. . . In Clinton's great con game


BILL Clinton says one thing and does another. He is the most deceptive salesman to enter national life since Richard Nixon (who ran as a conservative but expanded the bureaucratic state and imposed wage and price controls). Mr. Clinton is more deft than Nixon, though. He can sell you a noose while persuading you it's a diamond necklace.

The pattern was apparent during the transition. Mr. Clinton publicly chided feminist "bean counters" -- giving the impression of distance from their agenda -- but then proceeded to enact their quotas with exactitude. Similarly, during the campaign, Mr. Clinton was able to achieve credibility with Reagan Democrats by firm talk of "ending welfare as we know it." Yet his economic proposals represent a windfall for the poverty establishment, with billions in new spending earmarked for Head Start, WIC (Women, Infants and Children nutrition program), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (for the homeless), dislocated workers, food stamps, job training, drug abuse, child care and cash grant programs.

This re-legitimization of what Margaret Thatcher called "the nanny state" is being sold as fiscal responsibility. Mr. Clinton sounds as though he is selling across-the-board sacrifice to reverse the baleful trend of "the past 12 years" in which debt has come to dominate the budget.

In a particularly catchy gimmick, the president challenges his critics to come up with their own cuts. "Tell me where, and be specific," he teases, "no more hot air." This gets tumultuous applause. But it is quite breathtakingly deceptive. One place he could cut is the $178 billion (Sen. Pete Domenici's figure) in new spending he is proposing.

Can it work? Only in the short run. In the long run, the president's ambition, to revive faith in government and encourage dependence upon it, will run smack into public skepticism about the bloated federal behemoth. The Perot boomlet was fueled, in large measure, by disgust with the wasteful habits of Washington.

If Mr. Clinton had stood before Congress last week and called for a return to activist government, if he had truthfully labeled his plan as a reprise of the tax-and-spend policies of the past, it would have required a magnifying glass to find his public support.

As we fill out our 1040 "contribution" forms in the coming weeks and contemplate the even higher taxes to be unveiled in the spring for Mr. Clinton's nationalized health care system, we can take solace in thinking about what our money will buy.

Martin Gross' book, "The Government Racket," provides details of government spending Bill and Hillary would like us to forget. We spend $1 billion a year to maintain the fleet of 340,000 government cars -- 190,000 for civilian agencies and 150,000 for the military. That's one car for every 10 federal civilian employees.

We spend $56 billion per year on farm subsidies, which increases the price of food for every consumer by about 12 percent per year. We subsidize former speakers of the House for life, footing the bill for three staffers at salaries of up to $96,000.

The House chaplain gets a salary of $115,000 per year. Members of Congress get 18 staffers each. Senators get 40. Salaries range up to $102,000 per year.

We spent $2 billion last year for federal office furnishings. We employed 4,000 publicists for the government at salaries of up to $84,000. And we operated 1,200 airplanes to ferry government hot shots about. Cost? About $1 billion.

Happy "contributing."

Mona Charen writes a syndicated column.

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