Say what you will about the editorial direction of the Wall Street Journal since its purchase by Rupert Murdoch. You’ll be in good company, as your fellow readers (present company included) have already said plenty. Plenty about the paper’s yet-further rightward shift in tone. Plenty about the risky strategy of positioning the paper as a “first-read” competitor to the New York Times, rather than the business person’s secondary “must-read.” Plenty about the eclectic content of the paper’s newish Saturday edition.
And it’s on a Saturday that, having had the rare leisure to read the paper from front to back, I had the following thought: the Saturday WSJ now equals or even surpasses the Sunday NYTin thoughtfulness and relevance on matters political and economic. Political point-of-view aside, today’s paper prompted me to do the damndest thing: actually to think about the thematic connections between the stories inside.
Consider this. One of the highlights of my highlights of my life was less than a month ago as I sat with a million or so frozen-toed compatriots and listened to our new President invoke the Apostle Paul in exhorting America to “put away childish things.” Or somewhat less poetically, “to grow the hell up.” This was the beginning, I was sure, of what I’d wanted from my President since beforeI rang doorbells for him in Sioux City last January: a new rhetoric of straightforward responsibility and tough choices. An outright repudiation of the Cheney Doctrine, that “the American way of life is non-negotiable.” An acknowledgement, as Jeb Bush put it in his WSJ interview with Fred Barnes, of the importance of such rhetoric to real leadership. Sounding quite wonkish, with a book about the Swedish education system tucked under this arm:
As Mr. Bush explains it, an exhausting strategy is required. “You have to have an aspirational goal, and you have to communicate it over and over and over. You have to have the humility to recognize that people aren’t watching your every word. . . . You have to be constantly adding to the reforms. You have to take the risk of measuring the success or lack of it. You have to be held accountable . . . Sometimes it’s not fun.”
One is left understanding Barbara Bush’s bemusement that George and not Jeb was anointed to extend the Bush dynasty, given that President Bush 43 most closely associated “wonk” with the sound made when an ax collides with a cedar tree. But I digress.
Disappointingly, there’s been little room for “grow the hell up” rhetoric in the first few weeks of the Obama administration. First, there’s been the need for an economic stimulus package to unstick the economy. And as Bradley Schiller points out, the passage of that package has required from the adminstration a quantum of alarmism, together with the defection of the Senators Collins, Snow, and Specter. And second, there’s been the not very adult behavior of a whole host of erstwhile Obama acolytes who whose corner-cutting cost them their roles and Obama a great measure of credibility.
But this morning, on A4 of the WSJ, hope!
With a $787 billion stimulus package in hand, President Barack Obama will pivot quickly to address a budget deficit that could now approach $2 trillion this year.
Speaking Friday to business leaders at the White House, the president defended the surge of spending in the stimulus plan, but he made sure to add: “It’s important for us to think in the midterm and long term. And over that midterm and long term, we’re going to have to have fiscal discipline. We are not going to be able to perpetually finance the levels of debt that the federal government is currently carrying.”
Along those lines, White House budget director Peter R. Orszag has committed to instituting tougher budget-discipline rules — once the economy turns around. Those include a mandate that any “nonemergency” spending increases be offset by equal spending cuts or tax increases.
Officials say the budget blueprint to be released this month will also attempt to make public the full extent of the dire fiscal situation, by not repeating some of the accounting used in crafting President George W. Bush’s budgets. Recent budget blueprints excluded from deficit projections the long-term costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those budgets also didn’t include the cost of preventing the alternative minimum tax — instituted in 1969 to ensure the rich didn’t escape taxation — from hitting the middle class.
In other words, grown ups-acknowledge that a hamburger today has a real cost in terms of hamburgers available tomorrow. That we are talking about almost three times the deficit level that we were mere months ago, when I was freaking out about that number. Such is the stuff of rhetoric requisite of Presidential leadership.
And, such is the stuff of a very interesting newspaper read.