He doesn't look like her, he doesn't talk like her and he's not married to the same person. But once a year, just as the federal budget is submitted to Congress, David Stockman goes into his Martha Mitchell routine: he gets so angry he forgets himself and tells the truth.
The late Mrs. Mitchell did that concerning Watergate and the shenanigans of her husband John. In a more sexist age, it was possible to attribute those cries of truth to the ramblings of a daffy dame -- and this was done. Stockman is neither daffy nor a dame, but he is nevertheless denounced and shunned. In the last week, the director of the Office of Management and Budget has gone totally bonkers and been caught telling the truth. In this town, people have been committed for less.
First Stockman took on the hallowed and legendary farmers of America. They are, it is true, in trouble, but it is also true that they're almost always in trouble. The farm crisis has been around longer than George Burns and so, too, has one cause of it -- land speculation. Farmers did what any normal American would do. With the price of farm land rising, they borrowed to buy more. Now with farm prices falling, they have land that's not worth what they paid for it -- and whopping loans to boot.
Stockman had the nerve to point that out. In fact, he had the nerve to suggest that farmers, like other speculators, were responsible for their own plight. For this, the wrath of Farm Belt politicians descended on him. They reminded Stockman that he is not talking about land speculators or even small businessmen, but the legendary farmers of America -- producers of our food without which we would starve.
Stockman was clearly out of control. Recklessly, he took on military pensions. Once again, he proclaimed what everyone already knows: military pensions are a scandal. The average GI retires on half pay at age 42. The program will cost $18.3 billion next year. Stockman even suggested that if the Pentagon were forced to choose between its fatted pensions and a weapons system, it would choose the former. This is a purely hypothetical choice since, as Stockman well knows, under this administration the Pentagon can have both -- and maybe also a Jacuzzi for every retiree. Still, Stockman clearly had gone too far.
The first to remind him of that was Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), who is to the military what Jerry Zipkin is to Nancy Reagan -- a friend for shopping trips. Goldwater called Stockman's critique "about as distasteful as anything I've heard coming out of this administration or any other." That covers a lot of territory, but it was nothing compared with what the Veterans of Foreign Wars said. They sent a telegram to the president demanding that the "4-F draft-dodgingStockman" be fired -- maybe just for being a divinity student during the Vietnam war.
Quickly Stockman was taught some truths. The first is that everyone in the military is a patriot who enlisted for the same reason that men in three-cornered hats once defended Bunker Hill. All the television commercials that attempt to entice kids to war by showing them they can learn a trade or have the fun of jumping out of a helicopter into the mud are designed merely to fool the Soviets. No one, as Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.) suggested, either joins the military or stays in for other than patriotic reasons. Just why they choose to retire at the age of 42 is never explained. Possibly they think they can best serve their country by drawing a pension.
Soon, someone will sneak over from the White House to the Old Executive Office Building, where Stockman works, and give him his yearly tranquilizer. He will be reminded that in Washington you can say anything you want about the farm program or military pensions -- but not the truth. Here, it will not make you free. It will merely make you unemployed.