Read My Lips

Read My Lips

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Read My Lips: Research & the Act Up Oral History Project at NYU, Apr. 14

Video excerpts and a discussion will highlight a presentation entitled “Read My Lips: Research and the ACT UP Oral History Project” at New York University on Thursday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. Featuring Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard, cofounders of the Project, the event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the NYU Bobst Library, Fales Collection (3rd floor), 70 Washington Square South. For further information call 212.998.2596.

The ACT UP Oral History Project is a collection of interviews with surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York. Coordinated by Hubbard and Schulman, the Project includes camera work by James Wentzy (in New York) and S. Leo Chiang (on the West Coast).

The Project seeks to present comprehensive, complex, human, collective and individual portraits of the people who have comprised ACT UP/New York. These men and women of all races and classes transformed entrenched cultural ideas about homosexuality, sexuality, illness, health care, civil rights, art, media, and the rights of patients. They achieved concrete changes in medical and scientific research, insurance, law, and health care delivery, and introduced new and effective methods for political organizing. The interviews reveal what has motivated them to action and how they have organized complex endeavors.

The ACT UP Oral History Project is a rich web-based digital archive that provides a treasure trove of data for research not just about AIDS and queer history, but also in fields as disparate as literature, nutrition, holistic medicine, art, immigration, and immunology.

The unedited tapes of the interviews can be viewed at the San Francisco Public Library and at the New York Public Library.

Reading President Bush’s Lips

George H.W. Bush probably gave a thousand speeches in his life. But as the political world mourns his death this week, many of us remember just one sentence of one speech. You know exactly what I mean-- six words from Bush’s acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican convention.

“And I'm the one who will not raise taxes….My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I'll say no, and they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, "Read my lips: No new taxes."

I was in the New Orleans Superdome on that steamy August night. I heard Bush say those six words about two-thirds of the way through a 58 minute speech.

Three memorable phrases

These speeches are nearly always forgettable to-do lists. And this one was no exception. Except it included three memorable phrases. Two expressed powerful ideas about the American character and the importance of community: “a thousand points of light” and “a kinder and gentler nation.” They were widely mocked at the time but seem like important touchstones today. They perfectly described Bush’s vision of an America where we help one another through tough times.

The third, of course, was “Read my lips: No new taxes.” It was considered an act of political genius at the time and has been widely mocked since.

As an economics reporter for Business Week, I sat in press row, heard Bush’s words, and two thoughts immediately came to my mind. The first was, “There is my story.” The second was, “If Bush wins, he will regret this. He can’t possibly keep this promise.”

Defusing skepticism

It turns out that there was an enormous behind-the-scenes battle within Bush’s staff about the line, which was written by Peggy Noonan and Craig Smith. But it remained in the speech and, in the short-term, worked like a charm.

It was the headline Bush needed to defuse the skepticism of anti-tax Republicans, who never really trusted him--even though he had served eight years as vice president to their hero Ronald Reagan (who, by the way, raised taxes multiple times). After all, it was Bush who, running for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, memorably described Reagan’s tax-cutting agenda as “voodoo economics.”

And “no new taxes” undoubtedly helped Bush get elected president in 1988. Though taxes were hardly the biggest issue in that race—a strong economy and foreign policy mattered more-- Bush’s explicit vow was a powerful contrast to the cautious hedging of his Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis. Republicans, and many independents, loved it.

No wiggle room

The problem, of course, was that Bush gave himself no wiggle room. The economy slowed and the budget deficit worsened. At the same time, Congress had imposed upon itself the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act and a successor law that required automatic spending reductions, including for popular programs such as Medicare and Social Security, if Congress didn’t meet deficit targets.

Lawmakers eventually learned they could ignore the Gramm-Rudman constraints. But not in 1990. Reducing the budget deficit became a top policy priority. Negotiations between the Bush Administration and the congressional Democratic leadership dragged on for months.

And the prediction Bush made in his acceptance speech—that the Democrats who controlled Congress would push him again and again to raise taxes--was prescient. But he was wrong about his ultimate response.

“Tax revenue increases”

On June 26, Bush capitulated and gave the Democrats the one thing they wanted most. In a White House statement, he said, "It is clear to me that both the size of the deficit problem and the need for a package that can be enacted require all of the following: entitlement and mandatory program reform, tax revenue increases, growth incentives, discretionary spending reductions, orderly reductions in defense expenditures, and budget process reform.”

All that mattered was the phrase “tax revenue increases.” The headlines were devastating, none more than The New York Post: “Read My Lips…I Lied!” Bush himself was well aware of the consequences of his choice. In his diary, he acknowledged the political price he’d pay even though he thought it was the right choice for the country.

In the end, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 raised many taxes, including the top individual income tax rate, the individual alternative minimum tax rate, and payroll taxes (though it also expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit).

An object lesson…or not

Challenger Pat Buchanan ripped Bush for flip-flopping on taxes throughout the 1992 Republican primaries. Bush eventually, and repeatedly, apologized. Later, Democratic nominee Bill Clinton attacked Bush for lying and, of course, won the election and made Bush a one-term president.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. In the years since, anti-tax Republicans made the Bush experience into an object lesson for GOP politicians: Raising taxes will destroy your political career. In response, thousands of candidates for office at all levels have taken their own no-tax pledge, and fiscal policy has become utterly gridlocked.

Was that the right the lesson? A case can be made that Bush was not defeated by agreeing to tax increases in 1990. It was, rather, the act of breaking a promise, combined with a poor economy, that led to his defeat.

Cynthia Johnson / Time Life Pictures / Getty

"Read my lips: no new taxes."

That pledge was the centerpiece of Bush's acceptance address, written by speechwriter Peggy Noonan, for his party's nomination at the 1988 Republican National Convention. It was a strong, decisive, bold statement, and you don't need a history degree to see where this is going. As presidents sometimes must, Bush raised taxes. His words were used against him by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in a devastating attack ad during the 1992 presidential campaign.


In March of 2013, "Body Party" was released as Ciara's lead single.

After "Body Party" success, the song "I'm Out" was released to radio stations, becoming a moderate success.

In August of 2013, Ciara announced in an interview with "Hollywood Life" that "Where You Go" (featuring her boyfriend Future) will serve as the third official single from the album in the United States while "Overdose" will serve as the next international single.

In September of 2013, Ciara confirmed in an interview and on her Twitter that "Read My Lips" was set to be the album's new single, but in the same month, the cover of "Overdose" was released and it was announced that the song would set to hit radio in October 14, 2013.

As of November, "Read My Lips" has not been released as a single, but the song is available on iTunes.


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Read My Lips: Reflections of an Accidental AIDS Activist

Douglas Crimp's detour into the world of AIDS activism was prompted by a pink triangle. Back in New York from a trip to Germany in 1987, he couldn't ignore this graphic, which was on buttons, stickers, banners, t-shirts, and posters everywhere. An art critic since the early '70s, he admired its simple but striking design and the choice to render SILENCE = DEATH in bold, white Gill Sans font against a black background. As a gay man who was suddenly embroiled in a new epidemic, he was also moved by its message.

That summer, he joined a new AIDS activist group called ACT UP. "That was a lesson for me," says Crimp, who was in the middle of his 13-year stint as an editor of the cultural journal October. "A really, really, smart, really punchy graphic image could captivate and form a community around an issue."

In the gallery below, see other powerful protest paraphernalia that Crimp and his fellow demonstrators used to gain public support for AIDS, stop the New York Stock Exchange, and seize the FDA in the late '80s. Then, in the Q&A that follows, hear poignant reflections from this art and culture academic about the rise and demise of ACT UP, and the enduring problems with HIV/AIDS.

How did you get involved in AIDS activism?

I was implicated in it from the beginning because I'm gay and I had a lot of friends who became ill. Like everyone else at that moment who was directly affected, it kind of took over my life. Initially, I thought I'd do a couple of pieces about AIDS and art in this cultural journal. And then it mushroomed from there. When I started doing research, I met someone who told me to go to ACT UP meetings. This was in the summer of 1987, and ACT UP was formed that March. I began going to meetings, and I just got swept up into the movement. Suddenly, that's what I was doing. I was teaching, I was lecturing, I was writing, and I was demonstrating. I was just completely involved.

Maybe it seems kind of late in the game -- from '81 (when the virus was discovered) to '87-- but ACT UP was the beginning of real activism around the issue. It stood for AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power. It's a bad acronym. You know how acronyms work. They just wanted to have a catchy title.

The individual words sound very violent.

It wasn't violent. It was specifically non-violent. We were trained in civil disobedience. It's a little bit like Occupy Wall Street in that way. It's in the tradition of non-violent activism like the Civil Rights Movement. But, yes, we were unruly.

Our first demonstration was at the [New York] Stock Exchange, as a matter of fact. We were protesting the price gauging of AZT, the first drug for HIV. We shut down the exchange -- not at that demonstration but at a later one, where we got people on to the floor. We did some pretty unruly things. We occupied the Food and Drug Administration, for example, to try and get them to speed up the process of drug approvals. And we really changed things. I really do believe that working in concert with the NIH scientists can really be given a great deal of credit for the speed with which the anti-retroviral cocktail, which is saving so many people's lives right now all over the world, was developed as fast as it was. If you think about it, from 1981, the recognition that there was a new virus in the world, to 1995, when they actually developed anti-retroviral combinations that would stop that lethal virus, that's a short time for drug development. And there was a lot of pressure we brought to bear in order to make that happen. I think that's one of the great achievements of ACT UP.

Why was AIDS activism so necessary back then?

Ronald Reagan became president in 1980. The disease was recognized in 1981. By 1987, he had not spoken the word AIDS. He refused. The first thing you learn in dealing with AIDS is that the medical and social issues are completely intertwined. That's why AIDS became the crisis that it became. That's why Reagan couldn't speak the word. He didn't treat it as a medical issue. He treated it as a social, religious issue. He had a phobic response to it. Koch was also the mayor of New York City. He was considered by many to be a closeted homosexual, and he did very little to combat AIDS, at least from our perspective. It was a very grim time, politically.

It was a devastating time. The New York Times obituaries were filled every day with famous people who were dying of AIDS. There was incredible fear. If you look at the television coverage in the mid-1980s -- of course, now, television coverage has reached new heights of hysteria-mongering -- the irrationality and the kind of hysterical pitch of a lot of that coverage was astonishing.

The rhetoric had this sense of us vs. them, gay vs. straight. "There are those terrible people who have AIDS, and they might actually infect us, the people who don't get AIDS." There were various scapegoated groups of people in whom HIV was first recognized. It was a very odd mixture of people that included Haitians and people who had blood transfusions.

Young people were getting visibly sick and dying around you, and the sicknesses they were getting were terrible ones that people didn't get anymore, like Kaposi's sarcoma (a kind of cancer that manifests as skin lesions). People were wasting away. Buff gay guys suddenly, over a period of months, looked like dying old men. You would see those images, and they were shown not to solicit sympathy but to solicit fear. If you were susceptible or ill or had friends who were ill, you felt incredibly scapegoated and vilified. There was a kind of incredible hysteria about the so-called lifestyle of gay men, the excessive promiscuity. I could go on and on. It was just a huge range of negative stuff, and there was very little responsible coverage of it.

In fact, there was no coverage of it at first. That was the other problem. The New York Times was not covering AIDS. It never put AIDS on the cover for the longest time. It was like we were living in the midst of this crisis that wasn't being recognized as a crisis by the powers-that-be. All of that brought out the kind of activism that I was a part of.

What was working in ACT UP like?

We were a very sophisticated activist group. This was pre-Internet media, but we were very good at getting words out, making press kits, and being very professional. Producing very, very punchy graphics was part of that professionalism. When we had a demonstration, you'd just see this stuff all over the city. And we were very good at speaking to the news media because we had people who were delegated to do these things. AIDS was affecting everyone, and the reason we could get on the stock exchange and close it down was because we had stock brokers in our group who had credentials to come in. We had people who had access, even to the media. We had people who were trained as publicists, who knew how to put together a press kit.

Between 1987 and 1990, which was the major period of ACT UP, we had 500 people at least per week coming to meetings in New York. It was a very large group. We had really effective demonstrations because we could get thousands to go to Washington, to Atlanta at the CDC. And then it spawned chapters all over the country and all over the world.

Was there a turning point or a time you felt you were succeeding?

So long as our friends were dying, there was no such thing as a turning point. People dying was a constant. Whatever victory or optimism we could take from that was countered by the fact that we were surrounded by people who were sick and dying.

But the one that I think probably gave us a sense that we had accomplished the most was a demonstration against the FDA. It was a big march. We went to Bethesda and surrounded the FDA. There were a lot of really amazing graphic works made, and we did the most professional press kits we had ever done for that. We had existed for a year and a half, and people came in from all over the country for this huge demonstration.

It really got a lot of stories in the news. I remember specifically coverage by NPR that was basically reading the materials from our press kits. They were just totally taking our point of view. It was all about the slowness, the secretiveness, and the interest in profits rather than health of the clinical trials that were taking place for AIDS drugs at that time.

Really, the FDA looked at life-saving drugs and clinical trials differently from that time on. That changed not only what happened with AIDS treatments, but what happened with cancer and all kinds of treatments. It changed their culture to some degree because I think the scientists were on our side. They were essentially with us. And because we had people within ACT UP who knew the science of HIV as well as any FDA scientist -- they were unbelievably self-educated people -- they could talk to the scientists and the scientists would listen.

What is the state of AIDS today?

I don't think the culture has yet understood what AIDS really is. I think there are still issues. I'm not directly involved with it, so I'm no longer the expert I once was. But I know, for example, the rates of HIV infection among gay men in this society has not changed much from that time. We're still getting as many people infected every year.

So AIDS education is not effective still. Obviously, it has to be differently oriented now because people are under the terrible illusion that, because there are treatments, it doesn't really matter. But I can tell you that a lifetime of having to take these kinds of drugs is not a picnic. Even in the United States alone, a rich country -- but of course we know who has the wealth in this country -- we still have an enormous rate of infection and death in poor communities, especially communities of color.

We're a little more enlightened about gay sexuality, but that's partly because we have a new view of gay sexuality, which is that gay people just want to get married, settle down, have children, and be like everyone else. But there's still lots of gay men and other people out in the world who are having lots of sex with anonymous partners and transmitting HIV. That's still an issue.

When the activist movement ended, it wasn't because things got better. It was because we recognized how bad things were. We burned out when we realized what we were up against, for example, a health care system that was completely inadequate for people who were poor. When we had to start dealing with the structures of society beyond the immediate issue of AIDS, like poverty and health care, it got too big for us. A lot of the interest groups within the movement started fighting with each other about whose issue was more important. In the meantime, whatever optimism we could have gained from particular victories didn't really keep us optimistic. People were still dying around us. Around 1991, the movement kind of disintegrated. It kept going, but it lumbered along. It didn't have that kind of enthusiasm or the numbers that it did in those three, four years.

There was a very dark period there in the early '90s before most people got the cocktail in 1996. At the same time, Clinton was elected in '92, so there was a sense that we had someone who's attitude toward homosexuality at least was really different. It didn't turn out so great after all because we got Don't Ask, Don't Tell, for example. But there was this sense that maybe we could pull back from fighting the powers-that-be in the way that we had to during the Reagan and the first Bush years.

What do you think are the remaining problems?

The vast majority of people who are HIV-infected don't know that they're infected, so they don't get treated until it's too late or very late in the game. There are still enormous hurdles with regard to prevention. There are still many, many people in this country, for example, who would vote for an abstinence-only message, the Republican message. It's extremely difficult to go against attitudes toward sexuality and to get out an enlightened, progressive message about transmission with regard to sex and IV drug use. Moralistic attitudes are an enormous detriment to preventing disease.

I think now it's global, and the central issue is money. It boils down to that. Medications are insanely expensive, since health care in this country and many other places is still for-profit. People who can't afford them die. It's that simple. As long as people who develop the medications have to make profits for their shareholders, people will die. That was the issue from the very beginning too, in a way. A for-profit health care system is lethal to people who need expensive medication.

It's the same issue of Occupy Wall Street. It's that the wealth in the entire world, not just in this county, is concentrated in the hands of very, very, very few people. And then there are 99 percent or more globally who are extremely poor, many of whom don't get health care.

I sort of feel like, it would be really great if I had thousands of copies of AIDS Demo Graphics and could put them on the hands of people in Occupy Wall Street now, so they could take lessons from that and build on them. I've noticed that a lot of the messages are really great, but they're scrawled on cardboards and a lot of the signs are scruffy. I think they tend to accord with The New York Times' desire to characterize Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of hippies who don't know what they're doing. And, of course, that's not true. Occupy, I think, is a major event in the history of the moment. I think it's going to keep moving.

Images displayed were published in Douglas Crimp's AIDS Demo Graphics.

Read My Lips: $2,000 Now

Photos: Joe Biden on January 4, 2020 promising $2,000 checks “immediately” (Getty) George Bush in 1988 telling Americans “Read my lips: no new taxes.”

This report was written by David Sirota, Andrew Perez and Julia Rock.

The unfolding story of the $2,000 survival checks may seem like merely a tale of one proposal at one moment in time, but it is a saga that almost perfectly illustrates a key change that explains much of the last 75 years of American politics.

For about 50 years in the mid-20th century, the Democratic Party was the labor-anchored vehicle of programmatic universalism and tax fairness. Its most popular social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and public education were (eventually) structured to offer universal benefits to everyone, regardless of income, and this helped build some modicum of consensus support for the programs because everyone has skin in the game. Fairness was simultaneously championed with progressive tax policies that promoted higher levies on the rich.

But the Democratic Party changed — it became an organization enchanted with best-and-brightest technocrats and business neoliberals whose obsession with hair-splitting precision and corporate fealty ended up fetishizing ever-more complex means testing while largely accepting tax inequity.

This post-New Deal iteration of the party embraced programs that are absurdly complicated Rube Goldberg machines — contraptions like means-tested tax credits and health insurance subsidies rather than direct aid means-tested health insurance subsidies rather than government-guaranteed medical care convoluted alphabet-soup initiatives like HAMP rather than direct aid to homeowners and micro-targeted spending programs rather than a broad-based social safety net.

Democratic politicians now laud themselves as populists not for locking up white collar criminals (they infamously refused to do that) or cracking down on corporate malfeasance (they didn’t do that either), but for trying to excise the spawn of billionaires from proposals like free college. In the process, the public has learned to see their agenda as a byzantine maze of complexity, paperwork and bureaucracy — a development that has weakened the political consensus behind the party, in part because nobody knows for sure whether they will qualify for its programs.

Taken together, Democrats have helped create what journalist David Dayen once called a painful tax on Americans’ free time, one requiring us to devote inordinate amounts of our lives trying to access basic necessities, comply with reporting requirements and prove eligibility for benefits.

Meanwhile, fairness ceases to exist as Democrats have increasingly acceded to policies that make the tax system flatter and flatter, to the point where many billionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than their secretaries.

Not surprisingly, as the Democratic Party made this conversion from universalism and fairness to means testing and complexity, America lost faith in a government of ever-more labyrinthine programs. At the same time, Republicans dishonestly portrayed their own seemingly simple tax cuts as the purest and best form of universalism and fairness. The result: Democrats’ politically dominant New Deal coalition disintegrated and the GOP repeatedly shellacked them in elections.

This should have all been a cautionary tale. And yet in 2021, after this multigenerational disaster has laid so much waste to everything, Democrats vaulted back into power by Donald Trump’s epic failures somehow still seem intent on repeating the cycle — even on a $2,000 checks initiative that should have already taught them the opposite lesson.

“Immediate” Aid Becomes “A Bit Of A Moving Target”

Late last year, at the urging of Bernie Sanders and House progressives, Democrats were forced to break from their proclivity for complexity and issue a simple “read my lips”-esque promise to deliver $2,000 survival checks. Even though the proposal was itself means tested, it was still nearly universal and so straightforward that it helped Democrats win two Senate seats in Georgia, a longtime Republican stronghold.

And yet, despite the fact that the $2,000 checks proposal is enormously popular, the party has almost immediately reverted back to form, slowly but surely trying to complicate the idea to the point where it’s becoming unrecognizable, complex and a proof point for those who believe Democrats refuse to just do what they promise.

In the weeks since high profile Democrats — from now-President Joe Biden to new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — unequivocally promised that winning the Georgia senate races and control of the Senate would immediately produce such checks, the party’s leaders, its adjacent think tank infrastructure and the elite media they worship have tried to chip away even at this simple, nearly universal idea, despite its overwhelming popularity in opinion polls.

First, Biden carefully adjusted his language from saying that $2,000 checks “will go out the door immediately” to declaring now that he will merely “finish the job of getting a total of $2,000” out to people — a shift used to justify proposing new $1,400 checks instead of $2,000 checks.

Democratic partisans backed him up, arguing that the promise of $2,000 checks always took into account the $600 checks authorized by Congress in December, even though the party kept pledging “$2,000 checks” after the $600 checks went out with Trump’s name on them.

Sen. Joe Manchin D-W.Va., has for weeks been threatening to hold up new survival checks that his constituents could really use, asserting that relief should be more targeted — an argument injected into the conversation first by discredited austerity economist Larry Summers and then the editorial boards employed by billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Jeff Bezos.

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who backed $2,000 checks in December, is now expressing concern that survival checks could go to some people who don’t need money, just a few years after she cast a key vote in favor of a GOP tax bill designed to benefit the wealthy and slash the corporate tax rate.

Amid that drumbeat, Biden has now completed his regression — he has morphed from a straight-talking campaigner promising “immediate” $2,000 checks back into his old form as a 40-year Washington dinosaur speaking in incoherent Senate-ese.

On Monday, Biden declared that the once simple proposal is now “all a bit of a moving target in terms of the precision with which this goes,” adding: “There's legitimate reason for people to say, 'Do you have the lines drawn the exact right way? Should it go to anybody making over X number of dollars or Y?’”

Billionaire Media Blazes Democrats’ Path To Defeat

Now comes Bezos’s newspaper thundering in to help rationalize the retreat, publishing a story on Tuesday about an economic paper arguing for further means testing survival checks with a wildly loaded headline: “Cutting off stimulus checks to Americans earning over $75,000 could be wise, new data suggests.”

In past COVID stimulus bills, full rounds of direct payments have gone to individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning $150,000. The Post story offered up a new threshold — $50,000 for individuals and $75,000 for couples.

“The price tag to send another round of checks to couples earning more than $75,000 and singles earning more than $50,000 would be $200 billion, yet the researchers estimate this group is only likely to spend $15 billion of that money — about 7 percent,” the paper wrote.

The report was quickly touted by the Wall Street-aligned think tank Third Way, the Beltway’s most reliable megaphone for let-them-eat-cake-ism.

The Post story was based on an analysis by economists at Opportunity Insights, which the newspaper described as “a nonprofit research organization,” rather than a billionaire-funded think tank (indeed, democracy dies in darkness). Yes, a billionaire-owned newspaper is using research from a billionaire-backed think tank to build the case against sending COVID survival checks to individuals earning between $50,000 and $75,000 — on the grounds that they are just too wealthy (this, from the same newspaper whose editorial board still defends giving bailouts to Wall Street bankers).

Further means testing like this would deny the checks to an additional 27 percent of American households, transforming a near-universal proposal into one that in total excludes nearly half of all Americans from the benefits, according to Census data.

Opportunity Insights was launched at Harvard University in 2018 with the backing of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s family foundation, which disclosed it would give $15 million to Harvard for the creation of the Opportunity Insights Institute. The organization's website says its partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Its advisory board features former Barack Obama strategist David Plouffe, who advises Zuckerberg’s philanthropy, and New York Times columnist David Leonhardt.

The Opportunity Insights report analyzed consumer spending data to calculate how much more high-income households — meaning households located in zip codes where the average annual income is above $78,000 per year — spent on consumer goods after the Treasury began sending out stimulus checks. According to the analysis, high-income households will spend about $45 of the $600 checks passed by Congress in December within the first month of receiving them.

The Opportunity Insights analysis concluded: “Based on these results, we estimate that households earning more than $78,000 will spend only $105 of the $1,400 stimulus check they receive — implying that $200 billion of additional government expenditure will lead to only $15 billion of additional spending.”

One of the report’s authors, Brown University economics professor John Friedman, offered the Post the kind of pro-means-test refrain that has defined Democratic politics for a generation.

“Targeting the stimulus payments to lower-income households would both better support the households most in need and provide a large boost to the economy in the short-run,” he said.

It is certainly true that lower-income households need the money more than middle-income households — that data in the report is indisputable. But lots of people are in need right now, and even the Post’s attempt to obscure this effectively inadvertently admits that.

“Data indicates most people who did not need the money right away are saving the stimulus payments or using them to pay off student loan, credit card or mortgage debt,” the story says in its very last line, as if slightly reducing any of those crushing debt burdens is some sort of luxury expenditure and not a “need.”

There are other key points that go unaddressed in the report.

For example: Just because an aid program may have less of a stimulative effect on the macroeconomy, that doesn’t mean millions of people don’t actually need the money in the face of rising costs for food, shelter and medical care. And even from that standpoint, it isn’t clear that giving people money won’t help the economy if they don’t spend it immediately. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that saved checks are projected to stimulate the economy when COVID vaccines have been widely distributed and people have more opportunities to spend money.

Similarly, if some people can afford to hold onto their survival checks for a minute and save it for the dark days ahead, is that really the worst thing when we are all trying to live through a historic pandemic that’s not going away anytime soon?

The Lesson Of “Read My Lips”

Democratic apologists can argue the data all they want — they can trot out the smartest academics to declare that their means-testing ideas would so carefully slice up the aid with such razor sharp precision that it will liquefy in the pan.

They can dishonestly pretend they can’t just bring stripped down, $2,000 checks legislation to the House and Senate floors and force votes on it to try to shame the GOP into submission.

They can claim the filibuster prevents them from passing it, even though the party has the power to get rid of the filibuster.

They can even indignantly insist that Biden pushing $1,400 checks instead of new, full $2,000 checks isn’t literally a betrayal because yeah, $600 plus $1,400 does equal $2,000. Great — congratulations on intellectually ethering a desperate population with deadpan Vulcan logic. Please clap!

All of these arguments can be backed up with fancy charts, mind-numbing graphs and impenetrable fact sheets that literally nobody outside of Washington will read.

But it all misses the key point: The most exquisitely crafted “well, actually” arguments from Washington know-it-alls, academic experts, smug pundits and emoji-wielding Twitter mobs will not save Democrats from a voter backlash if they fail to deliver on their simple promise — just like George Bush’s technocratic arguments about budgets and taxes didn’t save him from a voter backlash after he issued his simple “read my lips” pledge and then violated it.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., seemed to be one of the only people in Congress to understand this political axiom when she responded to Biden’s post-election proposal by declaring: "$2,000 means $2,000. $2,000 does not mean $1,400.″

The political truism is indisputable: Do everything you can to try to deliver what you promised, or expect to pay a political price. That’s an especially relevant maxim for someone like Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who was elected on an explicit $2,000 pledge and will be up for reelection in less than two years.

Of course, there is the anti-demagoguery argument insisting that just because a proposal like $2,000 checks is popular in the moment doesn’t mean it worthy of enactment — but that misunderstands longer-term implications for the more-than-justifiable cause of both immediately helping lots of people and rebuilding social cohesion in America.

By definition, the more universal a program, the more people have a stake in a policy. This is the principle that has generated transpartisan support for programs like Social Security, Medicare and public schools. Yes, those programs are available to the top 0.1 percent of income earners who don’t need them — but that is the small price we pay for the rock-solid political consensus that has protected the programs from politicians and ideologues who want to destroy them.

The same principle is at play right now — at a moment when extreme partisan polarization resulted in a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a little universalism could signal that yes, government leaders can actually deliver on their promises and make simple, straightforward material benefits available to most people in the country, without burying them in paperwork, hassle, red tape and confusion.

This is a principle Biden of all people should understand — while he mostly ran a Seinfeld-ish campaign about nothing, he does genuinely seem to crave unity, and the initiatives that tend to be the most unifying are the ones that are, ya know, universal. But he’s clearly caught between his stated desire to unify the country and make bold change, and his competing obsession with Washington bipartisanship — and sorry, he can’t have both.

He’s going to have to choose — and the wrong choice will be disastrous.

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4 Answers 4

This is a history that perhaps should remain unwritten. If you're easily offended, you probably don't want to read it. And so I'll keep it brief. Bush may not appreciate the original source of the popularity of the phrase. which could not help but resonate for the many members of the British and US sub- and counter-cultures listening to him. And laughing.

The exact phrase "read my lips" first appears, in the documentation available to me, in the late 19th century. At that time, it was associated with teaching deaf children. So, this from an 1893 volume titled Summer Meetings: American Association to Promote Teaching of the Deaf is the first instance I could glean from Google Books:

He gave me three girls to teach for a week one of them was born deaf and dumb. I taught them to say some sentences and to read my lips in learning them.

Isolated appearances with reference to teaching the deaf continue through the first six decades of the twentieth century, and beyond, in books, journals and newspapers.

Then comes the boom in popularity, partially sponsored by a counter-culture film called The Rocky Horror Picture Show, starring Tim Curry et al. A Wikipedia article calls it "the longest-running release in film history". Let's just say it was popular. Very popular among select groups. Lips, in a variety of guises, feature large in the film. For example, a description of the film intro from a transcription:

< chant "Lips. lips. lips. " and cheer when they appear >
< "A long long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,
God said: 'Let there be lips,' (let's fuck) and there were.
And they were good. and the lips said 'thank you'. Sing!"
or "And on the eighth day God made lips.
And there were lips, and they were good lips,
and they gave good head"

When, in 1978, the star of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tim Curry, released his first solo album (an 'album' was at that time the medium for recorded music), he titled the album Read My Lips. The title traded heavily on the subtext arising from the artist's having been the star of the film. Its success among the sub- and counter-culture groups that made up the fan base of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was guaranteed. It remains a significant release for many fans, as an article at Why It Matters from September, 2013, testifies:

. Curry recorded some kickass albums for A&M Records.

Read My Lips was the first of the three, released in 1978 when Rocky Horror mania was at its peak. I was one of those Rocky Horror fans, which is why I’m writing this while wearing a corset and garter.

Be all that as it may, which it might or might not, because although William Saffire in a September, 1988 Washington Post article titled "ON LANGUAGE Read My Lips", seems to contradict it by quoting Tim Curry, he also confirms the origin is "rooted in rock music":

Read my lips is rooted in rock music. In 1978, the actor-singer Tim Curry gave that name to an album of songs written by others (though it did not include a song with that title copyrighted in 1957 by Joe Greene).

Reached in Washington, where he is appearing in ''Me and My Girl,'' Mr. Curry recalled that he got the phrase from an Italian-American recording engineer: ''I would say to him, 'We got it that time,' and he would say, 'Read my lips - we didn't.' That phrase arrested me, and I thought it would make an arresting album title. Be a good name for Mick Jagger's autobiography, come to think of it.''

Saffire goes on to complete his clandestine apologetics--a transparent, but apparently successful effort at damage control--for Bush's use by tracing perhaps more direct and less compromising influences. Notice that Saffire chooses to characterize Bush's use as a "stern intensifier", rather than sarcastic:

Read My Lips

Have politicians always been seen as liars? Mark Knights finds political spin at work in the early party politics of Queen Anne’s England.

There is a pervasive perception, undermining public trust in our political system, that today’s politicians lie. Many people feel that we were led to war against Iraq on the basis of a lie. The Hutton enquiry, in part designed to remedy the sense of distrust, only seemed to many to compound the problem, first by revealing further levels of deception and then by appearing to miss the truth that its investigation had revealed. According to the opinion polls, public confidence in the truthfulness of the prime minister plummeted.

Earlier this year the Archbishop of Canterbury even felt moved to suggest that, while we might not want to embrace ‘the melodramatic language of public deception’, it is right that in an era of ‘democraticised knowledge’ that the government’s truth-claims should be ‘tested’. Governments, he added, have a responsibility to pay attention to the truth if they want to retain the obedience of their citizens. He may have a point. In March this year Spanish voters turfed out a government it believed had misled them, for electoral advantage, about the nature of the terrorist outrage in Madrid.

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