In a recent speech, former President Bill Clinton grudgingly praised Republicans for stealing traditional Democratic issues, but failed to mention that his party is developing a new level of sophistication in co-opting issues itself.
Clinton chastised Democrats for allowing Republicans to get away with claiming the Homeland Security bill (among other initiatives) as their own after initially opposing it. He said that Republicans "turned on a dime" on that issue when they realized it enjoyed substantial public support.
I have remembered Clinton's lament as I've observed a near conspiratorial level of tax-cutting rhetoric from Democratic presidential flirters of late. Last week, Senator John Kerry called for "new tax cuts for the middle class," as he got ever closer to making a formal announcement of his presidential candidacy. The rest of the emerging Democrat supply-side army came out in full force on the Sunday talk shows (Al Gore and Senators Landrieu, Lieberman and Corzine) -- as if having come from a secret meeting with talking points at the ready, anxious to purloin this popular topic from Republican clutches.
This sudden epidemic of tax-cut fever among Democrats is odd, given their generally consistent opposition to tax cuts over the last two decades. (I realize Clinton promised a middle-class tax cut, but he reneged, opting for the largest tax increase in history.) Not only have Democrats played the class-warfare card against all Republican tax-cut proposals, they have moralized about their damaging effect on the federal budget. They haven't just opposed cuts on grounds of fairness but as bad economics.
Now they've done a 180 -- or at least, so it seems -- in an effort to steal any Republican tax-cut thunder (I guess their exit polls tell them the issue is a sure winner). But in this case, the issue-theft has taken on a different dimension.
You see, generally, political issue heists have followed a familiar pattern: One party sees that a particular position of the other is playing well with the electorate, then gradually moves toward that position before wholly expropriating it.
Though the looting party always adds its particular flavor, the character of the issue remains, more or less, intact. An example of this is the Republicans newfound enthusiasm for federal involvement in education; their education plan is different from the Democrats,' but the Democratic principle of federal intervention is nonetheless vindicated in the process.
But on the matter of tax cuts, we're witnessing a paradigm shift in the art of issue-thievery. The Democrats are attempting to pilfer the issue but in a different way. They are after the issue in name only, not in substance. It's as if they were a business that admired a competitor's hugely successful marketing logo for a certain product and snatched it for themselves, only to apply it to a completely different line of goods.
It's this different line of goods that ought to concern free-marketeers, much more than the theft of the tax-cut issue. That's because the Democrats' tax cut proposals aren't just Reagan-lite or George-W.-Bush-lite, as our Republican education bills, for example, might be Kennedy-lite. The Democrats' tax cut proposals bear no resemblance to supply-side capitalism but rather are repackaged socialism.
True, supply-siders have always promoted tax cuts aimed at stimulating economic growth by providing incentives for work, production, investment and entrepreneurship. This has meant cutting marginal income tax and capital gains rates across the board, not just for lower and middle-income producers. Democratic leaders, almost to a man, are opposing any cuts for the higher producers and want to freeze those already in place.
Even though the top 50 percent of taxpayers are paying 96 percent of total taxes and the top one half of 1 percent are paying almost 30 percent, the rich still aren't paying their fair share, according to the socialists. But by couching their wealth redistribution schemes in the euphemistic language of tax cuts they are trying to swipe the decades of goodwill Republicans have built for tax cuts and use it to punish the very things supply-side capitalism seeks to reward.
Democrats aren't for tax cuts now or ever. But they are against free markets and equal opportunity for everyone, preferring a command economy that ensures equality of outcomes. They have just figured out a way to cover their redistributionist designs in an innocuous wrapper -- a move shrewdly sinister enough to impress the most Machievellian of political strategists.
Conservatives should concern themselves less with Democratic issue theft and more with these persistent assaults on our economic liberties.