- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

If John F. Kennedy could speak to ultraliberal Sen. Paul Wellstone about tax rates and economic growth, what would he tell him? A new campaign ad poses that question to Minnesota voters.
There is no more left-wing Democrat in the Senate than Mr. Wellstone, who is running for a third term against former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, a popular Democrat-turned-Republican who has the senator on the ropes. The Americans for Democratic Action gives Mr. Wellstone a 100 percent score for his consistently liberal voting record, but it is his rigidly leftist positions that are on trial in this election.
Mr. Wellstone opposed President Bush's across-the-board income tax cuts and is among a number of Democratic lawmakers who want to repeal the remaining rate reductions for those in the top brackets.
The radio ad being run statewide by the United Seniors Association says JFK would tell Mr. Wellstone to support the 10-year rate cuts and vote to make them permanent. When the tax cuts are fully implemented, the top tax rate would be 35 percent, down from the 40 percent rate enacted under Bill Clinton.
The ad features a sound bite from an address President Kennedy gave to the Detroit Economic Club in 1962 when he was lobbying for his income tax cuts "to get the economy moving again."
"So long as our national security needs keep rising, an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough jobs or enough profits," Kennedy says in the radio spot.
Congress passed Kennedy's tax cuts and, just as he predicted, they not only got the economy growing again, the increased growth, profits and incomes sharply boosted the government's tax revenues that by the end of the 1960s produced a budget surplus.
The issues raised by the Kennedy tax cuts ad goes to the heart of the debate taking place in the Democratic Party today. Will the party return to the soak-the-rich, class-warfare policies of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Al Gore? Or will it turn to pro-growth, economic-expansionary policies championed by Kennedy? That debate was reignited last month when a phalanx of Democratic Leadership Council leaders attacked Mr. Gore for his divisive "people vs. the powerful" message in his presidential campaign. Even his running-mate, Joe Lieberman, bitterly criticized Mr. Gore's populist, liberal message, saying it came off as antibusiness, antiwealth and antisuccess. It turned off the moderate, independent, swing voters and cost Mr. Gore the election, Mr. Lieberman said.
Mr. Gore remains unapologetic about his political gamble. In a self-serving, rambling, nearly incoherent op-ed page article in the New York Times, the party's standard-bearer said: "Standing up for the people, not the powerful was the right choice in 2000. In fact, it is the ground of the Democratic Party's being, our meaning and our mission." If that is true, then the Democratic Party is in more trouble than the DLC leaders say it is.
Mr. Gore is flatly opposed to the Bush tax cuts and would repeal them in a minute if he could. So would a number of other Democratic leaders who want to challenge Mr. Gore for the party's nomination, including Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina, and Mr. Lieberman.
Hostility to tax cuts runs deep in today's tax-and-spend Democratic Party. Even the centrist-leaning DLC bashes the Bush tax cuts and would restore Mr. Clinton's 40 percent top tax rates on the people who save and invest most and pay the most taxes, too.
But the DLC has always had trouble figuring out what its economic policies should be. DLC founder Al From once called economics "a riddle." And in a speech to the National Governors Association last month, he said, "The 1990s economic boom was not a bubble, despite the overvaluation of some stocks." Not a bubble? Some stocks? That will come as news to a lot of poor, beleaguered investors who put their money into hundreds of ridiculously overvalued dot-com stocks whose collapse wiped out trillions of dollars in market values.
The American people find it hard to square the view that higher tax rates are good for the economy, good for business, good for investments and good for families trying to earn a living. One of Mr. Bush's strongest arguments for his tax rate cuts was his belief that no one in America today should pay more than one-third of his income in taxes, and most people would agree with that.
But not soak-the-rich Democrats like Paul Wellstone or Al Gore who see the tax cut issue in terms of class warfare in sharp contrast to John F. Kennedy's belief in an upwardly mobile, tax cut-driven economy where "a rising tide lifts all boats."
Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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