George F. Will: Cultivating our bewitchment

Published: December 6, 2012
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What is to blame for today's huge imbalance? The Bush tax cuts? The recession? Obama's spending? Dorfman answers yes, yes and yes — but that “spending is the main culprit” because: Today federal revenue is $2.67 trillion (slightly less than “the Clinton equivalent”) and spending is $3.76 trillion, so we are spending $987 billion more than we would be if we had just increased Bill Clinton's last budget for inflation and population growth.

“Philosophy,” said the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” In unphilosophic Washington, bewitchment is cultivated. Notice how quickly and thoroughly a phrase used intermittently for more than 50 years — “fiscal cliff” — was made ubiquitous by one of Washington's least flamboyant speakers (Ben Bernanke). This melodramatic language encourages the supposition that plunging off the (metaphorical) cliff is unthinkable. But as this column has hitherto noted, the cliff's consequences — huge tax increases and defense cuts — are progressivism's agenda. And Obama needs to restock the pantry where he stores his excuses for his economic policy failures. The tax increases would augment his policy of enlarging government's control of the nation's economic output, and he could henceforth blame continuing economic anemia on Republicans who supposedly should have averted what progressives desire.

The shrillness of “cliff” talk bewitches minds that should be skeptical about the supposed point of all this — deficit reduction. Conservatives, many of whom are such because they understand government's metabolic urge to metastasize, believe that spending cuts will be chimeras.

Given Obama's “principled” stance against “obdurate” Republicans, the cliff can be dodged only by imposing tax policies that further darken the nation's future, and government spending would continue to rise even under the sequester-imposed “austerity.” More bewitchment of intelligence by language.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP