A scary Easter egg from the Wisconsin State Journal

After more than a week of generally dull editorial page work, the Wisconsin State Journal returned to duty on Easter Sunday, fumbling with their Deficit Worry Beads.We don’t know whether they actually believe this stuff or whether it’s a condition of employment to fake it, but really, it doesn’t matter.

None of the details of the editorial matter — a vote was taken in Washington, it failed, massively. Nothing happened. The importance of  the editorial, the need for writing it, was to worry the lightly-informed by repeating some scare words — deficit, debt, entitlements, crisis, fiscal meltdown, and children and grandchildren. These words can be used in any order in sentences that need not make any real sense. The importance lies in simple repetition and in forgetting the context, that is, forgetting the past.

As we skimmed through this latest bit of quacking, we were reminded of the famous Winston Smith, the main character in Orwell’s novel 1984. Winston works at his desk in the Ministry of Truth rewriting the past: old news articles, official reports, ministry forecasts, and indeed whatever he’s instructed to alter, so that records from past can agree with whatever had now become official party doctrine. Winston knows it’s all rubbish, but in the novel he does what he’s told, obliterating the past sometimes even skillfully. As it turns out,  nowadays in real life, great skill is not actually required.

The actual work of altering the past is much, much easier than Orwell predicted. It turns out you can simply ignore the past, if you’re so inclined, and you can just make things up if you care to. You just need to work together. Once large swaths of the media are all repeating more or less the same message, many people think there must be something to it, regardless of whether it’s true, or even plausible. At some point. It just becomes conventional talk, common sense, conventional wisdom.

As Winston describes it

It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it.

Look at today’s scary Easter egg from Madison’s only remaining daily.

  • Today’s fretting about the federal budget deficit, as with all such fretting on the State Journal editorial page, requires it to forget that President Clinton presented President George W. Bush with a budget surplus.
  • It was only 12 years ago, but if you somehow just cannot remember that fact, you can begin worrying yourself sick about the deficits that have now returned.
  • It was only 12 years ago, but you can imagine that having a balanced federal budget would be impossible without everybody (well, almost everybody) sacrificing things they used to enjoy, just 12 years ago.
  • And if you somehow just can’t remember that it was two very large Bush tax cuts that promptly threw us back into federal deficits, then it’s easier to pretend that all the current Republican hysteria over the deficit is genuine.
  • And if you can’t remember exactly how we got into [another] two wars, and how conservatives resolutely opposed asking anyone to pay the [financial] price, you can start to believe these deficits aren’t the result of determined conservative anti-tax policies.
  • If you could manage to forget that the country’s most elite financial institutions went bankrupt four years ago, nearly wrecking the world economy, you might begin to think that, well, we’re just not the richest economy in the world anymore… or are we? Who knows? Who remembers?
  • And so, obviously, that requires old folks to give up Social Security and Medicare, and young adults to give up affordable college tuition, and poor people to give up Medicaid, and schoolchildren to give up smaller classrooms, and a whole host of sacrifices that everybody (well, not exactly everybody) now needs to give up.

By simply operating with no memory of the recent past, the State Journal editorial page can quack anxiously about “a fiscal meltdown” that will engulf us all (well, almost all of us).

Of course, in reality, returning to tax policies that worked perfectly well 12 years ago would go a long way toward solving the debt problem, as it did then. Do we need to say it?  Just 12 years ago!

But, of course, that might only occur to those with a memory, or a wider group of friends, or access to books, or the internet…. We honestly don’t expect any of that to happen for the State Journal. It hasn’t happened yet.