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Jewish World Review March 18, 2004/ 25 Adar, 5764

Larry Elder

Larry Elder
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Consumer Reports

Answers for the ‘swing voter’ | A moderate friend — aka "swing voter" — recently sent me a letter, in which he raised his objections about President Bush.

Moderate Friend: Bush has made no major move to address environmental issues at all. The No. 1 thing a president could do environmentally is lead the charge to get us off fossil fuels.

Larry Elder: You must remember to compare benefits versus costs. For the foreseeable future, the only affordable alternatives are coal, natural gas, oil or nuclear. Renewable sources — solar, wind, etc. — so favored by the left remain prohibitively expensive. A nation becomes weaker, not stronger, by artificially overspending on costly, inefficient alternatives to fossil fuels. Moreover, our principal supplier of oil is Canada, followed closely by Mexico. In fact, of the top 10 suppliers of oil to the United States, only three are in the Middle East.

M.F.: Alternative fuels have to be developed, and Bush won't lead that charge.

Elder: The private sector should invest its own money for "alternative fuels." When the government gets into this business, it does poorly. A Los Angeles Times article three years ago pointed out that, in the last 50 years, government has spent more than $110 billion on energy research. The Times estimated that tax breaks and other subsidies to encourage development of various sources of energy easily doubles that figure. And what do we have to show for it? The article quotes a UC Berkeley physicist: "We make the wrong bet. We use R&D money to try to pick winners by pouring tons of money into big projects, rather than funding lots of different research and letting the marketplace pick the winners."

M.F.: As for oil, Bush wants to put his friends at Halliburton in charge of it, and import and drill and suck it out of every pit he can find.

Elder: Halliburton has worked with the Department of Defense for 12 years, and did a substantial amount of work under the Clinton administration. Investor's Business Daily recently wrote, " . . . Halliburton won its services contract from the Pentagon back in 1992 — three years before Cheney became CEO. Then-Defense Secretary Cheney wasn't the one who awarded the contract; career Pentagon officials did. . . . By the way, Halliburton worked under the same basic deal in the Balkans under President Clinton."

M.F.: Don't you feel that the Democrats make a far better show of being "for the people"?

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Elder: Increasing minimum wages, as Kerry wants to do, makes it more difficult for an unskilled, uneducated worker to find a job. Price controls on pharmaceuticals discourage drug companies from spending money on research and development to come up with new drugs. Economics 101.

M.F.: I feel that Bush blurs the lines of church and state, in regard to his proposed "marriage amendment." Do we really need this?

Elder: President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows the federal government or any state to reject same-sex marriage. Did you accuse Clinton, too, of "playing politics"? None of the major Democratic presidential candidates supports same-sex marriage.

M.F.: I really don't want to live by Bush's born-again standards of what is and isn't decent for me.

Elder: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., suggested that the TV show "Friends" — given its raciness — should only be shown in movie theaters. And remember the concern about kids and drugs? Former President Bill Clinton actually compensated Hollywood for inserting — without telling the viewer — anti-drug messages into the content of television programs.

M.F.: While many of Bush's economic policies have helped this recession, he has built a gargantuan deficit.

Elder: "Gargantuan"? Look at the deficit as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product. With the 2004 deficit at less than 3 percent of GDP, the "Bush deficit" ranks lower than deficits under Truman, Ford, Reagan and the first President Bush. In fact, it's ranked 21st highest since 1940 — with the top five occurring under Democratic presidents. Why do we have a deficit? Bush inherited a recession, which reduced tax revenue. Add in the cost of the war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, war on terror and increased expense for homeland security. Yes, the Bush budget increased non-defense discretionary spending, but the president spent money on social programs favored by the Democrats. In fact, Democrats complain that programs like Bush's "No Child Left Behind" need more funding. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry wants to nationalize health care, raise minimum wages, "invest" in education and provide more money for retraining workers. Such a program leads to smaller deficits?

Most economists believe Bush's tax cuts stimulated the economy, making the recession short and shallow. Even if Congress repealed the tax cuts, the "lost revenue" would not close the deficit. John F. Kennedy understood this: "The purpose of cutting taxes now is not to incur a budgetary deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous expanding economy which will bring a budgetary surplus."

Hope this helps.

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JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of, most recently, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America." (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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