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Jewish World Review Dec. 16, 1999 /7 Teves, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Shame on corn-fed politicians -- THE REPUBLICAN PARTY is supposed to oppose social engineering in the tax code. The Republican Party is supposed to support free markets. The Republican Party is supposed to champion moral courage.

But at Tuesday's debate in Iowa, five of the six GOP presidential contenders clambered over each other to prove how quickly they can betray basic conservative principles to please special interests.

Meet Pander, Weasel, Hedge, Hem and Haw - better known as George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, Orrin Hatch, and Alan Keyes. All support special tax breaks for ethanol, a corn-based fuel additive. The targeted federal subsidies - including tax credits, subsidized grain exports, and other goodies -- cost taxpayers more than $7 billion over the last 16 years.

The benefits accrue mostly to one big business: Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), an Illinois-based agricultural conglomerate that has contributed millions to Republican and Democrat candidates and political parties in recent years. According to corporate welfare watchdog James Bovard, "at least 43 percent of ADM's annual profits are from products heavily subsidized or protected by the American government. Moreover, every $1 of profits earned by ADM's corn sweetener operation costs consumers $10, and every $1 of profits earned by its ethanol operation costs taxpayers $30."

In a free market, ADM's propped-up products wouldn't stand a chance.

Bush, parroting those incessant ADM ads that appear on Sunday morning pundit shows, claimed during the Iowa debate that ethanol is "good for our air."

While ethanol can reduce carbon monoxide emissions, it also increases emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrous dioxide, the most common precursors of smog. On balance, ethanol probably is not resulting in significant air-quality benefits and, in fact, may be making our air dirtier. Never mind. Bush hopes that "someday we'll be driving automobiles with 100 percent corn product." Egad.

Forbes, erstwhile champion of lower taxes and less government and outside-the-Beltway radicalism, talks a good game. His campaign literature claims he "will eliminate corporate welfare spending." But when given a chance to put his money where his macho mouth is, Forbes told Iowa voters he would like to keep ethanol tax breaks alive for at least seven more years.

Bauer and Hatch took turns rolling in the corn fields, too. Despite their "power to the people" campaigns, both candidates unequivocally support the continuation of corporate ethanol subsidies for time immemorial.

Keyes said he opposes "shortsighted socialist policies" in farm aid but could not muster up the courage to come out against the granddaddy of those policies the ethanol program.

Bush, Forbes, Bauer, Hatch, and Keyes squandered a rare opportunity to put their lofty principles of fiscal conservatism and moral leadership in action. By pandering to the agri-business lobby, the quivering quintet put themselves in the same bottomless government trough as Democrat presidential hopefuls Al Gore and Bill Bradley who both have promised unflagging support of ethanol if elected.

Only Arizona Sen. John McCain refused to follow the herd. To a chorus of boos, McCain told the debate audience in Iowa: "I'm going to tell you the things you don't want to hear. Ethanol is not worth it. It does not help the consumer. Those ethanol subsidies should be phased out, and everybody here on this stage, if it wasn't for the fact that Iowa was the first caucus state, would share my view."

On many issues, from banning soft money to supporting racially-discriminatory affirmative action to raising tobacco taxes, McCain is dead wrong. This, however, was a moment of spirited political independence and moral clarity deserving of the one thing that is so hard to give politicians these days: respect.

The moment was spoiled soon enough, though. Like a hot little kernel of popcorn, Bush pounced up and reminded us all why he's the front-runner: "I'd have supported ethanol whether I was here in Iowa or not."

Onward, corn-fed soldiers.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate