The Breakfast Table

Bush’s Fuzzy Math

Dear Chris and Walter,

A few closing thoughts. I’m glad Walter mentioned spending discipline. It’s been a pet peeve of mine in recent weeks that the president’s dividend tax cut has been so deceptively sold. And it disappointed me to see the single most disingenuous piece of hocus-pocus find its way into this constitutionally mandated address. I mean the passage about how “92 million Americans will keep this year an average of almost $1,100 more of their own money.” An average! Bush knows that his listeners will understand this as the median rebate—what the guy-in-the-street-with-three-kids-and-a-mortgage will get. But it’s not. It’s a mean rebate—what you get when you average out one guy who gets a million dollars and 99 others who receive $18.29.

Another annoying trope is the old populist one of comparing the privileges of congressmen with those of the poor. “Just like you,” Bush admonished the chamber, “all seniors should have the choice of a health-care plan that provides prescription drugs.” Congressman is a pretty substantial job. Does it bother Bush that congressmen have a health plan that is relatively good? Evidently not, because he railed against national health care later in the speech. The “just like you” is a cheap piece of socialist demagoguery.

But the meat of the speech was Iraq. There was one task Bush needed to accomplish: to shift the potential grounds for war from weapon discoveries to Saddam’s non-cooperation. And he did it. Now I can wait for next year’s speech.

Thanks for an enjoyable few days of chat. It’s been my high privilege and distinct honor.