The Democratic Party has a newcomer in the race for the presidency, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who brings the field of candidates to 10. For such a large field, diversity of thought is remarkably absent, and one searches in vain for a new idea other than raising taxes and tariff barriers.
The "Tax and Spend 10" were out in full force for their first joint debate on the economy held in New York last Thursday evening. Clark attacked President Bush as a man who "recklessly cut taxes"; Sen. John Kerry called the Bush tax cuts "ill-advised" and "unaffordable"; and, not to be outdone, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean called the tax cuts "excessive and extraordinary." Rep. Dick Gephardt pledged to repeal them altogether.
All the candidates want to raise taxes, but none of them was willing to come right out and say so. Instead, they spoke in subliminal messages - the euphemism for raising taxes is so-called "fiscal responsibility" or temporarily "suspending" the tax cut. For example, Kerry observed, "We can cut the deficit in half, we can be fiscally responsible (raise taxes), but we don't have to do it on the backs of the middle class." Likewise, Dean stated, "Let's be fiscally responsible (raise taxes) and balance the budget." If they keep it up, they surely will prove "Mondale's Law," i.e., he who calls for tax hikes during a presidential election loses.
When Alabama voters voted down a $1.2 billion tax hike by a 2-to-1 margin in a statewide referendum, the voters touched off a political earthquake that still reverberates through state capitals and in campaigns across this country with aftershocks that will tremor from now until the presidential election in November 2004. This vote sends a clear and unambiguous warning to other governors who have raised taxes to cover their profligate spending of the late 1990s, to the would-be governors in California and to the Democratic presidential hopefuls: Tax hikes are not the answer - economically or politically.
The Tax-and-Spend 10 think the $87 billion budget request for Iraqi occupation and reconstruction provides them the hook to raise taxes. Listen to how Florida Sen. Bob Graham spins the need to raise taxes to pay for "unanticipated new responsibilities" required to fight the war on terrorism: "We are asking our children and our grandchildren to pay for these costs. We're writing a deficit bill the likes of which we've never seen, which we're not going to assume responsibility for, but ask our children."
The senator could not be more wrong. First, we have seen deficits like this in the past, especially during times of war. At the height of World War II, our deficit as a percentage of GDP was slightly more than 30 percent; today it is close to 4 percent of GDP. Second, if the president is correct and Iraq is about our future national security, the costs of defending our country and way of life from terrorism should indeed be shared by future generations, who will benefit from it the most.
On the issue of trade, there was some room for optimism in the debate. There weren't as many vitriolic anti-trade and protectionist statements as the candidates expressed at the AFL-CIO meeting earlier this year. But, again, while the candidates paid lip service to free trade, there also were the code words such as "fair trade" that signal protectionism by another name to the party faithful. Some of the candidates, such as Dean, would strangle future trade agreements in their infancy by pushing counterproductive labor and environmental standards. How can you be for the downtrodden and developing countries and simultaneously impose trade regulations that will impair their ability to compete in the global economy? Just as Democrats can't legitimately profess to be for jobs and at the same time anti-employer, they can't be for developing countries and anti-trade.
The Democratic challengers should visit Alabama soon because the people of Alabama, on behalf of taxpayers everywhere, have fired a shot across the bow of tax-happy politicians of all stripes - "You are part of the problem, not the solution." The voters of Alabama merely voiced what most Americans already know and what Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) effectively observed in his new book, "A National Party No More," "Government takes too much from our taxpayers - big and little alike. Federal-state-local taxes come at us from every direction. It's like a never-ending meteor shower." The Tax-and-Spend 10 provide voters not a choice but merely an echo of the past. They are listening to the Herbert Hoover wing of the Republican Party, not the John F. Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party.