A bolder Bush

Posted: Jan 21, 2003 12:00 AM
Bush 41 compromised more as his presidency wore on. Next week's State of the Union address will emphasize that Bush 43 is returning to principle on many domestic issues after a tepid first two years. One example is the president's plan to end the double taxation of corporate dividends. Liberal journalists are framing that as a boon to the rich, but the real (and largely unrecognized) benefit of the plan is its reduction in Wall Street's recent tendency to imitate a Powerball lottery. Now, companies are taxed on their profits, and when they pass on some of those profits to investors in the form of dividends, those individuals are taxed on that income once again. This means the federal government can grab over half of each dollar in profit that a company makes available to its shareholders. Corporations looking to the interest of their shareholders have reacted to double taxation by pushing capital gains. In the 1990s, that emphasis led to companies with hyped prospects soaring, as human greed created stock-market bubbles. Some people started betting instead of investing, hoping to strike a spike and then sell quickly. An emphasis on dividends is much healthier. Corporations that pay dividends to stockholders actually have to be making money. As Frank Sullivan, a chemical company CEO, put it: "Dividends are one of the easiest ways to gauge the quality of a company's earnings. You need real cash to pay dividends. You can't pay them with Tyco or Enron accounting." George W. Bush in 2001 stressed temporary tax cuts. Now he is displaying a plan based on the moral sense that investment is good and speculation isn't. He's also proposing what will help in the long run and not merely provide a short-term fix for markets and re-election campaigns. The other correction Bush apparently is making is in the faith-based initiative, which suffered in 2001 as the administration tried to pick up liberal support by playing to fears about "proselytizing." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, that word apparently first appeared in 1679. It means to induce or coerce a person to convert. That's something the Bible opposes, because an expression of faith is a lie if it's made without faith. Evangelicals especially don't favor that kind of proselytizing. Liberals, however, have often stretched the definition to make it seem as if any mention of God to a person seeking to turn around his life is proselytizing. The Bush faith-based initiative floundered in 2001 as its key spokesman, John DiIulio, regularly said that religious groups offering spiritual help alongside material help were not welcome. In recent statements, though, Bush has gone to bat for groups like Victory Center, an evangelical homeless shelter in Iowa that offers the needy a chapel service and Bible studies, and for that reason had a federal grant taken from it by the Clinton administration. Bush has also ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to "revise its policy on emergency relief so that religious nonprofit groups can qualify for assistance after disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes." Organizations that incorporate religious teaching, such as the Seattle Hebrew Academy, will be treated like other social service providers that suffer damage. Bush also has signed an executive order establishing new centers for faith-based and community initiatives, including one at the Department of Agriculture. That's important, because the Clinton administration cut off the long-established flow of surplus food to many faith-based homeless shelters and did not allow long-term residents in job-training programs to use food stamps at religious centers. Look for more hints of this in the State of the Union address, which should include Bush's pledge to establish a level playing field for all helping organizations, including religious ones. In 2001 the White House faith-based office compromised the Bush principles by tilting the level playing field away from evangelical groups. The new, principled understanding that opens participation to all except those who practice coercion should give the faith-based initiative new life.