Keeping our heads above water

Posted: Dec 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Denial, as they say, ain?t just a river in Egypt. And according to Dr. Michael Milburn, many of us on the right are close to drowning in it.

Milburn is a professor of psychology at UMass/Boston. He recently drafted a piece responding to something I?d written back in May. Milburn believes conservatives are in denial. ?Our research has focused on conservatives because that is where the biggest distortions of public policy occur, particularly on issues like the death penalty and the criminal justice system,? he writes.

Hum. Well, that?s odd, because in his response, Milburn actually demonstrated some ?distortions? of his own. Maybe, just maybe, liberals also need some time on the couch. Let?s comb through what the doctor ordered.

He writes, ?Mr. Tucker asked how abortion could be considered a punitive public policy.  Well, no less a personage than Nancy Reagan (while the Gipper was Governor of California) said to young people about the abortion issue, ?You play, you pay.? This is a clear statement that if you engage in immoral sex, you are going to have to pay the price -- that sounds punitive to me.?

This isn?t the time or place to debate abortion policy. But consider what both Mrs. Reagan and Dr. Milburn were saying. Her point was, ?if you have sex you may get pregnant.? Milburn considers that a ?punitive public policy.?

Well, no. After all, not to get too scientific here (Lord knows I?m out of my element when it comes to science), but the biological reason for sex is to reproduce. Nancy Reagan is correct: If you have sex, you?re risking pregnancy. She?s simply reminding the teenagers that there are consequences for their actions.

Most adults understand this. Speed, you?ll get a traffic ticket. Evade taxes, you?ll go to prison. Get pregnant, you?ll be raising a child. If it?s punitive to insist that people, whether sexually active teenagers or tax-evading adults, accept the consequences of their actions, then our entire society is based on ?punitive policies.? Which brings us back to my original point: Milburn defines ?punitive? as ?anything I disagree with.?

Let?s move on to tax policy. Milburn writes, ?Mr. Tucker also accuses me of saying that ?all tax cuts favor the rich.?  In fact, I was talking about the George W. Bush?s tax cuts, and it?s pretty hard to deny that his taxes have favored primarily the wealthy, although conservatives do have a large capacity for denial.?

Speaking of denial, let?s hear it for liberals who deny the benefits of the Bush tax cuts. Especially the benefits to the poorest among us. As Heritage Foundation economist Norbert Michel noted in a recent paper, ?Ever since President Bush?s tax cuts, the number of zero-tax filers has increased to almost 40 million, and those who are among the top 50 percent of all earners now pay 96 percent of all federal individual income taxes.?

You really can?t pay less than zero in taxes, so it would seem fair to say those 40 million people are benefiting from the Bush tax cuts more than the ?rich? people who are now paying almost all the federal income taxes. Unless you were deep in denial, you might even say the tax code continues to ?punish? the wealthy and successful.

My original piece also mentioned former Vice President Al Gore as an example of a liberal who might need some therapy. ?It is ironic that Mr. Tucker in his column condemns Al Gore for his critique of the administration over the Abu Ghraib scandal,? Milburn writes. Well, what?s really ironic is that, after my piece was written, Gore really came unglued.

During a speech at Georgetown University in October, Gore joined the Michael Moore crowd when he intoned, ?From all appearances, [President Bush] never gave a second thought on [an August 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing] until he finished reading My Pet Goat on September 11th.? Gore must have been proud when Osama bin Laden echoed that sentiment a few weeks later. ?[Bush] was more interested in listening to the child?s story about the goat rather than worry about what was happening to the towers,? bin Laden announced on Oct. 29 in his failed attempt to influence the election.

The former V.P. also claimed that Bush administrations policies would increase ?the destructive power of hurricanes by as much as half of one full category.? And he attempted to re-fight the battles of 2000. ?The scandals of Florida four years ago are being repeated in broad daylight even as we meet here today,? he claimed. Talk about denial. Mr. Gore, you lost. Move on.

Dr. Milburn closes on a personal note. ?Mr. Tucker talks about his toughness in raising his own children.  I hope he doesn?t get carried away,? he warns. Don?t worry, sir. I won?t. But I will insist that my boys understand that, when they do something wrong, they must suffer the consequences. I can?t think of a better way to teach them the difference between right and wrong. says the psychological definition of denial is: ?An unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings.? Some among us are clearly in denial on social policy, tax policy, even the outcome of political events. Doctor, heal thyself.