The Breakfast Table

The Puffers vs. The Masochists

Thanks a lot, Chait. Now you’ve given me two topics to discuss about which I know nothing–Byzantium and basketball. I know, I know, that’s why I became a journalist, but still.

On the Byzantine front, don’t let your enthusiasm run away with you–remember what you said yesterday about their not making the news much these days. On the basketball front, I’ll just note that my husband agrees with you. George doesn’t like Michael Jordan for the same reason you don’t–he’s not a team player.

Speaking of teams (note graceful segue), how ‘bout that Dream Team Clinton has collected to defend him in the Senate? Even as I write, White House counsel Charles Ruff is pointing at charts and records that, he says, highlight discrepancy in the House managers’ case. He is a dull speaker, but his wheelchair lends him added gravitas. Not only have team members ample fresh experience in defending felons–make that alleged felons–from Oliver North to the Kennedy clan, but they present a striking picture of America’s diversity. Take that, white-male members of the prosecution!

You really have to hand it to the Clinton folks–they do puff to perfection. Of course it helps to have a bunch of masochists as your opposition–the Republicans’ penchant for self-inflicted pain would be the envy of many a medieval monk. But even so, you have to give the White House credit. Tonight’s State of the Union address promises to be another p.r. triumph for the president. The Republicans can’t give him the cold shoulder or they will look churlish. But if they do the standard dutiful applause, they look like hypocrites.

And the White House has already primed the press with promises of new programs. Each has been carefully picked and labeled to elicit the maximum popular response. Kids, the long-term disabled, displaced workers, unemployed fathers! Who could be agin them! Of course the president won’t propose any straightforward ways to help these folks. That would mean having to assign people to monitor whether the programs actually do any good, not to mention adding to the spending side of the budget (boo, hiss!). Instead he’ll disguise the subsidies as yet another bunch of tax credits (hurray, applause!)–thereby adding to the ghastly complexity of the tax code and the workload of the harried IRS. (This will also give everyone an opportunity for another popular round of IRS bashing.)

Of course, as was the case with last year’s State of the Union promises, most of these will never find their way into law. But there is the danger that merely by proposing some good ideas–notably the establishment of federal education standards as a condition for receipt of federal aid–the president will put the kiss of death on them as far as the GOP is concerned.

Well, don’t let me keep you from your Turkish delights.