In their endless quest for a hammer to beat President Bush with, Democrats have finally stumbled onto some issues they think may sell well if they carp often and loudly enough between now and the 2004 presidential election.
Conveniently, several events have fallen into their laps that are deliciously ripe for the type of race and class politics on which they've become virtuosos. I know what you're thinking. This is nothing new. Democrats have been railing against the president's tax policy and Republicans' insensitivity toward blacks for years. True, but the stars have now aligned to allow Democrats to present these in a slightly worse light to Republicans and in a marginally different way.
Interestingly, the reason they've acquired new ammunition is that President Bush has shown the courage to take principled stands on both fronts, knowing he would be barraged with demagogic posturing from the moment he announced his positions. It's ironic how Bush's statesmanship is fueling the Democrats' war machinery.
Bush has renominated conservative judges, like Pickering, whom Democrats have already promised to cast as racists, again. More significantly, Bush has fulfilled a campaign promise – after rumors that he wouldn't – to oppose affirmative action head-on, by filing a brief against the University of Michigan Law School's admissions policy. Meanwhile, Congressman Dick Gephardt says he'll personally file an amicus brief supporting the school. How noble and selfless.
So now Democrats have not one but two examples of President Bush's "insensitivity to civil rights," which is liberal code language for "racism." But this ploy may not work, since most Americans instinctively know that racial preferences, no matter which race they favor, are anti-American, violate equal protection of the law and are just plain wrong.
Now, on to taxes. It just doesn't seem that the Democrats' Marxist rhetoric about Republicans favoring the rich is resonating anymore. It's hard to tell whether it's because they've gone to that well too often or that their assertion is based on a lie. In fact, Bush's tax cuts are objectively progressive; those with higher incomes get proportionately lower reductions.
Or maybe it's just that the absurdity of their claim is becoming more obvious in light of common knowledge that the top 50 percent of income earners pay almost all of the income taxes: 96 percent. Or perhaps it's just that those who don't pay taxes and own little corporate stock don't vote. Regardless, Democrats have had to retool their stale tax tactics.
With strategic creativity that would make idea-man Dick Morris proud, Democrats have devised a novel way to skewer Bush's tax plan, which has the added benefit of besmirching his war effort. Heck, it puts into question his entire leadership, even makes him look reckless toward future generations – just when Americans are feeling so comfortable entrusting him with their security.
Instead of focusing only on the supposed "payoff" to the rich, Democrats are also questioning Bush's fiscal responsibility. The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein served it up well in a recent column: "Old Question: What did you do in the war, Daddy? New Answer: I pocketed a large tax cut, honey. Pause. And then passed the bill for the war onto you." Brownstein adds that cutting taxes in wartime is "unprecedented in history. … Forget guns and butter. Bush is not offering bombs and caviar." More code language here (caviar), this time to denigrate the nation's biggest producers.
Democratic presidential aspirants have joined the chorus, from Sens. Biden, Daschle, Edwards and Kerry to Congressman Gephardt. So Bush has not just declared war on the poor (in the amazing words of liberal icon Mario Cuomo). He's attacking our grandchildren as well. These critics never bother to explain why their static analysis didn't apply during the '80s when President Reagan's tax cuts nearly doubled revenues.
They ignore the fact that growth, not tax hikes, is the best antidote for deficits. Nor do they address the other components (besides the war) of the spending side of the equation. But President Bush does, by recommending serious reductions in spending rate increases for domestic programs that have soared out of control in recent years.
And Democrats resist efforts at entitlement reform, without which any long-term effort toward fiscal responsibility will be fruitless. Their idea of entitlement reform is to suspend the payroll tax for the lowest wage earners while blathering about a "Social Security lockbox."
When it's all said and done, these "new" Democratic tactics will be seen for what they are: the same old ideas in a new wrapper.