“Last year my wife asked a cab driver in Amsterdam about his country’s politics. ‘We don’t have any,’ he said, ‘everything’s been decided.’” — New Yorker cartoonist Charley Barsotti, telling me why he was thinking of moving to Holland
Here, of course, everything’s not been decided.
A few weeks ago I wrote some comments suggesting that Bob Dole — though a fine man — had abandoned his life-long fiscal prudence in favor of a tax-cut plan he didn’t believe in that, if passed, would spook the bond market (rightly), explode the deficit, raise mortgage rates, lower stock and bond prices, and eventually overheat the economy and throw us into recession.
It would also provide a much bigger benefit to the well-to-do than to the average working family — not just in absolute dollars but proportionally.
I got a lot of good mail from you, both pro and con, almost all of it civil and intelligent. (Hey: this is a great country!) Here’s one example. I don’t know whether the “equal time” doctrine applies to this web site (well, I do know: it doesn’t), but in that spirit:
I’m sure that after your comments of the past few days, you’ve gotten pounded by lots of angry Republicans. I’m one (Republican) and I’m not (angry). But I hope you take the time to read this, because I felt the need to join the howling and reply.
Your comments truly disturbed me, but by doing so they made me think. I guess in a way I need to thank you for that. I’ll say up front I’ve been a strong Dole supporter, even going back to when Bush was President. On the other hand, I agree with much of what you said.
Let me try to present my position:
a) The government creates neither jobs nor prosperity. All the government can do is create an ENVIRONMENT conducive to them.
I give credit for the current state of the economy to the technology boom, for dramatically increasing productivity by providing businesses with the most dramatically productivity-enhancing tools in 100 years. And to Alan Greenspan for keeping the economy on keel, and skillfully keeping us out of recession. Bill Clinton has been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.1
b) You imply simple choices where they do not exist. The strengths of your books is that they simplify complex subjects, and they do it for subjects (personal finance) where it is POSSIBLE to simplify. There is no arguing with the fact that you should not borrow at 5% to lend at 3%. But I argue that in this (or any) election, things are not so simple.2
Please re-read your book “Auto Insurance Alert” and then look at Mr. Clinton’s campaign contributions and voting record. I believe you might find yourself with a bit of cognitive dissonance (if not, let me give you a hint — LAWYERS). Weren’t you yourself involved with Tom Proulx and the anti-lawyer initiatives in California?3
Do I choose the NRA over the NEA? The Christian Coalition over the Rainbow Coalition? The tobacco lobby over the trial lawyers? No. I won’t side with ANY of them. I hate the fact that our political system forces our candidates to do so. My point is that you are doing a disservice to society by using your influence and pulpit to forward the stance that the choice in November is a simple choice of a tax cut vs. fiscal responsibility. It is anything but.
And last, but to me, the most important point of all…
c) You take Bob Dole to task for embracing a tax cut in which he does not believe. I think that you’re correct on both counts – the tax cut is not well thought-out (although I do support tax reduction and spending cuts) and Mr. Dole does not truly believe in it.
But Bill Clinton FORCED this, by adopting a pseudo-Republican stance to get re-elected. The man who embraced socialized health care two years ago suddenly is signing the recent Welfare Reform Bill? And that’s NOT hypocritical? Bill Clinton the moderate is a crock.4 Mr. Clinton showed his true stripes during his first two years in office, and was spanked for it in ’94. Mr. Dole’s track record, on the other hand, is imperfect (aren’t we all) but consistent, admirable, and MODERATE!
Let me be direct. My opinion of Bill Clinton is lower than whale poop. In my opinion, he will do ANYTHING to get elected. Whitewater, TravelGate, and all the other garbage he, his wife and his cronies are involved in show a complete lack of character. He’s been “getting away with it” for years and people (including you, I believe) know it, but allow his behavior to continue because he’s a charming speaker.5
Bob Dole, on the other hand, is a principled, decent man who lacks Mr. Clinton’s smooth delivery but outclasses him by miles in terms of possessing true character. He has devoted his life to government service, and has served this country tremendously well for many, many years.
I invite your response, and I hope it makes you think a little before you suggest that this November’s choice is a simple one.
1Chris is right that the technology boom and Mr. Greenspan are both big plusses. But both were also big plusses throughout Mr. Bush’s four years. (Greenspan became chairman in 1987.) Clinton didn’t just stick with the status quo and get lucky; he changed course. He raised taxes on the top 1% (while lowering taxes on the working poor) to shrink the deficit, lower interest rates, and get the economy moving. Since then, 10 million new jobs have been added, the federal payroll has been trimmed by more than 200,000, and the deficit has been cut by more than half. A reasonable start has been made at “reinventing government” and cutting red tape. I don’t agree he was just “in the right place at the right time.”
2Chris is also right that many of the issues we face are not simple. But the November choice is simply: Dole or Clinton. And in several key areas, they and their parties espouse very different views. I guess if you buy my economic arguments but hate Clinton’s social policies (or vice versa), it’s a tough choice. But I was addressing mainly the economic stuff.
3Yes, I was involved in the California ballot initiatives (though I saw them more as “pro-consumer” than “anti-lawyer”). Indeed, the current WORTH Magazine has my account of that effort (titled — despite my admiration for much that he’s done — “Ralph Nader Is a Big Fat Idiot”). Plug, plug. But while there’s little question that Democrats are predisposed to trial-lawyer positions, some of which I think are terrible, the President recently came out against lawyer Bill Lerach’s current California ballot measure, Prop 211 — which is exactly what I believe he should have done. But, yes, if the only issue being decided in November were tort reform, I’d be torn. I think on that issue Dole might go too far and Clinton not far enough.
4Actually, Clinton was chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council before running for President. The DLC is assailed by liberal Democrats as being all but Republican. I think Clinton’s moderate, practical, progressive approach long predates 1994. And the Clinton health plan bent over backwards (rightly or wrongly) not to be socialist, unless by that you mean that everyone would have been covered (as they are, I believe, in every other major industrialized nation).
5My own view is that the Clintons have gotten a terrible bum rap on this. Not that they’re perfect, or there haven’t been times when they’ve been too defensive. But I think history will conclude that “Whitewater” and “Travelgate” were nothing, or next to nothing, and that on issues that go to the well-being of the nation and the world — education, free trade, employment, health care, crime, human rights, world peace, and so on — they have worked incredibly hard and honorably.
I agree Bob Dole is a fine man and a moderate.
Tomorrow: Your Child’s IRA
Quote of the Day
A penny saved may be a penny earned, but it's one boring penny. A penny invested, on the other hand, bounces around. It gets bigger one day, smaller the next. A bit player in the drama of global finance, that penny buys a guy a balcony seat in the theater of macroeconomics.~Susan Stewart
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