- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2004

Here’s a radical thought. Maybe the big differences in tax-policy positions among the top four Democratic presidential candidates competing in Iowa (John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt) had an impact on the startling results from the Hawkeye state’s caucuses this week. If so, it would be news to The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, none of which considered the notion in the 20,000 words their reporters filed from Iowa on the night of the caucuses.

The top four Democratic candidates contesting Iowa spent all of 2003 crisscrossing the state. They visited each of its 99 counties attacking the Bush administration’s economic policies for their impact upon middle-class families. Each pledged to reverse at least part of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which, according to their common mantra, were heavily skewed in favor of the wealthy. But there was one huge difference: Messrs. Dean and Gephardt promised to repeal the entire package of income-tax cuts that Congress had passed during those two years; while Messrs. Kerry and Edwards pledged to retain those tax cuts aimed at the middle class.

This difference was a matter of major contention among the candidates as Messrs. Kerry and Edwards were surging in the polls during the two weeks before the caucuses. Indeed, during the Jan. 7 debate broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR), Mr. Kerry attacked Messrs. Dean and Gephardt directly. “You’re going to add to [the middle-class tax] burden [by] taking away [the $500 increase] in the child tax credit, taking away the 10 percent bracket. Everybody in Iowa will pay additional taxes,” Mr. Kerry rightly charged, “and the marriage penalty will be re-instated.” Mr. Dean said Mr. Kerry’s accurate charge was “hogwash.”

The candidates again battled over taxes, four days later on Jan. 11 (eight days before caucuses) at an MSNBC-sponsored debate in Des Moines. “There was no middle-class tax cut in this country,” Mr. Dean flatly asserted. But he was wrong.

Consider a married couple raising two children and earning $50,000 per year, which closely approximates the nation’s median family income. Before the Bush tax cuts, that family would have paid $3,493 in federal income taxes. After the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, the same family would pay $1,545 in federal income taxes. That represents a tax cut of $1,948, which amounts to more than 55 percent.

Confirming Mr. Kerry’s assertions during the NPR debate, the $1,948 tax cut given to this middle-class family included: (a) $1,000 from the doubling of the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000; (b) $700 from the new 10 percent tax bracket; and (c) $248 from the elimination of this family’s marriage penalty. As any sentient Iowan clearly understood from Messrs. Kerry and Edwards’ relentless repetition of the tax-policy differences among the candidates, each of these middle-class tax cuts would have been reversed by Messrs. Gephardt and Dean.

Thus, it is quite reasonable to believe that the tax issue significantly contributed to the electoral successes achieved by the Kerry and Edwards campaigns at the expense of the far better organized campaigns of the erstwhile Iowa front-runners, Messrs. Gephardt and Dean. Amazingly, however, such a rational notion evidently never occurred to the nearly 20 Iowa-based reporters writing about the caucus results for The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

The Washington Times editorial page has read the more than 20,000 words dispatched from Iowa on the evening of Jan. 19 by reporters writing for these three widely recognized liberal newspapers. The seven Iowa-based articles appearing in the front section of The Post on Jan. 20 comprised more than 7,800 words, but not a single article mentioned the word “tax” or any variation thereof. Seven New York Times writers contributed more than 6,500 words from Iowa reporting and analyzing the results of the caucuses. The “tax” word appeared only once. And it appeared in an incongruous, inexplicable context — Mr. Kerry’s failure to gain any ground before November, when he began “attacking Dr. Dean more forcefully on foreign policy [and] taxes.”

At least seven reporters from the Los Angeles Times filed nearly 6,000 words about Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, managing to mention the tax issue in one single paragraph. Even then, the Times failed to grasp the huge difference between Messrs. Kerry and Edwards, on the one hand, and Messrs. Dean and Gephardt, on the other. “As its centerpiece, [Mr. Gephardt’s] campaign offered a plan to repeal Bush’s tax cuts to finance universal health care through government tax credits,” the Times reported. Failing to note the nearly $2,000-per-typical-middle-class-family difference, the Times pretended that all the candidates’ policies were nearly identical. “Gephardt’s proposal was a trend-setter,” the Times declared, adding, “His major rivals followed with their own health-care plans.”

Even if the liberal media couldn’t figure out the elephant-size tax-policy difference among the four Democrats — or could, but simply decided to ignore it — Iowa voters got it. They gave 70 percent of their total vote to the underorganized campaigns of Messrs. Kerry and Edwards and less than 30 percent of their votes to Messrs. Dean and Gephardt. With the wind behind them, Messrs. Kerry and Edwards headed for New Hampshire, while Mr. Dean sank like a stone and Mr. Gephardt limped home to Missouri, where his political career came to an abrupt end.

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