Sunday, July 17, 2005

Yeah, What They Said.

Mrs. Fausto and I are in Vermont this weekend, picking up Faustoette from her first stint at sleep-away camp. (There's another essay in that, but it's not today's subject.) While here, we picked up a copy of the Rutland Herald.

What a little gem of a paper! Here's yesterday's editorial, reposted in its entirety:

Politics of dishonesty

July 16, 2005

It is easy for liberals to get in a huff over the dishonesty that has characterized the Bush administration. The furor surrounding Karl Rove and the vindictive unmasking of a CIA agent is the latest case in point.

But there are reasons other than moral offensiveness to avoid politics of dishonesty. There is a good practical case to be made that honesty, while sometimes inconvenient, is more effective in achieving long-term gains in public policy and that dishonesty, while sometimes providing advantages, is self-defeating.

The selling of the Iraq war is exhibit A in the perils of dishonesty. It is widely understood that President Bush and his administration were determined to go to war in Iraq and that they made up reasons why war was necessary. There were no weapons of mass destruction, but they manipulated intelligence to make it seem there were. Bush argued that war would only be a last resort, but now we know it was a first resort.

Now that we are in Iraq we may be inclined to write off Bush's rationale for war as irrelevant. But the pattern was established, and we have begun to witness how dishonest practices do long-term damage.

When Bush began his second term, he let it be known that major reforms in Social Security were his top priority. He got into trouble when he fell into the old habit, resorting to scare tactics to sell his program. He traveled the country warning that Social Security was going bankrupt and that we needed private accounts.

After the dishonest manner of selling the Iraq war, people did not trust what he had to say about Social Security, and the falsehood of his claims quickly became evident. Social Security needed some adjustments, we learned, but it was not going bankrupt. And private accounts had no connection to the system's solvency. In fact, they would make it worse.

What if Bush's Social Security program had been a good one? He would still have suffered the credibility problem created by the war, and even achieving worthwhile ends would have been made more difficult.

There is something to be said for a politics of bipartisanship, which enlists people of both parties to craft a program that will enjoy wide support. Neither side will get everything it wants. But experienced public servants say that the process drives the policy. In other words, a policy hatched by a narrow coterie of ideologues will suffer from narrowness. Policy hatched out of a process where people work together will bring people in, and people will be more invested in the outcome. They will want to make it work.

For people to work together they need to trust one another, and trust is destroyed by lies. Lyndon Johnson was no paragon of honesty, but he helped craft some of the important legislation of the last century by working with politicians from both parties. Medicare was one of the results. Bush's Medicare reform was shoved through Congress on the basis of dishonest claims and without bipartisan support, and the product was as flawed as the process.

Dishonesty won Bush two elections — there were those smears against John McCain in 2000 and against John Kerry in 2004. It is beginning to seem dishonesty may be his undoing as president.


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