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Jewish World Review August 10, 2001 / 21 Menachem-Av, 5761

Lewis A. Fein

Lewis A. Fein
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Consumer Reports

Republican reality check: The President at 6 Months -- AS partisans and sympathetic journalists evaluate President George W. Bush's first six months in office -- no doubt imbibing that comforting elixir known as "conventional wisdom" -- a few unsettling facts remain: Mr. Bush risks serious legislative defeat among Senate Democrats; the economy continues its slow yet inexorable recessionary dive (for which the president may unnecessarily suffer); and the White House's tax plan is too small and too slow.

First, let us dispense with the really, really bad news. President Bush's recently enacted tax cut will hardly revive the floundering American economy. The bill does not reduce penalties for capital gains, while the proposal's most important features -- including rate reductions and elimination of the estate tax -- will not fully develop for another 10 years. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department mails millions of rebate checks; I receive mine later this month.

Even worse, Bush's tax cut may produce one of two unfavorable scenarios. The bill's pre-publicity may negate any future benefits, as financial markets usually precede important economic events. Or, the bill will simply encourage additional spending, thus expanding individual and household debt. Combine these conditions with President Bush's eagerness to eliminate credit card debt from bankruptcy protection, and a recession is imminent.

Also, should the economy sour -- or, alternatively, a budget deficit appear -- Democrats will blame President Bush. Democrats will erroneously conclude that tax cuts ruin prosperity. Conversely, tax hikes must restore America's economic health, right? Wrong! Yet the benefits of the president's tax proposal will unfold slowly - even as current economic conditions worsen - while Democrats demand a tax increase.

Now, the really bad news. Many of the president's legislative triumphs face defeat among Senate Democrats. Republicans represent the minority -- the GOP controls 49 seats, down from 56 in 1995 -- and Democrats will weaken the president's proposals. Translation: Democrats will demand increased regulation, less tax relief and a more liberal judiciary.

Indeed, Senate Democrats eagerly await a confrontation concerning the president's judicial nominees. This forthcoming battle is the political and cultural equivalent of Armageddon. And, should Democrats maintain or expand their majority within the Senate, President Bush may nominate more liberal judicial candidates. Of course, the president's advisers may consider this strategy pragmatic, but conservatives must expose what this policy really is: appeasement.

Thus the bad news. President Bush lacks political combat experience. Yes, the Florida recount is not an insignificant political event; after all, Al Gore does not simply or amicably concede anything. But the facts -- that Al Gore, however close or statistically competitive, never officially surpassed Bush's Florida lead -- endorse the president. For Bush, Florida is more about the preservation of victory, not its pursuit.

And therein lies the president's most dangerous misconception: that a good personality, or his campaign vernacular about "honor and dignity," trumps Democratic attacks. Put another way, the Christian Messiah may be the president's favorite philosopher, but Machiavelli is the Democratic Party's in-house political strategist. In this case, the power of fear easily defeats the majesty of love.

President Bush must accept the hard realities of political combat. His policies will neither erase nor permanently narrow genuine ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats. And yes, personal diplomacy is important. But diplomacy is only as effective as one or two people demands. In other words, Democrats will eagerly raise taxes - as they did with W's father, claiming the mantle of bipartisanship - and just as quickly indict the president's economic plans.

The president's temporary successes foretell little and dispel even less. His achievements reflect his party's organizational skills, while his more controversial ideas require greater depth.

So, give the president time. Actually, give him 4 years.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein