‘Smoke and Mirrors,’ The Anderson Analysis

-By John Armor

Anybody remember John Anderson? Let’s not always see the same hands. John Anderson was a Congressman from Illinois who ran as an independent for President in 1980. I remember him well, because I was involved in his campaign from the beginning.

Yes, all my life I’ve had a penchant for lost causes. Call it the Rhett Butler syndrome – Rhett joined the Confederacy only after the burning of Atlanta. I wrote a key memorandum to John Anderson urging him to drop out of the Republican Party and out of a debate in Dallas on 22 March as I recall, declare as an independent, and use the method I suggested to make the ballot in all 50 states. He did that, and that, and achieved that access.

Anyway, fringe candidates don’t have the same obligation to avoid saying anything that will offend anyone, on any basis, to the extent that can be done. Therefore, fringe candidates occasionally speak snippets of truth that go right to the heart of the matter. Anderson did that in 1980.

He said of Reagan’s pledge to cut taxes and increase military spending that it could only be done “with smoke and mirrors.” This is not a new complaint about political promises. At the time of Napoleon the question was whether France could afford both “guns and butter.”

Today, we have a candidate who promises to cut taxes, while making transfer payments for various purposes to 40 percent of all Americans. Now, that candidate wants to cut military spending (while we are in a declared war), but vastly increase social spending. When the subject is the overall budget, it doesn’t matter whether the extra funds are going to military or civilian purposes. All that matters are total outlays against total income.

In short, Barack Obama’s promises of tax cuts and welfare increases have the same defects that Anderson identified in President Reagan’s promises. They can only be done by using “smoke and mirrors.” In short, the magician’s trick of concealing what is right in front of the audience is the only way to make it seem to work.

Joey Bishop covered the same point in a line from a very forgettable film, saying to his wife, “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your lying eyes?”

Do we have any confirmation from inside the Obama Campaign that their promises don’t match and are self-contradictory? Why, yes, we do. And we have the Times of London to thank for it. The lede in an article published there today (31 October, on Halloween) says this:

“Barack Obama’s senior advisers have drawn up plans to lower expectations for his presidency if he wins next week’s election, amid concerns that many of his euphoric supporters are harboring unrealistic hopes of what he can achieve.”

The article claims that Obama himself is “engaged already in expectation lowering.” It offers quotes this week from an Obama interview with a Colorado radio station and a speech in Sarasota as evidence that the candidate is backing away from his assertions that all his promises can be carried out.

A digression: This is only a matter of common sense. Why is this being published only in a reputable newspaper in Great Britain? Why isn’t it being published in any reputable newspaper in the United States? Is there not a single H.L. Mencken living and writing somewhere in the US who can stand up on his hind legs and attack contradictory promises as flat out bunk?

Mencken described is function as a journalist to “drive by sanctuaries at midnight, and throw in dead cats.” No offense meant to cat lovers, but we have entirely too many sanctuaries in the 2008 election that have a crying need for one or more dead cats.

We’ll see on Tuesday whether a majority of American voters manage to figure out the flimflam, without the American press doing its job.
John Armor is a graduate of Yale, and Maryland Law School, and has 33 years practice at law in the US Supreme Court. Mr. Armor has authored seven books and over 750 articles. Armor happily lives on a mountaintop in the Blue Ridge. He can be reached at: John_Armor@aya.yale.edu

Copyright Publius Forum 2001