Gail Collins: Bret, we have all kinds of deeply important issues to tackle. But let’s start with Tucker Carlson. We’ve learned he didn’t really believe all the stuff he said on TV about a “stolen” election. Shocking!
Bret Stephens: They say that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, but in this case it’s the tribute that cynicism pays to cowardice.
Gail: Since you’re in charge of that side of our world, I really want to hear your opinion.
Bret: I sometimes think of Carlson in the same mold as Father Coughlin, but worse: At least Coughlin was an honest-to-God fascist, a sincere bigot, whereas Carlson only plays one on TV for the sake of ratings.
Gail: Wow, been a while since I heard a Father Coughlin comparison.
Bret: As for Fox, the way in which they are trying to “respect” their viewers is to lie to them. I can only wish Dominion Voting Systems well in its $1.6 billion lawsuit against the network for claiming that their voting machines played a role in Trump’s loss. I believe in strong protections against frivolous lawsuits, but knowingly and recklessly spreading falsehoods about the subject of one’s reporting is the very definition of — dare I say it — fake news.
Gail: Glad we can come together on the importance of not making up the news.
Bret: But Gail, let’s move on to weightier things. Like President Biden’s dead-on-arrival $6.8 trillion budget. Your thoughts?
Gail: Yippee! Whenever I wonder if we’re ever going to have a serious fight again, government spending rears its head.
So let’s have at it. Obviously, Biden knows his plans aren’t going anywhere with a Republican-sort-of-controlled House. But he’s laying his cards down, and I think the cards look great.
Gail: He’s ready to raise taxes on the rich. Good for him! Right now the Republicans seem to be claiming we can keep taxes as they are, or lower, plus protect Social Security and Medicare, plus protect or increase military spending.
Which would, I believe, cut the rest of the budget by 70 percent.
Bret: To steal a line from “Pride and Prejudice,” “My feelings are so different. In fact, they are quite the opposite.”
Gail: Love that you’re bringing up Jane. Even if it’s to disagree with me.
Bret: Ten years ago, federal spending was $3.45 trillion. Biden’s budget request is double that, and he has the chutzpah to suggest he wants to reduce the deficit — achieved almost entirely by huge tax increases instead of spending discipline.
Gail: I will refrain from referring at length to a super-deficit-exploder named Donald Trump. Who was very much with his party’s program in one sense — pretending to be anti-deficit without proposing anything difficult to reduce it. Of course, the gang is OK with cutting back on, say, child care. Which makes it tougher for single parents to go to work and create a better future for the whole family.
Bret: I too will refrain from noting that, godawful as Trump was, his final pre-Covid 2019 budget request was around $4.75 trillion, which is still $2 trillion less than Biden’s current request. I’m also not too thrilled by Biden’s proposal for higher taxes, including a nakedly unconstitutional tax on the appreciated assets of very rich people. It won’t pass, which I guess is the point, since the budget is less of a serious proposal and more of a campaign platform.
Speaking of platforms: Your thoughts on the administration’s reported decision to approve an $8 billion oil-drilling project in the Alaskan wilderness?
Gail: I’m horrified, actually. We’re supposed to be worrying about global warming and Biden is approving a plan that, as our story pointed out, will have an effect equivalent to adding almost 2 million more cars a year on the roads.
Bret: OK, so now it’s my turn to cheer Biden while you jeer. We’re going to need oil for decades to come no matter how many electric vehicles we build, and the oil has to come from somewhere. Europe has discovered the price of relying on Russia for its energy, and I’d much rather have our gas come from a remote corner of Alaska, extracted by American workers, under American regulations, than from, say, Venezuela or Iran.
But I’m really curious to see how this will play out within the Democratic Party. To me it looks like a crucial test of whether the party will again reach out to its old blue-collar manufacturing base or move further into the orbit of knowledge-industry workers with, well, coastal values. What do you think?
Gail: The Biden administration is obviously going along with labor, lower-cost energy and all the other stuff you think of when you’re running for re-election. Democrats who worry about the environment may be rightfully horrified, but I doubt it’ll cost Biden votes. When the elections roll around, they’ll realize the other side is worse.
Bret: Smart political advice.
Gail: Still, the least the oil-drilling forces could do would be to apologize in advance to the kids who are currently in kindergarten and will have to live with the results.
Bret: Also known as jobs and energy security.
Gail: Hey, talking about youth reminds me of … oldth. I was so sorry to hear Mitch McConnell had fallen and been hospitalized with a concussion. He’s 81 and you can’t help wondering if he’s coming to the end of his career as the Senate Republican leader. Any predictions?
Bret: First of all, we’ve got to petition the O.E.D. to make “oldth” a word as the appropriate antonym of youth. Second, I wish the senator a speedy recovery.
His bigger problems, though, aren’t his physical stumbles but his political ones. He let Biden score his unexpected political wins last year. He’s fallen between two stools when it came to Trump: not Trumpy enough for Trump and his crowd, but not brave enough to stand up to them and move the party past them — like when he lambasted Trump after Jan. 6 but refused to vote to convict him during his second impeachment trial. And he’s been the Republican Senate leader forever, or at least it feels that way.
Gail: So who’s next?
Bret: He’d probably be wise to step aside for his whip, South Dakota’s John Thune, except that the Trumpians hate Thune for his anti-denialist position when it came to the 2020 election.
Gail: Well, if you want to see the kind of leader that can crawl between the regular Republicans and the Trumpians, there’s … Kevin McCarthy. Senators would be better off with a hospitalized McConnell.
Bret: A very good point. Since we’re speaking of Trump, your thoughts on his potential indictment?
Gail: So many to choose from! Are we talking about the secret government documents he piled up at Mar-a-Lago, or his attempt to interfere with Georgia’s 2020 ballot counting, or the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, the ex-lover Trump wanted to keep quiet. Although possibly as much about his sexual ineptitude as his marital sins?
Pick one, Bret.
Bret: My general view with most of these legal efforts is that, merited though they may be, they are more likely to help Trump than to hurt him. The weakest case seems to be the one that may be closest to an actual indictment — the alleged hush money payments to the alleged paramour Stormy Daniels. Problem there is that the star witness, the former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, is an ex-felon with a big-time ax to grind against his former boss.
Gail: Well, when your witnesses have to be people who spent a lot of quality time with Donald Trump, the options will almost always be depressing.
Bret: The stronger case is the one in Georgia. Then again, is a jury in Georgia going to vote unanimously to convict the former president? Color me skeptical. At this point, the most realistic way for the country to be done with Trump is if Ron DeSantis or some other Republican defeats him, fair and square, in the race for the G.O.P. nomination. Which is why you’re strongly rooting for DeSantis to jump in the race, amirite?
Gail: Oh, Bret, it’s so hard to admit I’d rather see Trump as the nominee than DeSantis, but it’s true. I would. Rather have a terrible Republican with no real fundamental values than one who has strong but terrible commitments and is a genuine obsessive on social issues like abortion rights.
Bret: That sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor. But I’m giving you full points for total honesty.
Gail: Plus, if we have to live through two years of presidential politics featuring Joe Biden on one side, I’d rather have the awful, wrong-thinking Republican who isn’t also incredibly boring. Is that shallow?
Bret: Other than for the entertainment value, do you prefer to have Trump as the nominee because you think he has no chance of winning the election? You could very well be right. Then again, I remember how that worked out in 2016.
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