From the Wikipedia entry on 12-step programs:
The original 12 Step Program is Alcoholics Anonymous — which deals with what they call the “powerlessness” to stop drinking alcohol. The 12 Steps have been adopted by other groups including Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Nar-Anon for people impacted by having or having had alcoholics or addicts in their life. Although Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps were initially offered for use by alcoholics, application of the 12 Steps to non-alcoholics is described and specifically invited in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, where the steps first appeared. The only requirement for membership of an Alcoholics Anonymous Group “is a desire to stop drinking”.
One of the most widely-recognized characteristics of twelve-step groups is the requirement that members admit that they “have a problem”. In this spirit, many members open their address to the group along the lines of, “Hi, I’m Pam and I’m an alcoholic” — a catchphrase now widely identified with support groups.
Why do I bring this up? Consider the following article from Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal (sub.req.), in which David Wessel writes:
Bush’s Course on Budget Parallels Iraq
February 8, 2007; Page A5
The numbers in President Bush’s budget add up — arithmetically. If his assumptions come true, the deficit will evaporate in 2012.
But there are a lot of ifs — if Iraq and Afghanistan cost only $50 billion in 2009 and nothing thereafter; if the president and Congress hold growth in annually appropriated domestic spending well below inflation; if they let the alternative minimum tax reach deeper into the middle class or raise taxes on others to prevent that; if Congress squeezes $66 billion (4%) from Medicare over five years.
OK. Give him a break. A presidential budget is an opening bid, not an attempt at stating a consensus.
But is it sound? If former Republican Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton led a budget commission like their Iraq Study Group, what would they say?
They would hardly need to rewrite their cover letter. “There is no magic formula … . However, there are actions that can be taken to improve the situation and protect American interests,” they said in the Iraq report. “Many Americans are dissatisfied, not just with the situation…but with the state of our political debate … . Our country deserves a debate that prizes substance over rhetoric, and a policy that is adequately funded and sustainable.”
William Gale of the Brookings Institution think tank — populated by deficit-fearing Democratic wonks who have been trying to find common ground with deficit-fearing Republican wonks — has been thinking a lot lately about the parallels between Mr. Bush on Iraq and Mr. Bush on the budget.
“The Bush administration’s two signature policies have been the war in Iraq and consistent pressure for tax cuts,” he argues. “On the surface, they look quite different and were advocated by different parts of the administration. Look a little deeper and some common patterns emerge — so maybe this says something about the principles or management style of the Bush administration.”
It is a provocative and illuminating exercise. Let Mr. Gale kick it off: The president took the U.S. into Iraq with “falsely rosy scenarios” about the post-Saddam landscape there, he says. Mr. Bush built his tax cuts in 2001 on a similarly unrealistic hope that the budget surplus was large enough to cut taxes without creating deficits.
Let us keep going. As Iraq proved different and more difficult than anticipated, and contingency planning was regarded by the Bush White House as a sign of weakness, rather than prudence, Mr. Bush vowed to “stay the course.” When then-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan argued for “triggers” to undo tax cuts if budget reality didn’t match projections, the White House scoffed. Even when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drove spending on homeland security and the military far above projections, Mr. Bush didn’t revisit his fiscal strategy.
Smart critics, even inside the administration, were disregarded and shunned. (Gen. Eric Shinseki on troops levels in Iraq, Treasury Secretary O’Neill on deficits.) Only true believers remained to give the president advice. Eventually, Mr. Bush changed his team — hiring new secretaries of defense and Treasury — but too late to get credit from the public or to forge bipartisan consensus in Congress.
But look ahead, and there is an unwelcome parallel between Iraq and the budget. Current policy is unsustainable, but there is no easy way out. Extend the president’s tax cuts beyond their scheduled expiration in 2009 and 2010, and the fiscal hole is enormous. Let them expire, and the tax increases could derail the economy.
Messrs. Baker and Hamilton had little apparent effect on the president’s Iraq policy. Maybe they would have better luck on economics.
In other words, denial is not a solution. And refusal to take advice from independent sources is not necessarily the same as steadfastness.
[late addition: I just realized that Mark Thoma already posted on this topic, at least the Wessel article. Those are the perils of blogging before looking at the competition.]