Israel and the 'T' Word

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When
it comes to Israel, certain matters cannot be discussed. And certain
words cannot be uttered.

It
seems this is the case with the latest “Explainer,” a short feature
on Slate.com that explains complex things in the news for average
readers.

“Explainer”
is a good feature, illuminating the arcana of bureaucracy, why a
bill stalled in Congress or how some machine works.

But
the “Explainer” featured on Aug. 6, which answered the question,
“What are Israel’s loan guarantees?” left out two important words:
“American taxpayer.”

A
Loan Guarantee

The
short piece was published on the occasion of an apparent and likely
empty threat to reduce Israel’s loan guarantees, but whatever happens
on that count, they are easily understood. As “Explainer” explained
it, “a loan guarantee is essentially the same thing whether you’re
buying a car, an apartment, or housing materials for Soviet immigrants.

“A
reliable financial entity (a bank, your parents, the United States)
promises to pay off the balance of a loan if the borrower cannot.
So when Congress promises Israel $9 billion in loan guarantees (as
they did this year), that means the U.S. government accepts responsibility
for up to $9 billion that Israel can then borrow from international
creditors.”

Guarantees
aren’t supposed to cost the United States “a cent,” Explainer reported,
because Israel should pay off its loans. But Israel is so deeply
indebted, these guarantees might actually leave the United States
holding a $9 billion bag.

Throughout
the explanation, you read about “the United States.”

The
Missing Word

But
never the American taxpayer. The “T” word is conspicuously missing.

It
is missing from most discussions of government spending, and the
Explainer, an assistant professor at Princeton, might likely reply
that “taxpayer” is understood in context. Maybe so for the average
Slate reader, who is probably quite bright and politically attuned.

But
it’s doubtful the rabble understands that when the United States
guarantees loans, taxpayers put up the money. If you explained loan
guarantees the way Slate explained them, the average taxpayer mightn’t
make the connection. “I’m on the hook for that?” he would ask. Even
if he understood who paid the guarantees without being told, that
loan guarantees even exist might be a revelation.

Ditto
for the Export-Import Bank, a corporate welfare agency that “lends”
money to foreign countries to buy American products.

Or
the national endowment for the arts and humanities. “I’m paying
for bullwhips and bean sprouts and novels?” a taxpayer would ask.

Maybe
Jay Leno should make some inquiries on his hilarious “Jaywalking”
feature, where he asks pedestrians easy questions about American
history, or shows pictures of famous Americans his hapless and stupid
victims cannot identify.

A
Solid Guarantee

It
is unsurprising we never hear “taxpayer” in discussions of government
spending. The less they are reminded they are robbed, the better.

But
if we want to know what kind of spending the average American wants,
or what they think of Washington’s explanation for it, let’s put
questions on the quadrennial national ballot:

“Should
taxpayers guarantee new loans for Israel, given that Israel has
borrowed money it has yet to repay?”

Another:
“Should taxpayers guarantee loans for, lend money or give foreign
aid to any country that defaults on loans, or even countries that
don’t?

A
third: “Should taxpayers subsidize artists and novelists, particularly
those who produce pornography?”

Guaranteed,
taxpayers would vote correctly: “No.”

August
9, 2003

Syndicated
columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send
him mail
] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record
in Harrisonburg, Va.

R.
Cort Kirkwood Archives


        
        

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