WASHINGTON - It should be clear to all by now that what we have in the Bush team is a faith-based administration. It launched a faith-based war in Iraq, on the basis of faith-based intelligence, with a faith-based plan for Iraqi reconstruction, supported by faith-based tax cuts to generate faith-based revenues. This group believes that what matters in politics and economics are conviction and will - not facts, social science or history.
Personally, I don't believe the Bush team will pay a long-term political price for its faith-based intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Too many Americans, including me, believe in their guts that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, even if the WMD intel was wrong.
The Bush team's real vulnerability is its BMD - Budgets of Mass Destruction, which have recklessly imperiled the nation's future, with crazy tax-cutting and out-of-control spending. The latest report from the Congressional Budget Office says the deficit is expected to total some $2.4 trillion over the next decade - almost $1 trillion more than the prediction of just five months ago. That is a failure of intelligence and common sense that threatens to make us all insecure - and people also feel that in their guts.
As Peter Peterson, the former Nixon commerce secretary and a longtime courageous advocate of fiscal responsibility, puts it in Running on Empty, his forthcoming book: "In the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan galvanized the American electorate with that famous riff: 'I want to ask every American: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?' Perhaps some future-oriented presidential candidate should rephrase this line as follows: 'I want to ask every American, young people especially: Is your future better off now than it was four years ago - now that you are saddled with these large new liabilities and the higher taxes that must eventually accompany them?'"
While in his book Mr. Peterson equally indicts Democrats and Republicans as co-conspirators in the fiscal follies of our times, the Democrats should still follow his lead and make this their campaign mantra: "Is your future better off now than it was four years ago?" That's what's on people's minds. It should be coupled with the bumper sticker: "Read My Lips: No New Services. Bush Gave All the Money Away." And it should be backed up with a responsible Democratic alternative on both taxes and spending.
That is the only way to expose what the shameful coalition of Karl Rove-led cynics, who care only about winning the next election, voodoo economists preaching supply-side economics, and libertarian nuts who think that by cutting tax revenues you'll shrink the government - when all you do is balloon the deficit - is doing to our future.
And please don't tell me the tax cuts are working. Of course they're working! If you put this much stimulus into our economy - three tax cuts, loose monetary policy and out-of-control spending - it will produce a boom. Eat 10 chocolate bars at once and you'll also get a rush. But at what long-term cost?
"Quite simply," argues Mr. Peterson, "those bell-bottomed young boomers of the 1960s have fully matured. The oldest of them, born in 1946, are only six years away from the median age of retirement on Social Security (63). As a result, our large pension and health care benefit programs will soon experience rapidly accelerating benefit outlays. ... Thus, at a time when the federal government should be building up surpluses to prepare for the aging of the baby boom generation, it is engaged in another reckless experiment with large and permanent tax cuts. America cannot grow its way out of the kinds of long-term deficits we now face. ... The odds are growing that today's ballooning trade and fiscal deficits, the so-called twin deficits, will someday trigger an explosion that causes the economy to sink - not rise."
The same Bush folks who assured us Mr. Hussein had WMD now assure us these budgets of mass destruction don't matter. Sure. "During the Vietnam War," notes Mr. Peterson, "conservatives relentlessly pilloried Lyndon Johnson for his fiscal irresponsibility. But he only wanted guns and butter. Today, so-called conservatives are out-pandering LBJ. They must have it all: guns, butter and tax cuts."
This is so irresponsible, and it will end in tears. Remember, says Mr. Peterson, long-term tax cuts without long-term spending cuts are not tax cuts. They are "tax deferrals" - with the burden to be borne by your future or your kid's future.
If this isn't the election issue, I don't know what is.
Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.