Friday, October 22


E.J. Dionne, he's the man making sense in WaPo. Today he warns readers that a vote for Bush is more than a vote in favor of his handling of the war on terror. Bush likes to win squeaker elections and then interpret them as mandates to accomplish his radical agenda of Social Security and tax reform, among others:

He's not big on the specifics. Yet if Bush is reelected, he will claim a domestic mandate that will come as a surprise to many who voted for him. We know this because Bush lacked a policy mandate in 2000 -- he didn't even win the popular vote -- and nonetheless pushed through two rounds of tax cuts tilted to the wealthy that have built those staggering long-term deficits. In 2004, voters should pay attention to the mandate behind the curtain.
But if Bush will say whatever it takes about terrorism to win reelection, what will he do with his victory? Bush often says that he wants to allow individuals to invest part of their Social Security tax payments in personal accounts. What he doesn't say is how he will cover the transitional costs of at least $1 trillion over a decade. He would guarantee current recipients and those near retirement what they are due under the present system, but he won't say how much he would cut the existing guaranteed benefit for future recipients. All privatization plans that claim to reduce the long-term costs of Social Security, as Bush says his would, are based on cuts in future government benefits.

Bush skimps on the details because he knows the details are the unpopular part of his idea. Those who say Bush will have to propose benefit cuts are accused of "scaring" people. But voters should be scared when politicians talk about the benefits of their grand schemes and don't level with them on the costs.

The same is true of Bush's promise of "fundamental tax reform." All the evidence -- from bills introduced in Congress and from ideas floated by the administration -- suggests that Republicans want to shift the tax burden away from investment and savings and toward wages and consumption. That's a recipe for putting even more of the total tax burden on lower- and middle-income people and less of it on the wealthy. In August, Bush even described a national sales tax as "the kind of interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously." The White House quickly backtracked, and no one has done much since to pin Bush down.

Some conservative legislators have put forward detailed proposals for a national sales tax and Social Security privatization. I think these ideas are a mistake, but I admire the willingness of these politicians to open their plans to public scrutiny. Bush, on the other hand, hides the details. He wants to get himself reelected by talking about terrorism -- and he will inform the electorate only after Nov. 2 that they voted for a lot of other things that they never heard much about.

I'm reasonably confident that a victory for Furious George will also result in a fury of legislative and judicial assaults on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, gays and lesbians, civil liberties, and working families.


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