Gerson Again

I suppose in some sense it’s better that it’s now The Washington Post’s dollars that are going to pay Michael Gerson to lie on George W. Bush’s behalf rather than our tax dollars, but the paper should really consider sitting him down and reminding him that while “lying on behalf of George W. Bush” is the key task of a Bush administration aide, a newspaper columnist should be doing something else. I mean, what are we supposed to make of this?

First, Rove argues that Republicans win as activist reformers, in the tradition of Lincoln, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. “We were founded as a reformist party,” he said in our conversation this week, “not to be against something, but to help the little guy get ahead.” The models he cites are 401(k)s and the mortgage interest deduction — government policies that encouraged individual wealth and ownership. Then Rove spent several minutes describing, with wonkish delight, the momentum and virtues of health savings accounts, a Bush-era innovation allowing individuals to save tax-free for routine medical expenses.

Look, I dunno. It’s mean to call people liars. And probably inappropriate. I have no real basis for my beliefs about Gerson’s mental state. Maybe he’s just ignorant. Maybe he has no idea that all of these programs provide much more assistance to rich people than they do to poor people. Maybe he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. But that’s bad, too. 401(k)s aren’t a way to help the little guy get ahead. Neither is the mortgage interest deduction. Neither are Health Savings Accounts. These are all ways to sharply reduce the taxes of rich people.

If Karl Rove ever described these programs “with wonkish delight” as a way to help the little guy get ahead, then the moral of the story is that Rove is a moron, unfamiliar with the basic aspects of public policy. More likely, Rove knew exactly what he was doing and saw promotion of these policies as just the sort of cynical move Gerson denies Rove would ever contemplate — a way to mislead voters into supporting a political agenda aimed at securing the interests of the rich. But what’s Gerson doing? Why is the Post publishing these columns? The White House has its own press operation.