Last November when Democrats were coming close to stealing the presidential election from George W. Bush, Cleta Mitchell, a former Democratic member of the Oklahoma legislature, explained in the Wall Street Journal how Democrats wage political war. “The use of government to feed friends and starve enemies is something Democrats know instinctively,” she wrote. If Republicans intend to make a difference, they must “commit themselves to learning and practicing the art of political war.”
Republicans certainly lack political warfare skills except when they attack their own party´s policies. Republicans are so effete that Bill Clinton survived unprecedented scandals. Who can imagine Democrats picking a softie like Ken Starr to go after a Republican president? Mrs. Mitchell should open a political warfare school for Republicans, but they would probably think themselves too “decent” to attend.
The public gets frustrated with Republicans, because electing Republicans seldom changes anything. In my lifetime, Ronald Reagan was the only Republican president who made a difference. When elections pass the ball to Republicans, they usually fumble.
Even when Republicans do something like President Bush´s tax cut they don´t really do it. The tax rate reduction is phased in over such a long time that Republicans will reap no political gain. “The rich,” allegedly a Republican constituency, are deemed to be too fortunate to have their tax rate reduced.
In 1986, the top tax rate was reduced to 28 percent in exchange for repealing the many loopholes that softened the burden of the income tax. It was a fool´s game. Once the loopholes were gone, the tax rates were raised. Republicans led the way. The first George Bush raised the rate 5 percentage points, and Bill Clinton added 7, which came to 1 point per year for 12 years. Now Bush II is reducing the rate 3.6 percentage points, leaving the bulk of the increase in place. If this pattern repeats, the top rate will soon be back to 50 percent.
If tax cuts were unpopular, a person could understand the Republicans´ reluctance to fight for them. But tax cuts are only unpopular with the left wing, who are far from a political majority.
Republicans pretend that they fought hard for Bush II´s tax cut. But it only took one Democratic congressional staffer, John Buckley on the House Ways and Means Committee, to defeat them. He didn´t even need a good argument.
Mr. Buckley concocted a ruse. He claimed that repeal of the Death Tax would be far more costly than even the exaggerated “static” revenue estimates of the Joint Tax Committee staff showed it to be. Mr. Buckley claimed that “the rich” would take advantage of the repeal of the Death Tax to avoid income and capital gains taxes. Children in lower tax brackets would be given income-producing assets, and appreciated assets would be given to dying relatives, who would return it as inheritance with a “step-up” in basis. Thus, income and capital gains tax revenues would be lost on top of the lost revenues from the tax on inheritance.
The Joint Tax Committee staff has a longstanding tradition of rebuffing supply-side economics and refusing to make revenue estimates that take into account the behavioral responses of taxpayers to changes in tax rates. But this time, the Joint Tax Committee staff seized on Mr. Buckley´s ruse and raised its estimate of the revenues lost from repeal of the Death Tax by 61 percent. The ruse left a $250 billion hole in the budget.
Did Republicans call in the staff director of the Joint Tax Committee, Lindy Paull, and remind her that it is not her job to help Democrats sabotage the tax cut? Did they replace Miss Paull with someone who is not a ninny? No. Instead, the Republicans sacrificed the cut in the top tax rate and phased in the repeal of the Death Tax over such a long period that it may never happen.
One Democratic staffer, John Buckley, was more than a match for the Bush administration and the Republican Congress combined. It wasn´t President Bush who called the shots on his tax bill. Nor was it his chief of staff or treasury secretary. Nor was it the Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee or the speaker of the House. All of these Republican bigwigs danced to John Buckley´s tune.
That tells you all you need to know about Republicans.
Paul Craig Roberts is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.