The Breakfast Table

See Dick Not Run

Dear Amity,

Thanks for that on taxes. Good to see that fundamentals can matter at least as much as taxes. I can’t believe that’s the only thing the Journal wrote on the Clinton tax bill, but never mind. If you want to see all the dire predictions made about the effects of the Clinton budget that never materialized, check back to some of Al Hunt’s columns on your pages. You know, that dissenting voice on the other side of your edit page every Thursday.

And on having kids: I’d like to read Danielle Crittenden’s book. Speaking, of course, as a guy: My sense is that there is more freedom now for women to make choices on these matters than there has been in a long time. The social pressures on work vs. kids are mixed, and when the social pressures are mixed, people have more freedom to do what they want. You’ll forgive me–I hope you will, anyway–for noting that some of that freedom owes to feminist struggles and arguments back in the 1960s and 1970s to open up space for more and different kinds of decisions. Also, I think culture warriors on the right always want to blame the 60s for family and child-raising problems that owe more to changing economics. (Please, please don’t tell me it’s all taxes.) Declining or stagnating wages over the last 25 years mean that many middle to lower-middle income families needed two incomes to stay even. So there are many families where both spouses work not because that’s the arrangement they want, but from economic necessity. It’s why child tax credits, especially for the first five years of a kid’s life, are a good idea. (See, I don’t think all tax cuts are bad.) It’s also why better childcare is a good idea. How many upper middle class families do you know who send their kids to pre-schools not for day care but so their kids get a jump on learning? Shouldn’t all 2 or 3 year olds whose parents don’t have a lot of money have a shot at such a, well, head start?

A few other things from today’s papers struck me. Rick Berke’s article on the New York Times/CBS News Poll was interesting not just for the stuff on the GOP’s impeachment troubles, but also for: 1) the apparent split that’s opening up in Republican ranks on this issue between conservative GOPers and the rest of the party; 2) the drop in GOP identification on the electorate, a big change from 1994; and 3) voters much prefer spending the surplus on saving social security than on tax cuts. Would also call your attention to a Washington Post editorial on “the Shadow Cost” of the deficit, which is interest payments on the national debt. ($243 billion last fiscal year.) Imagine how much day care or health care you could pay for with that, and even afford a tax cut? (I don’t know why I keep giving you these promotional openings.)

Other interesting if unsurprising news for political junkies: Dick Gephardt’s decision not to run for president. A smart decision, since he has a far better chance of becoming Speaker than he did of winning the Democratic presidential nomination. It means that the 2000 elections for the House will be as interesting as the presidential race. There is even the odd possibility that the Dems could lose the White House and win back the other House–something I wouldn’t have thought possible a few months ago.

Imagine this: Al Gore owes Newt Gingrich a debt. Newt showed how important the Speakership could be, and probably made it more attractive to Gephardt than it might have been a few years ago. And of course there’s this: “Winning back” the House wasn’t even a problem for Democrats five years ago.

It was nice of you to mention the Third Way on the day its leading White House advocate, Sid Blumenthal, was testifying. What think you of the Third Way? Is it a new way for the left, or simply an accommodation to Reagan and Thatcher. Or, as Clinton might say, is it both and neither?

Warmest wishes, E.J.