Alan Reynolds

I never understood what Alan Greenspan meant by "irrational exuberance" until I saw Howard Dean's reaction to getting 18 percent of the Iowa vote. A spokesman for another candidate who fared poorly griped that the winners "stole our message." That would not be hard to do, since they are all saying the same thing.

Some say it seriously (Kerry), some with a growl (Dean) and some with a smile (Edwards). But they share soundbites and offer the same solution to every problem -- much higher tax rates on success and savings.

All Democratic candidates feel obliged to declare they are "fighting for working families." What does that mean? Are they disinterested in the retired, unmarried or unemployed? And what is a working family, anyway? Mature college-educated, two-earner married couples in major metropolitan areas are likely to have combined incomes above $100,000. That clearly disqualifies them as "working families" in the Democrats' lexicon. In fact, a related campaign theme is that such people don't "need" what they earn, so they can never be taxed enough.

Every candidate claims to speak for "ordinary people." Never mind that Kerry is an affluent Boston aristocrat married to an heiress, Dean was an affluent Park Avenue patrician, Clark was a top-ranking general, and Edwards a famous trial lawyer. Rolling up your sleeves is considered evidence enough of being just an ordinary fellow.

Every candidate promises to "take back the government from the special interests." Yet Dean was eager for endorsements from government employee unions, and Edwards is eager for contributions from trial lawyers. They run against "the establishment," yet boast of endorsements from establishment figureheads.

Nearly every candidate promises perfection in nearly everything. Elect me, they say, and every sick person will have access to the world's best physician. Every student will study with the world's best professor. Those who worked for will get their old jobs back. Nobody will every again be even slightly hungry, and the national obesity crisis will end.

John Edwards stops just short of guaranteeing it will rain only at night. But overpromising is a bipartisan affliction, illustrated by the cliche that no child, regardless how lazy and ill-behaved, will ever be "left behind." A year ago, President Bush set himself the impossible task of promising employment for "every man and woman who seeks a job." Zero unemployment means everyone who quit a job would instantly find another. Those with wildly exaggerated views of their own qualifications would instantly find ideal jobs in perfect places with appropriately lavish salaries and perks.

Alan Reynolds

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