A few questions for the Democratic candidates

Posted: Dec 11, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- President William McKinley, said a fellow Republican, had an ear so close to the ground it was filled with grasshoppers. Democratic presidential candidates, with Iowa and New Hampshire insects swarming in their ears, have honed answers to questions from Democratic primary voters. Now for some different questions:

-- Democrats denounced George W. Bush's ``unilateralism'' long before the Iraq War, partly because of his refusal to seek Senate ratification of the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. The Clinton administration, which negotiated the protocol for two years and signed it in 1998, refused to send it to the Senate, which had voted 95-0 against ratifying anything resembling it. The European Union's environmental commissioner says 13 of the 15 EU members will not meet this year's emissions targets stipulated by the Protocol. Only Britain and Sweden will comply; France, which lectures America about multilateral responsibilities, will not. Europe is failing to limit emissions even though its economy is stagnant, which makes compliance easier. Canada, another of America's moral auditors, is having second thoughts about a climate treaty that does not regulate such developing nations as China and India (more than one-third of the human race in those two nations) because the treaty is an impediment to economic growth. An adviser to President Putin says Russia will not sign the Protocol. Doing so would sap Russia's economic vigor, ending Putin's dreamy goal of doubling Russia's GDP by 2010. So what exactly is distinctively unilateral with Bush's policy regarding Kyoto?

-- Exhibit B for the prosecution of the president's ``unilateralism'' is his wariness of the International Criminal Court, lest it target U.S. military personnel. How does Bush's policy differ from President Clinton's?

-- Exhibit C in the ``unilateralism'' indictment is that Bush withdrew from the 1972 ABM treaty, an agreement with a deceased entity, the Soviet Union, to inhibit development of defenses against things now proliferating -- ballistic missiles. Bush's withdrawal was in complete compliance with the treaty provision for either party to unilaterally conclude that the treaty no longer serves its national interest. Given that since 1972 the world has been transformed, technologically as well as politically, should the treaty have been immortal? And why were Democrats more disturbed than Putin by the withdrawal?

-- The Bush administration's really lawless unilateralism was its 21 months of steel tariffs. The imposition of them, for purely political reasons, was reprehensible. The manner of lifting them, after two adverse rulings by the World Trade Organization and the credible threat of politically costly retaliations, was disgraceful. In a perverse tribute to the centennial of the birth of George Orwell, who said insincerity is the enemy of clear language, the administration, showing contempt for the public's intelligence, insisted on lifting the tariffs without using the word ``tariffs,'' preferring the Orwellean locution ``temporary steel safeguard measures.'' And the administration, which is struggling to have its words about Iraq taken seriously, insisted that the sudden lifting of the tariffs, 15 months early, had nothing to do with the WTO and everything to do with ``changed economic circumstances,'' and the alleged fact that the tariffs ``have now achieved their purpose.'' If Democrats strenuously oppose unilateralism, why has the president's belated conformity to international norms been denounced by the two leading Democratic candidates, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt?

-- For the July-September quarter, economic growth was 8.2 percent, the fastest since 1984, productivity growth was 9.4 percent, the fastest since 1983, and manufacturing reached its highest level since 1983. Is it pure coincidence that in 1983-84, as today, the nation was deep into the first term of a tax-cutting Republican administration?

-- Although unemployment declined in November for the fourth consecutive month, Democrats say job creation is alarming because it is slow relative to the economy's growth. But Fortune magazine reports that although manufacturing jobs have declined 16 percent since the summer of 2000, ``factories are producing more than they ever have.'' Over the past two decades steel production has increased from 75 million tons in 1982 to 102 million tons in 2002 -- but whereas 289,000 workers were required to produce the 75 million tons, just 74,000 workers produced the 102 million. Do Democrats believe this increased productivity is an economic misfortune?

-- In the last nine presidential elections (1968-2000), the 11 states of the Confederacy, plus Kentucky and Oklahoma, have awarded 1,385 electoral votes. Democratic candidates have won just 270 (20 percent) of them. Which Deanisms -- the war is bad, same-sex civil unions are good, Americans are undertaxed -- will be most helpful to Democrats down there?

Just wondering.