Dean Acheson's Lawyer's Brief for the Mid-Twentieth Century Democratic Party: A Historical Document: Weekend Reading

Note to Self: Alan Greenspan and the Bush Tax Cut: Was Alan Greenspan in 2001 playing a subtle reputation-enhancing game—anxious to give testimony that the administration and its press lapdogs would spin as a green-light endorsement, but in which economists like me and financiers like Robert Rubin would be unable to find any sentence that was truly objectionable? Perhaps... Perhaps not...

Let's give the mike to Alan Greenspan, p. 220 ff.:

Bob Rubin phoned.... With a big tax cut, said Bob, "the risk is, you lose the fiscal discipline."... "Bob, where in my testimony do you disagree?"

There was silence. Finally he replied, "The issue isn't so much what you're saying. It's how it's going to be perceived."

"I cant be in charge of people's perceptions," I responded wearily. "I don't function that way. I can't function that way."

It turned out that Conrad and Rubin were right....

As the hearing ended, I was optimistic that the ideas I had set forth—the risks of excessive surpluses, the glide-path proposal [to a zero national debt], the notion of a trigger [to prevent the reemergence of deficits by shutting off the tax cut if necessary]—would in the long run get attention as the legislative process proceeded. But for the moment, I resigned myself to the idea that my testimony would be politically framed. I later told my wife, "I am shocked, shocked, that there is politics on Capitol Hill....

I'd misjudged the emotions of the moment. We had just gone through a constitutional crisis... which... is not the best time to try to put across a nuanced position based on economic analysis. Yet I'd have given the same testimony if Al Gore had been president...