1% in 2015. Forget the fact that his 2012 budget (that was defeated 97 - 0 in the Senate) put discretionary non-security spending at 3.4% of GDP. If future Congresses and the next President follow his vision we'll get there.
2. Fortuitously for politicians, definitions have changed over the past half century and even the fact checkers cannot connect all of the dots. (Obama's categorization changes from non-defense to non-security.) What they do know is that things like the highway system have become "non-discretionary" as have Pell grants for college tuition. It helps to eliminate from the discussion Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Obamacare as "non-discretionary". And "security", that's a bigger category that gobbles up a lot of stuff that previously would not have been considered "defense" - well, get rid of the Department of Homeland Security stuff for example.
Somewhere on the staff of David Axelrod or David Plouffe there's got to be a junior intern looking up what the Secretary to the Second Chancery had to say about how to maintain the appearance of honesty in the face of deliberate distortions that are obviously false on their face. Perhaps she'll send a tweet.
This week's video is a brief clip of the glorious victories by our Libyan allies four and a half months into the non-hostilities which have conservatively cost over a half billion dollars thus far.