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Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2000 / 24 Elul, 5760

George Will

George Will
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Blaming the Voters -- IN DEMOCRACIES, decadent political movements explain their defeats in terms of tactics: Our message is fine, but our messengers are flawed. Conservatives said that after their 1992 and 1996 presidential defeats. In advanced stages of decrepitude, political movements ascribe their frustrations to the electorates' intellectual shortcomings and moral corruption. Some conservatives who are disappointed with this year's presidential campaign are close to espousing "blame Americans first" conservatism.

Just six years ago the 1994 congressional elections sent to Washington a wave of legislators vowing radically to reduce Washington's post-New Deal role. But if today's polls are indicative, an electoral majority is prepared to vote for Al Gore's promise of a substantial expansion of that role.

Especially now that George W. Bush has abandoned the folly of running against someone not on the ballot (Bill Clinton, and Gore as his mere extension), he is conducting a reasonably competent and highly substantive campaign. He is currently behind because, so far, a majority of voters are buying what Gore is selling, which are plans for an even more omnipresent and omniprovident government. Yet many conservatives cling to the comforting thought that the public either is being courted badly by Bush or has been rendered contemptible by addiction to government.

For years Democrats tried to drain Ronald Reagan's electoral successes of significance, arguing first that voters were dolts mesmerized by his smile, then arguing that voters were venal (the "Decade of Greed"). Voters know how to repay such insults.

This year some conservatives are exaggerating the ideological clarity of the choice. Consider economic policy.

In "The Agenda," his book on the early Clinton presidency, Bob Woodward reports that a sarcastic Clinton "bellowed" to his staff that "we're Eisenhower Republicans. . . . We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn't that great?" Actually, it was, for conservatives. And is. A conservative case can be made for Gore's economic plan over Bush's, if Gore means it--a large if.

America's savings rate is negative, consumer debt is at a record high and unemployment is so low that across the nation there are new restaurants that cannot open because workers cannot be found. In this context, Bush's proposal for a $1.3 trillion tax cut (over 10 years) would further stimulate consumption, probably prompting a rise in interest rates, which would crimp private-sector investment and further reduce the (hypothetical) surplus by increasing the cost of servicing government's debt. That cost was $263 billion in 1999, 15 percent of federal spending, almost 3 percent of GDP.

Gore's proposal to pay the national debt down to zero by 2012 would stimulate private-sector investment, perhaps producing the productivity increase needed if the economy, with fewer and fewer workers relative to retirees, is to avoid being suffocated by the burden of financing pensions and medical care for the elderly. Robert M. Solow, Nobel Prize-winning economist from MIT, argues in the New York Review of Books that Treasury bonds--public debt--displace corporate securities in investors' portfolios. As the government retires bonds, presumably "the former bondholders will want to re-acquire some earning assets," such as corporate securities, rather than hold cash or increase consumption.

So Bush, supposed friend of corporate America, would increase families' disposable incomes. Gore, supposed friend of "working families," would fatten corporate ledgers. But regarding the welfare state, there is no fundamental difference.

In 1976, running against the conservative Sen. James Buckley, Pat Moynihan exclaimed that some people "simply never accepted the New Deal. Didn't Franklin Roosevelt settle this issue once and for all? I mean, do we really have to go over it again?" We did after 1980 and 1994. However, perhaps never again, particularly if Gore wins.

But Bush, too, accepts the premise of America's welfare state. His proposal for partial privatization of Social Security and his more market-oriented approach to a prescription drug entitlement are markedly superior to Gore's proposals. But the clear premise of Bush's campaign is this: Regarding two of life's largest anxieties, illness and old age, Americans' individualism is merely nostalgic and rhetorical. Americans accept the ethic of common provision.

Conservatives may regret this, but regret is not a political strategy. And the core conservative virtue is prudence, which means facing facts and understanding practicalities. In response to the Soviet suppression of the 1953 uprising in East Germany, Bertolt Brecht wrote, "Would it not be easier . . . for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?" That is not a practical program for conservatives.

Comment on JWR contributor George Will's column by clicking here.


09/22/00: Saying No to the Euro
09/18/00: Farewell, Mr. Moynihan
09/14/00: When 'Choice' Rules
09/12/00: Colombia Illusions
09/08/00: Will He Spend It All?
09/04/00: Back in the U.S.S.R.
08/31/00: Stonewalling School Reform
08/28/00: Uphill for a California Republican
08/24/00: Sauerkraut Ice Cream
08/21/00: The Partial-Birth Censors
08/18/00: A Party to Prosperity
08/14/00: The National Scold on the Stump
08/10/00: The Thinking Person's Choice
08/07/00: The GOP of Powell And Rice
08/03/00: Panic in the Gore Camp
07/27/00: . . . Both Radical and Reassuring
07/06/00: Harry Potter: A Wizard's Return
07/03/00: Recalling the Revolution
06/29/00: An Act of Judicial Infamy
06/26/00: Life, Liberty and ... the Pursuit of Foxes
06/21/00: Fumble on Prayer
06/19/00: The unified field theory of culture
06/15/00: Schools Beset by Lawyers And Shrinks
06/12/00: Missile Defense Charade
06/07/00: The Grandparent Dissent
06/05/00: Liberal Condescension
06/01/00: Great Awakenings
05/30/00: Suddenly Social Security
05/25/00: Forget Values, Let's Talk Virtues
05/22/00: AlGore the Hysteric
05/15/00: Majestic Avenue
05/11/00: Just How Irrational Is the Exuberance?
05/08/00: Home-Run Glut
05/04/00: A Lesson Plan for Gore
05/01/00: The Hijacking of the Primaries
04/28/00: The Raid in Little Havana
04/24/00: Tinkering Again
04/17/00: A Judgment Against Hate
04/13/00: Tech- Stock Joy Ride
04/10/00: What the bobos are buying
04/06/00: A must-read horror book
04/03/00: 'Improving' the Bill of Rights
03/30/00: Sleaze, The Sequel
03/27/00: How new 'rights' will destroy freedom
03/23/00: Death and the Liveliest Writing
03/20/00: Powell is Dubyah's best bet
03/16/00: Free to Be Politically Intense
03/13/00: Runnin', Gunnin' and Gambling
03/09/00: And Now Back to Republican Business
03/06/00: As the Clock Runs Out on Bradley
03/02/00: Island of Equal Protection
02/28/00: . . . The Right Response
02/24/00: Federal Swelling
02/22/00: Greenspan Tweaks
02/17/00: Crucial Carolina (and Montana and . . .)
02/10/00: McCain's Distortions
02/10/00: The Disciplining of Austria
02/07/00: Free to Speak, Free to Give
02/02/00: Conservatives in a Changing Market
01/31/00: America's true unity day
01/27/00: For the Voter Who Can't Be Bothered
01/25/00: The FBI and the golden age of child pornography
01/20/00: Scruples and Science
01/18/00: Bradley: Better for What Ails Us
01/13/00: O'Brian Rules the Waves
01/10/00: Patron of the boom
01/06/00: In Cactus Jack's Footsteps
01/03/00: The long year
12/31/99: A Stark Perspective On a Radical Century
12/20/99: Soldiers' Snapshots of the Hell They Created
12/16/99: Star-Crossed Banner
12/13/99: Hubert Humphrey Wannabe
12/09/99: Stupidity in Seattle
12/06/99: Bradley's most important vote
12/03/99: Boys will be boys --- or you can always drug 'em
12/01/99: Confidence in the Gore Camp
11/29/99: Busing's End
11/22/99: When We Enjoyed Politics
11/18/99: Ever the Global Gloomster
11/15/99: The Politics of Sanctimony
11/10/99: Risks of Restraining
11/08/99: Willie Brown Besieged
11/04/99: One-House Town
11/01/99: Crack and Cant
10/28/99: Tax Break for the Yachting Class
10/25/99: Ready for The Big Leagues?
10/21/99: Where honor and responsibility still exist
10/18/99: Is Free Speech Only for the Media?
10/14/99: A Beguiling Amateur
10/11/99: Money in Politics: Where's the Problem?
10/08/99: Soft Thinking On Soft Money

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