Gail Collins: Bret, you recently assured me that you were excited about Joe Biden’s big spending initiatives. Do I remember it well? And are you still part of the team?
I’m just looking for an update to brighten up the day.
Bret Stephens: Gail, I’ll get back to you on that in a second, but I wanted to follow up on last week’s conversation by sharing another piece of information about President Chester Arthur that I learned from a reader. As a New York Harbor collector, Arthur gave one of his favorite authors a steady job, a moody has-been writer named Herman Melville. It took another 50 years, when both men were long dead, until Melville was widely regarded as one of our greatest writers, proving, among other things, that our 21st president had a better taste for letters than for mustaches.
Gaëlle: I can see that one of our ongoing crusades in 2021 is going to be the elevation of the presidential position of Chester Arthur. A much better pastime than tennis or collecting stamps.
Bret: One day you will have to tell me what you have against tennis. When it comes to Biden’s spending plans, my feelings are mixed, especially now that I’ve seen the price. It reminds me of when my parents took me to FAO Schwarz, the Manhattan toy mecca of its time. I wanted all. I settled for a new Lego set. I think it’s up to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to be the parents in this scenario and tell the administration to be a little more selective in their spending priorities.
What is your opinion ? If you had to shrink Biden’s wishlist, what would you save and what would you delete?
Gaëlle: Well maybe I would start off by stating that we are going big and doing everything. Admit, I never thought Joe Biden would be a transformational president – but his vision seems fair for our time. The child tax credit program will lift many children out of poverty. The right to preschool and community college could transform the outlook for so many young people.
And you, give me two things that you really like and two things that you really don’t like.
Bret: My basic criterion is that I am for programs that create jobs and leave lasting benefits, especially large and essential infrastructure projects like the Gateway Tunnel project under the Hudson River.
Gaëlle: Come on, Gateway tunnel!
Bret: I am also supportive of investing in community colleges that help young people learn essential job skills.
Gaëlle: Always with you …
Bret: And I am against programs that have fleeting benefits and discourage work. So the program I am most opposed to is the Child Tax Credit, which looks like liberal nirvana but would be difficult to administer and has no work requirements, effectively reversing the gains made by the country after Bill Clinton’s welfare reform. I’m not too keen on the huge expansion of Medicare, another noble-sounding effort that will push an even bigger program in financial difficulty towards insolvency.
Gaëlle: Clinton’s welfare reform was an attempt to quell Reagan’s hysteria about outrageous “welfare queens.” I’ve always thought it was less about changing the system and more about changing the conversation.
Bret: Nice point, but if it is true, I wonder why the Liberals hated it so much back then.
Gaëlle: Obviously, it would be ideal for Biden to quickly put every low-income family on a program that would protect children from poverty while giving jobs to adults. But that would be a huge government lift: slow in deployment and so big and complicated that it would drive even moderates mad.
I would be happy to subscribe to that kind of plan for the long haul, but right now families just have to pay for food and shelter.
Bret: I agree with your first point. Large government programs always seem noble in theory, if only they weren’t accompanied by incompetent bureaucracies and unintended consequences.
My biggest worry here is that dramatic increases in federal spending, coupled with low interest rates from the Fed, will spur inflation in a way that will hurt the middle class and require a Volcker remedy before too. long time. Are you optimistic about the economy?
Gaëlle: Yes, if the government can give a helping hand, I am optimistic in the long term. And once things are on their way to a serious and stable recovery, we can start talking about cutting spending. But Biden is right: now is the time to go further and give the economy a boost.
Bret: Hope you are right because if you are not we are going to have a really bad time. I remember the soaring inflation in Mexico in the early 1980s. It causes people to make bad long term decisions to avoid bad short term outcomes, like spending rather than saving because their money just keeps on going. to lose value. It fuels dangerous populist political tendencies, as the Germans know from history. And the cure for sky-high interest rates can be almost as painful as the disease.
Gaëlle: Meanwhile, on a lighter note, the Olympics begin! Do you have any predictions or do you just hate it all?
Bret: I wish the athletes good luck, but I really deteriorated in the games. Too many doping scandals and questionable medals, too many Corruption to the International Olympic Committee, too high level athletes to walk away, too unreasonable abuse of young athletes, too much selfish nationalism. Maybe someone could restore the original noble spirit of the games, but I really find it hard to see any usefulness today, especially in an age when venues for top international sports do not miss.
Gaëlle: It’s hard to get excited about the Olympic Committee, but I still love watching young people compete desperately in… badminton. Or fencing or water polo. Just celebrate what you need to do to win some of the more obscure sports.
Bret: I’m just waiting for the Olympic committee to accept “Enraging Readers” as a legitimate sport so I can go for gold.
Gaëlle: I have to admit the Games were a lot more exciting then. We’re just weary of the world right now. People are going to fly into space and everyone is yawning and saying, “Oh my God, another rich guy stuntman.”
Bret: I’m the one raising my hand in case Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos wants the distinction of sending the first expert into space, and maybe leaving him there. On another topic, Gail, what do you think of Joe Biden claiming that Facebook is “killing people” with Covid misinformation?
Gaëlle: I believe Biden once agreed that Putin was a killer. Which seemed appropriate. But then, if you make the same accusation on Facebook, you sort of decrease the verbal aggression.
Bret: Yes, “Vladimir Zuckerberg” seems slightly offbeat.
Gaëlle: I can understand the chairman’s frustration. There are people who use sites like Facebook to spread terrible lies. Lots of digital leaders are trying to tackle it, but maybe not hard enough. You’re a lot smarter than me about this stuff, what do you think?
Bret: What Biden said was quite unfortunate. First of all, a US president should always err in defending the principle of free speech. I seem to remember a certain former president accusing the media of being the enemy of the people, which was filthy. Now, Biden has essentially made the same accusation against social media. Second, I think Facebook has already been far too active in censoring content, for example by banning mention of the Covid lab leak theory in February of this year until it is forced to lift it. ban when the theory became more widely accepted.
Gaëlle: You arrive strong. Carry on.
Bret: Accepting the importance of free speech means accepting the reality that freedom of speech will sometimes be used for purposes we abhor. We protect bad speech because we understand that the alternative, in the form of censorship, is worse. We protect it because we have the humility to recognize that what looks bad to many of us in the present may seem right to many others in the future. We protect it because, as Jefferson says, “error of opinion can be tolerated where reason is free to fight it.” Bad speech, like flies or mice, is part of the larger ecology of truth: to find out what is right you have to know what is wrong, and to know what is wrong you have to allow it.
If Biden had just said, “If you can get the vaccine and decide not to, then you have made up your mind: don’t ask for sympathy or money when you get sick,” he would have made his point. view much more efficiently. .
Gaëlle: You know, everyone always tells me that they love our conversations because we can fight without getting angry. But the fights don’t really work if there is no movement. I officially decree that you have scored the winning point today.
Bret: No, the winning points are just for tennis.