by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
January 27, 2002
IT'S STILL ABOUT 'THE ECONOMY, STUPID'
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- To the surprise of almost no one, the Republican Party plans to make the ongoing "war on terrorism" the centerpiece of its campaign strategy for the 2002 Congressional elections.
Karl Rove, President Bush's top political advisor (a.k.a. "Bush's brain"), laid out the strategy at the Republican National Committee's annual winter meeting in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 18.
"We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America," Rove said. "We can go to the country confidently on this issue because Americans trust the Republican Party to do a better job of keeping our communities and families safe."
So much for the "bipartisan" spirit that President Bush promised he'd bring to Washington. So much for "United We Stand." The blood of the young American men and women dying in Central Asia will now be used to help elect Republicans to Congress.
The irony of this strategy is how many prominent Republicans and their apologists sat out the Vietnam War when they had their chance to put their bodies where their beliefs were. Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney,House Majority Leader Dick Armey, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Attorney General John Ashcroft and TexasSenator Phil Gramm all managed to avoid military service during the Vietnamera. Likewise for Rush Limbaugh, George Will and Pat Buchanan, just to namea few. Meanwhile the liberals these folks like to smear -- such as Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and former Vice President Al Gore -- are all Vietnam veterans. As long as the war is going well -- "well" being defined as fewAmerican casualties, no new terrorist attacks on American soil and President Bush's approval rating hovering in the high 80s -- that may be the only issue the GOP can campaign on.
Can they campaign on the economy? The current recession doesn't seem to be going away all that quickly and handing out billions of dollars in tax breaks, subsidies and other pork to corporate America -- the GOP's idea of "economic stimulus" -- isn't going to do anything for the more than one million people who've lost their jobs since the Sept. 11 attacks. And don't forget Enron, the poster child for the kind of crony capitalism that is now being practiced in America -- a scam where a select few profit and everyone else gets screwed.
No, the GOP realizes they're better off just waving the flag anddistract the American people from the reality that the early euphoria ofpayback for the Sept. 11 attacks masks many deep problems in our nation. Despite the talk of an economic recovery just around the corner, the U.S. is losing jobs at the fastest rate in 20 years. The majority of American workers never saw the gains from the 1990s economic boom. Homeless shelters and food pantries are turning people away for the first time in years -- people who have jobs, but can't afford to pay their rent or buy groceries. There are more than 40 million Americans without health insurance and thousands of families are about to lose welfare benefits thanks to the five-year time limits that are now starting to kick in that were imposed by the 1996 welfare "reform" law.
Flag waving and patriotic blather is going to help these people. But then again, the GOP doesn't care anyway. After all, they have been, are now, and forever will be the party of the rich and powerful.You won't hear anything from them about extending unemployment benefits, offering health insurance to the jobless or coming up with more help for the working poor. Unfortunately, we aren't hearing about any bold alternatives to the Republican plunder from the Democrats. Here is their big opportunity to truly differentiate themselves from the GOP. Too bad they seem too timid to take them on.
If the Republicans intend to use the war as a political weapon, the Democrats should take Rove's words as a signal that the time for phony bipartisanship is over. And the fight begins with doing something real and substantive about the economic inequity that the GOP proudly stands for. This goes beyond investigating the Enron collapse and that company's many, many links to the Bush team. It means taking a hard look at last year's $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut plan that mainly benefited the wealthy, and eliminating it because of the current budget realities. Quite simply, you can't fight a global war, deal with a recession and cut taxes at the same time without again running huge deficits.
The GOP will scream that the Democrats are raising taxes. But the people appear to be already ahead of the politicians. A recent ABC News poll found 52 percent of the people they surveyed favored canceling the Bush Administration's tax cuts if doing so means avoiding budget deficits, compared to 32 percent who want to leave the tax cuts as is. One can only imagine the response if the question were framed as tax cuts versus increased national security or tax cuts versus unemployment payments and health insurance for the jobless.
If the Democrats are truly serious about being more than just a slightly more compassionate version of the Republican Party, investigating the Enron mess, repealing the Bush tax cut and conducting a serious debate on whether the resources of government should be used to benefit the few or the many can be the starting point.
Let the conservatives scream about "class warfare" and "tax and spend liberals." Once the American people know the score, all the flag-waving in the world won't help the GOP in the face of a slumping economy. If you doubt this, just ask President George W. Bush's father about how fast a 90 percent approval rating can disappear.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).