Kausfiles Special

Don’t Rush Me! (Part 7)

The Kausmeter stands at 70 for Gore, 30 for Bush. Maybe it’s time to seal the deal. Go for closure! I have formulated a simple three-part plan:

1) Don’t listen to Gore. The vice president is at his most effective when he has no detectable presence. Exposure only breeds annoyance. Invariably, when I happen on to one of Gore’s stump speeches on C-SPAN, he’ll be making some dumb special interest promise (“I’ll fight for ethanol!”) or invoking cheap and misguided liberal symbolism (e.g., exploiting the James Byrd murder) or advocating some policy that I’m supposed to like as a Democrat but actually don’t (e.g., banning “permanent striker replacement”). The solution: Ignore him.

2) Read my old boss Martin Peretz’s Wall Street Journal piece, which seeks to convince people like me that Gore is “not, to put it mildly, the unreconstructed pre-1980s Democrat that the media has invented.”

3) Read Janet Hook’s Los Angeles Times piece on the horrors Republicans might perpetrate if (as is quite possible) they gain control of both the White House and Congress.

Here goes:

1) The TV is off, and I feel better about Gore already.

2) Peretz’s essay is sharply written and slightly bitter, as his best pieces often are. But it doesn’t move the ball for me. He points out that Gore took a nonliberal position on deficit reduction in 1993, and the results have been spectacular. But I knew that already. He says Gore “was the fiercest proponent of welfare reform in the Clinton administration”–an exaggeration that makes me wonder if Peretz has ever met Bruce Reed. And Peretz points out that Bush has an “impoverished moral vision” in foreign policy compared to Gore’s. Fair enough. But what one wants from Peretz–a genuine Gore pal, and a man highly allergic to sentimental liberal cant–is some insider evidence that the vice president knows that a lot of what he’s saying on the campaign trail is crap.

There is none. Peretz defends against Bush’s “trite distrust of government,” citing the role of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Good point again, but it doesn’t make the case that Gore isn’t an unreconstructed liberal; it makes the case that unreconstructed liberals are sometimes right. Show us where Gore has some nontrite “mistrust of government”!

Instead, we get an impolitic Burkean justification of redistribution (“support from the more privileged to the less”) as the “price of social peace.” Elsewhere this past week, Peretz has disputed the “caricature” of Gore as “condescending,” arguing that what looks superficially like condescension is really Gore wanting “the people with whom he speaks to understand as much as they can.” (!!) But Peretz’s “social peace” argument isn’t superficially condescending; it is deeply, fundamentally condescending: Buy off the lower orders so they won’t riot! If this really is “Mr. Gore’s view,” as Peretz claims, that explains a lot.

3) If Peretz doesn’t win me over to Gore, maybe Hook’s reporting will scare me away from Bush. A big risk in voting for Bush, after all, is the possibility Republicans will win it all and be free to work their will without the restraint of divided government.

Hook’s piece gets off to a strong start, arguing that “a Republican sweep would transform the policy landscape. Big tax cuts would likely be the order of the day. … And numerous other GOP initiatives blocked by President Clinton over the last six years suddenly would have smooth sailing.” There’s a quote from conservative Grover Norquist, “Four years of Bush with a unified Republican government will bring as revolutionary a change in the economy as Ronald Reagan made in foreign policy.”

OK, that’s a bit scary. But when it comes to what legislation, exactly, the unified GOP government might be expected to actually enact, Hook’s list is … well, it’s not especially terrifying. Hook more or less concedes that the Democratic minority would be able to frustrate “Bush’s most ambitious campaign promises, such as the overhaul of Social Security and Medicare.” But she says there are “many other issues … with far brighter prospects in a Republican-controlled Congress.” Here is her list of likely GOP legislation, in its entirety:

A. Elimination of the federal inheritance tax.
B. Reduction in taxes for married couples.
C. A ban on “partial-birth abortions.”
D. A bill limiting product-liability lawsuits.
E. Legislation “much more friendly to school voucher proposals, tax credits for private schools and fewer strings on federal education aid.”
F. The scuttling of workplace safety rules designed to prevent repetitive-motion injuries.

Not a great list. Not my list. I probably wouldn’t vote for more than one or two of these items (c, and experiments with e). But it’s not a litany of horrors. There’s nothing as radical as some of the items in Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America (which would have “capped” federal payments to the elderly and disabled, banned illegitimate children of under-18 mothers from welfare for life, and more or less abolished the food stamp program). There’s no talk of eliminating the minimum wage or slashing the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example.

Sorry. I’m not scared! My bid to achieve closure has failed miserably. The Kausmeter stays where it is. It looks like I will have to tackle the Supreme Court question after all. Maybe that will frighten me permanently away from Bush. …

[OK, but why do you oppose ending “permanent striker replacements”?–Ed. There’s no procedural right or wrong on this issue. It all depends on whether you want unions to have more power or not. Just between you and me, I say no. The main reason: Union power was the mainspring of the wage-price spiral. In the late 1970s, when powerful elite unions like the UAW and the Steelworkers leapfrogged each other negotiating generous contracts, the result was a poisonous inflation ended only by a deep recession. When union power waned (after unions actually lost a couple of high-profile strikes, including the air-traffic controllers’ dispute) the economy took off, making the vast majority of Americans better off.]