Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison.
When Vice President George H.W. Bush accepted the GOP nomination for president in New Orleans in 1988, he memorably said: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Too memorably, as things turned out. He won that election handily, carrying forty states against the hapless Michael Dukakis and 53% of the vote. It was the last comfortable victory the Republicans have seen.
By 1990, however, President Bush was in a bind. He had an army in Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield and he had a solidly Democratic Congress determined to force him to break his tax pledge. His OMB Director, the late Dick Darman, urged him to make a deal with the Hill and get on with the business of governing. When more savvy political advisers protested, citing the “Read my Lips, no new taxes” pledge to the American people, Darman reportedly replied that those were just words some speechwriter put in front of the president.
That may be. But the president’s lips pronounced those words. And his breaking of his over-the-top promise to Americans doomed the Bush presidency. Arguably, the Bush fracturing splintered Ronald Reagan’s winning coalition, a solid majority that Republicans have not been able to reassemble since. Despite a stratospheric 91% approval rating following his lightning victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces in the first Gulf War, Bush’s standing sagged for two years. His broken promise fueled grassroots rage and the Perot challenge. Bush 41 fell to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, gaining an abysmal 37% of the popular vote. Columnist George Will said he had made a sow’s ear of the Reagan silk purse. Even Barbara Bush piled on. Commenting on his retirement sport of skydiving, she puckishly said she hadn’t seen her George take such a plunge since the `92 campaign.
Today, we see millions, yes, millions of Americans, losing their health care coverage. These are the folks who were promised over and over by President Obama “if you like your doctor, you can keep him or her; if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” Well, it turns out that millions of Americans cannot keep their doctors or their plans. They have been betrayed. They are outraged. They should be.
Many of these rejected and dejected millions are Obama voters. As The New York Times’ Ross Douthat has noted, these are folks whose household incomes—in the $50-80,000 range—are too high for subsidies but are too low to easily absorb a doubling of their health care premiums. Moreover, as Douthat wisely points out, these are the folks who chose policies with high deductibles, who were in truth doing the most to keep health care costs down.
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