Two key premises of President Bush were under challenge this past week. One concerned the ever-increasing probability that the alleged weapons of mass destruction which supposedly made military action against Iraq necessary will never be found and may never even have existed. The other involved a growing consensus among mainstream economists that Bush's just-enacted $350 billion tax cut (actually a $1 trillion tax cut in the estimate of some) will create massive longterm deficits that will ultimately force deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of the nation's safety-net programs.

Compounding both issues are doubts about the sincerity of the administration's motives. A suspicion -- fueled by some ambiguous remarks attributed to Defense Department undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz -- is growing that intelligence estimates about the WMDs were doctored or exaggerated to provide a pretext for the Iraqi war. Similarly, assorted Democrats and pundits are beginning to make the case that the erosion of social programs that may ensue from the current round of tax cuts would not be an inadvertent outcome but the whole point of the reductions -- which, famously and disproportionately, reward the already wealthy.

Last weekend, the Flyer sounded out Senators Lamar Alexander and Bill Frist, as well as 8th District congressman Marsha Blackburn and the visiting House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas concerning both issues. We regret to say that their responses were confined more or less to pro-administration boilerplate -- with the greatest degree of candor coming from Blackburn, who made it plain that her main concern domestically was with cutting spending, period, and DeLay, who seemed to relish the idea of toppling other Middle Eastern regimes (including that of our supposed allies in Saudi Arabia).

Those positions at least represented some degree of independent thought -- as distinct from spin, which increasingly (and unfortunately) is what passes for policy these days. And the trouble with spin is that ultimately it makes you too dizzy to see straight. It may already have.

A Famous Victory

As a result of 20 years of effort on the part of Memphis state Senator Steve Cohen, a state lottery has finally been established that will benefit college-bound Tennessee students for years to come. In some ways, the 19 years of struggle that culminated in last year's successful statewide lottery referendum was the easy part. There were times during the session that ended last week when it appeared legislators could not get together on enacting a workable lottery formula. But get together they did, finally, thanks to the willingness of Cohen and others to compromise on key points.

In the end, the lottery's scholarship provisions were broadened to provide extra benefits both for exceptional students and for those with challenged home environments. Students at both publicly funded and privately endowed colleges were made eligible. An estimated $177 million will be provided in scholarship funds from the sale of lottery tickets next year, and that amount is expected to grow to $215 million or so in ensuing years.

A potentially damaging showdown between Governor Phil Bredesen and Cohen, who can legitimately claim parentage of the lottery idea in Tennessee, was averted when the senator yielded on key points of administrative control. He is to be commended for doing so. Let the governor take responsibility for appointing members of the lottery's controlling board. And let Cohen take credit for his years of dedicated and persistent sponsorship. That's a fair settlement, and, after all, the real winner should be, and no doubt will be, the cause of higher education in Tennessee.

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