OK, conservative readers, warm up the great Ronald Reagan line from his debate with Jimmy Carter: “There you go again.” Cuz I’m going to talk about taxes. And honesty in communication. And hypocrisy.
Wednesday morning on Minnesota Public Radio’s Marketplace, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum talked about how inflation is likely to return when we baby boomers want to collect on the government promise of Social Security. The government won’t be able to meet its commitment, so it will inflate its way out of the problem by printing money, Frum said, disparagingly, like a good conservative (he’s a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute).
Still tut-tutting, he continued, “That’s what happened in the 1960s, when the United States decided to build a Great Society and fight a war in Vietnam, all at the same time, without raising taxes. Let’s borrow the money. And how will we pay it back? Easy — just print it.”
Frum clearly holds this up as an example of bad behavior. But either half his brain fell out of his skull or he’s so used to hypocrisy from too long in the Bush White House that he can’t recognize that queasy feeling in his soul. He’s describing exactly what his former boss is doing — trying to fight a war and fund domestic programs without raising taxes. But no mention of that in his piece.
Frum loses credibility as a commentator when he doesn’t concede that the people he worked for are making the same mistake he correctly cites from the Lyndon Johnson years. All I’m asking is a little humility and honesty and I’ll be much more likely to listen to this conservative’s view.
Too many Republicans are so dogmatic about “no new taxes” that they’re willing to pass the bill for today’s spending to their children and grandchildren to pay. That’s just cowardly, in my view.
But the communications lesson here is that when you concede error, admit when you’ve goofed up, people are much more likely to find you credible and human and listen to your point. If you don’t admit an obvious flaw, you’ll sound self-righteous. Criticizing your partner for doing exactly what you yourself are doing is called projection, in marriage counseling, and it’s a very unsuccessful way to communicate or build a relationship. I, of course, never do anything like this myself — but if I did, I’d tell you, to be more credible.