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Dana Milbank, Rodeo Clown

Yesterday I plumbed the shallowness of the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank in a short piece that my former White House colleague Karl Rove sent around on his Twitter account. Milbank was not pleased. “Is this the same Karl Rove and Pete Wehner who were ‘architects’ of a $6 trillion rise in federal debt? Welcome to the cause!” Milbank Tweeted back.

Since Milbank seems eager to keep a dialogue going, let’s accommodate him, shall we?

Let’s begin by pointing out that Milbank’s facts are wildly (if predictably) inaccurate. During the Bush presidency the debt held by the public grew by less than half the amount Milbank claims. But why let a few trillions get in the way of a tendentious man with a Twitter account?

As for President Bush’s fiscal record, it’s worth consulting this analysis, which observes:

George W. Bush, a wartime President, had a smaller federal government and lower taxes relative to the economy than each of his three predecessors, historically small deficits, no tax increases, and 5.3% average unemployment. . . . He proposed structural and incremental reforms to Social Security and Medicare that set up the current entitlement reform debate.

And since Milbank wants to engage in the game of what-happened-on-your-watch-is-all-your-fault, it’s worth pointing out that in roughly 20 months, President Obama added as much debt as President Bush ran up in eight years.

I don’t doubt that Milbank is unfamiliar with these (or many other) tiresome facts. When he was covering the Bush White House he was not—let me put this as gently as I can—known for his interest in or command of substance (although his Post successors were). He was thought of more like, say, a rodeo clown. Now if that judgment seems overly harsh, take a look at this picture, in which Milbank appeared on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann in a blaze orange hunting outfit, worn in order to mock Vice President Cheney after his accidental hunting trip shooting.

No serious journalist would do such a thing. But Glenn Beck might. And Dana Milbank did.


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