Tuesday, February 1, 2005

The Everett Dirkson Billion

Depending upon who you ask, the Iraq war has thus far cost between $300-390 billion and we’re what, halfway through the slog? Maybe a third, or a quarter. Then, once we can finally pull back or pull out, there’s the little item of rebuilding what we’ve bombed into rubble. A trillion?  A trillion and a half?


Everett Dirkson, that not-so-long-ago Senator from Illinois famously said, “a billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”  Ev was a sort of ’55 Buick Roadmaster of politics and they don’t make ‘em like Dirkson any more. A man of considerable depth, his replacements in the Senate today, with the possible exception of John McCain, are by comparison a mile wide and an inch deep.


Wars are unpopular in this country. We just don’t love war like we ought to and, because of that, we’re not all that happy about paying for them. And our various presidents, being the ultimate political animals they are, hate like the very devil to ask us to pay for them. But of course we do . . . ultimately . . .  in one way or another. Ann Landers taught us about free lunches and how there are none. Someone less known mentioned chickens coming home to roost and there, for now, we’ll let the barnyard metaphor rest.


But in Davos, Switzerland this week the world’s fat-cats were talking about the cost to America of the Iraq war. Talk in the morning, ski in the afternoon, that was the schedule. Pretty cushy. Most attendees could care less about the cost to America; they’re concerned about the cost to the rest of the world, specifically their own corner of it now that Asia and Europe are getting weary of supporting unending deficit spending in the US of A. Tired as well (and more than a little frightened) of unparalleled increases in the American trade imbalance.


Harry Truman ran a largely untaxed war in Korea, then John Kennedy started one in Vietnam that Lyndon Johnson ran with so hard it ran him out of office. We paid the price later, following the Ann Landers rule, in recessions and huge interest rates, rates that soared to 22% at one point. So, what George Bush is doing to us right now is not new and it’s not unknown territory and I can only wonder how often we need to get kicked in the ass before we call it what it is.


George, if you want to fight this war that no one else wants or wanted to fight, at least make us pay for it! Ask those born-again Christians who love your crusading ways so much to dig into their pockets and tithe your war. Make the rest of us follow along, starting with Dick and Donald, Condoleezza and Karl, the ones to whom you gave such enormous tax breaks. If we’re gonna have to play the patriotic game and watch our kids come back in body-bags, then get out in front, lead the band and stop pretending it's all for free.


If you need help with that as a concept, ask your dad. He was many things as president, but above all he was an honest man.