Notice: Due to the large volume of voters expected for this election, the election process has been expanded to two days. Democrats will vote on Tuesday, November 7th, and Republicans will vote on Wednesday, November 8th. Please pass this along to your friends and let them know so no one is left out. Thank you. — The Management.

You’ve probably already seen that . . . as well as the mirror-image Republican version that’s going around. It’s a joke. (Well, you knew that, of course, but I was warned that some election officials are taking this very seriously, so I repeat: it’s a joke. Republicans are voting on Thursday.)

Not quite as frivolous, but still way overblown, is the sudden hoo-ha over Governor Bush’s drunken driving arrest. He’s already told us that up until the time he was 40, he sometimes acted badly. This DWI was a long time ago, and, when confronted with it, he calmly affirmed its accuracy. What more is there to be said? Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile was right on, in my view, when she reportedly called the incident ‘nothing.’

Indeed, my first impression of Bush’s forthright admission was one of some admiration. We should all own up to our mistakes with such poise. On reflection, though, I’m not sure what other course he could have taken. He was, after all, confronted with court records of a conviction. He might have been more evasive if it had been an allegation that could not readily be proven – ‘I will not talk about things I did before I turned 40.’ And he might have been less poised if this had been more embarrassing. But on the scale of embarrassments, a 24-year-old DWI conviction barely moves the needle.

The questions I’d like to see asked and answered forthrightly – and believe should have been asked long ago – include these:

1. Governor, there are people in Texas prisons right now serving long prison sentences for modest involvement with drugs when they were under 40. Do you think they should be in your prisons? If not, why are they still there? If so, why can’t you just categorically deny having used illegal drugs yourself? And if you can’t deny that, as you have thus far declined to do, doesn’t this raise legitimate questions about why those people should remain in prison at the same time as you should be in the White House?

2. Governor, are you aware that Vice President Gore never said he invented the Internet? And that it is generally agreed he played the lead Congressional role in championing the Internet? If you’re not aware of this – why not? The statement of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf praising the Vice President for his work in this area has been widely circulated. If like most knowledgeable people you are aware of this, why have you continued to call the Vice President’s trustworthiness into question on this issue, and ridicule him? Is it not particularly important, in calling someone’s credibility into question, to be completely truthful and fair yourself?

3. Governor, you mock as fuzzy math the Vice President’s assertion that your plan to cut the top estate tax rate from 55% to 0%, and to cut the top income tax rate from 39.6% to 33%, would direct nearly half your tax cut to the wealthiest 1%. If he’s wrong, what is the correct percentage, and how do you arrive at it? If he’s right, is it fair for you, knowing that his math is correct, to insinuate, instead, that he cannot be trusted?

4. Governor, you speak often of compassionate conservatism. Your running mate and key advisor earned $20 million over the past decade, of which he donated 1% to charity. Does this shake your faith in the belief that voluntary contributions can be relied upon to provide the resources needed to aid the weakest among us when government steps aside?

5. Governor, in one of the debates, the Texas record of providing health insurance to children was attacked and you repeatedly responded that Texas spent ‘$4.7 billion on children’s health.’ You said it three times, I believe. It was subsequently reported that of this $4.7 billion, $3.2 billion actually came from private charities, not from your budget – so you were really only spending about a third as much as you said. Were you aware of this at the time you said it? If not, why not? Does a few billion dollars in health care for Texas kids not capture your interest? Or, if you were aware of this, wasn’t your repeated use of the $4.7 billion figure at least as misleading as any of the ‘gotchas’ you and your campaign have used to try to persuade the American people that Al Gore is untrustworthy?

6. Governor, your campaign is horrified by an NAACP ad that criticizes you for killing the Texas Hate Crimes statute that was proposed in the wake of James Byrd, Jr.’s dragging death. Separately, the leadership of your party has bottled up a national Hate Crimes statute that has been passed 57-42 in the Senate and 232-191 in the House. As leader of your party, who holds out the appealing prospect of being able to work with both parties to get things done, can we not assume that, if you had wanted to, you could have gotten this bill out of Congress? After all, it already had a majority in both Houses. Not having done so, can we fairly assume that you side with Trent Lott and Jesse Helms in opposing the majority on this legislation? Finally, as a compassionate uniter, not a divider, can you tell us why — unlike so many other Texas leaders on both sides of the aisle — you didn’t make the symbolic gesture of attending the Byrd funeral?

7. Governor, under the Texas sodomy statue that you support, your running mate’s daughter could be imprisoned for loving her chosen partner in the privacy of their own bedroom. As a conservative who wants less government interference in our lives – who trusts people, not government — why do you think it is the state’s obligation to tell people whom they may and may not love in the privacy of their own homes?

8. Governor, what about the Harken Oil insider-trading investigation, where you, as a member of the board of directors and the three-man audit committee sold all your shares a week before bad news was announced? In the months following your sale, Harken stock dropped 60%. Did you have no idea what was going in your own company? Or, if you did, do you understand why the timing of your $828,000 sale leaves the impression with some that you violated a very basic securities regulation? The S.E.C. did not charge you (then the son of a sitting President) with an offense, but also did not exonerate you as you later alleged it had. Does this speak in any way to the character issue?

I have a lot more questions I’d like to ask, and I would hope we would give the Governor a very full and respectful hearing as he answered each one of them. My guess is that the answers would be somewhat fuzzy or unresponsive. Or else, if he answered candidly, that his support among moderate Republicans and independents would shrink.

All that said . . .

  • The fact is, both candidates are good men who love their country and would try to do a good job.
  • The fact is, one drunk driving charge 24 years ago really is nothing, and tonight’s intense scrutiny of it deserves to die very fast. (It may not, but it should.) What dismays me is how more-substantive issues, many of which actually do affect our future, have gotten less scrutiny.
  • The fact is, there are huge differences in the proposals of these two candidates. In my view, our friends in the Republican party are doing a masterful job of shifting attention from the big stuff to the question of how the Vice President could possibly have claimed he flew to a Texas flood site with FEMA director James Lee Witt when in fact he flew with Witt on 17 other disaster inspections, but on this particular one flew with a FEMA regional director instead. Or the question of how, in trying to make a valid point in a folksy way about the cost of medicine, he said “my” dog when he should have said “someone’s” dog.

Listen: Central to Governor Bush’s economic plan is a huge tax cut at a time of rock bottom unemployment. It makes no sense to add massive stimulus to an already booming economy. Enact that tax cut and, to keep inflation in check, the Fed would almost surely have to raise interest rates – which means higher mortgage rates and car loan rates and all the rest, wiping out the tax savings for many families (though not for wealthy families that do not borrow). And having enacted it, what do you do when the next recession arrives? Cut taxes still further and return to the trickle-down years of super-low tax rates for the rich and super-high budget deficits?

We’ve tried that, and it didn’t work very well. We’ve tried this – the Clinton-Gore recipe – and it’s worked great.

What this election should largely be about is whether we want to go back to the old way or continue as best we can on the current progressive path, with modest tax cuts aimed at the middle, leaving a reserve for further stimulus the next time, inevitably, we have a recession.

That’s the question the talk shows should be focusing on, not Governor Bush’s distant-past DWI.

One last thing, while I’m all jazzed up (and, I know, infuriating some of you, for which I apologize – that’s not my intention). Of course you would expect me to say this, as the highly paid treasurer of the Democratic National Committee (although I promise you I speak here entirely unsanctioned and on my own) . . . but on Social Security and the rest, the Governor’s math isn’t just fuzzy, it’s wrong. You know the famous trillion dollars that our side alleges he is promising to two different groups of people at the same time? He says, no, he’ll get that trillion from the surplus. Fair enough – that’s one trillion. But he would also enact a tax cut (yes, with huge advantages for the wealthy) that would shrink the surplus another $1.6 trillion or so. Now you’re up to $2.6 trillion. And then he would spend money to shore up our military and build a $450 billion missile shield and add a little for our schools, and such. That gets him up around $3.1 trillion. The only problem is, the surplus – which is anything but assured for the next 10 years, to say the least – is projected at around $2 trillion.

In the words of some much smarter people than me, 3.1 is a bigger number than 2.

Where is that extra trillion going to come from? It is not a trivial question.

So . . . was it annoying when Al Gore kept calling this “a risky tax scheme.” Candidly, it was. I found myself wishing from the first time I heard it, let alone the fiftieth, that he could have found a more appealing way to say it. But that doesn’t change the fact that Governor Bush’s plan would put our prosperity at risk, and that, incidentally, it would widen still further the yawning gap between the wealthiest few and everybody else.

So in these last five days, can we please stop talking about DWI’s and mocking the VP for saying he invented the Internet, which he did not say, and focus on whether $3.1 trillion can be found in a hoped-for $2 trillion surplus? If it can’t, we could have economic trouble ahead.

 

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