- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

A lot of women (and no doubt men) are tired of hearing the yakety-yak about "the women's vote." And why not? It assumes the worst kind of stereotyping.

The "soccer moms" have supposedly morphed into "whipsawed women," a rather ungainly description for certain persons of the female persuasion who are identified by Democratic pollsters Geoff Garin and Celinda Lake as downscaled "cross-pressured" soccer moms.

A whipsaw, as any tool-literate, postmodern woman knows, is a narrow, tapered saw with hooked teeth that moves in opposite directions. Not since Geoffrey Chaucer gave us the gapped-tooth Wife of Bath as a symbol for lust have women been so aggressively charged with such a toothful (not to say toothsome) metaphor.

These teeth-grinding women are said to prefer Democrats for social issues and Republicans for moral values. But who can separate the social from the moral? Judging by the questions they ask, the pollsters do.

Education, for example, is both a social and moral issue. Who doesn't want our kids to be well-educated in a disciplined environment conducive to effective learning and good conduct? It's difficult to see how this is more of a mother's issue than a father's issue, since lousy schools paid for by taxpayer money put pressure on the whole family to find the cash for private schools.

That's why George W. Bush is right about the appeal of vouchers, including those for parochial schools. This issue cuts across ideological lines. His call for faith-based community organizations to participate in after-school programs cuts across economic anxieties, too.

Women, like men, vote with their pocketbooks. A sleeper economic issue gaining attention on Capitol Hill and in the presidential campaign is the federal estate tax, or more aptly, the "death tax."

Working men and women want their children, not the tax collector, to get the money they have worked for. That's what the American dream is all about. But after a $650,000 exemption, the rate of tax is 37 percent, and it gradually increases as the estate increases so that it runs as high as 55 percent. This not only punishes hard-working moms and dads who work for their children's future, but it often kills small family businesses and family farms, which must be sold to satisfy the death tax. It hits hardest the families whose major assets are land or other property. Whole families pay the price.

The death tax was once considered a tax for redistributing the wealth of the super rich, but the super rich can hire accountants and lawyers who are clever enough to find loopholes, such as trusts. For all the grief it causes, the death tax generates less than 1 percent of all federal revenues.

In these days of prosperity, the death tax has become another heavy burden on the middle class, not the super rich, whose assets are in a family home and business. Who can be surprised that many of these middle-class folk have decided that it's no longer worth a growing economy to work so hard. If the bureaucrats are going to get it, they might as well spend it.

A new study shows how the death tax has specific negative effects on women-owned businesses and is perceived, legitimately, as a "women's issue" because so many women have become entrepreneurs.

The Center for the Study of Taxation surveyed approximately 272 family-owned businesses among members of the National Association of Women Business Owners. These women described how they resisted business expansion and the creation of new jobs because they were required to divert money and energy to work out plans for paying estate taxes. The number of additional jobs lost was estimated at more than 28,000. Four out of 10 who were surveyed reported that their businesses would have to be sold to pay the federal estate tax at the death of a principal owner or owners.

When Steve Forbes campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination, his strongest issues were always the economic ones, and he brought crowds to laughter (and tears) with droll humor about the death tax. "No taxation," he cried, "without respiration." Elimination of the estate tax is one of the most popular ideas in George W.'s tax-cut plan. Al Gore stands with the president in opposing it.

The death tax has been described appropriately as the hand of government reaching into the grave. Boomers who have enjoyed prosperous times but hardly consider themselves rich will be surprised to find out how small the actual inheritance they leave their children is.

Mourning then becomes an electric personal loss and an economic disaster.

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