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Jewish World Review Jan. 9, 2002 /25 Teves, 5762

Matt Towery

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Consumer Reports

Dubya falling into Dems' trap? -- AFTER having recently given all the reasons why George W. Bush should have been named Time magazine's Person of the Year, it's probably worthwhile to give the inside story on how the Democrats plan to attack the wildly popular president. And it appears that Bush may be falling into their trap.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the president is taking the right political course in concentrating on foreign policy. He doubtless remembers that it was his father's domestic agenda that led to Bush Sr.'s fall from lofty polling numbers just a year after the victory in the Persian Gulf War. The elder Bush was hoodwinked by Democrats -- and some Republicans -- into backing a tax increase, despite his early declaration of "Read my lips, no new taxes."

George W. is being properly advised not to ignore domestic issues, even while he so far is succeeding brilliantly in dealing with the Attack on America. And Bush has begun this effort by saying that a tax increase will take place "over my dead body." These are strong words, backed by a strong push to pass the GOP economic stimulus plan, which is comprised of tax cuts.

So where's the fault in Bush's strategy? After all, every political pro knows that pocketbook issues are the ultimate determining factor in almost any election. Nevertheless, there are significant issues on the horizon that may well be of greater importance in key states for the Republicans. These states could well tip the delicate balance of control of the House of Representatives following the 2002 election.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., is quietly at work formulating an interesting scenario that links together seemingly unrelated issues into a unique political assault, including energy conservation, availability of water resources and securities fraud. If Bush's advisors don't pre-empt Daschle and the Democrats, the results may be devastating to the GOP.

The Democratic strategy began with strong criticism of Vice President Dick Cheney's offhand suggestion early in the Bush administration that energy conservation is not a high policy priority. This led to some quick clean-up work by Bush, who quelled the criticism of the VP by saying that America can't conserve its way to energy. But Cheney's remark gave the Democrats political traction to question the Bush administration's cozy relationship with some oil and other energy producers, including the now bankrupt Enron Corp.

Until late last year, Enron appeared to be a highflying star on both Wall Street and in the energy sector. But by the end of 2001, the company had fallen apart, leaving investors bewildered and quality energy providers suddenly on the defensive.

The Democrats believe it's a Bush-team blunder for the president and his advisors to myopically concentrate on the issues of tax reform and education. They know the dirty little secret that few political experts ever want to admit -- unless you are handing out scholarship checks, exit polls consistently show that while voters always rate education reform as a top issue, they almost never let it decide how they will vote.

And while pocketbook issues are almost always the key to an election victory, it's unclear whether this next round of proposed GOP tax cuts will capture the average voter's heart by the time the November elections roll around.

The Democrats are convinced that U.S. dependence on the unstable Middle East for oil, coupled with the potential scandal that surrounds the Enron collapse, ultimately will be the issue that hits closer to home by this fall. Expect the Democrats to ask questions about the administration's true commitment to energy alternatives -- alternatives that could protect us from energy dependence on hostile countries, and thereby shore up our suddenly shaky national security.

Added to the issue of oil will be that of other precious natural resources. For example, the once-impressive Colorado River now often dries up before reaching the Gulf of California. Many states face increasing water restrictions and a bleak future for future water supplies. In some big states, such as Florida, water may be at the top of the list of voter concerns.

All of these energy and resource problems could be laced with a hint of scandal. Consider the developments from the Enron situation, many of which could prove devastating to Republicans. A prime example comes from Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt, who was attributed in Barron's as saying there's probably no need right now to change the reporting procedures for publicly traded companies. This despite the fact that Enron's public filings last year gave little indication to its investors that a financial collapse was looming.

The Democrats will paint a picture of an administration that handled the terrorism crisis brilliantly, but ignored critical issues and potential financial misdeeds in favor of pushing a tax cut that favors big business. It may not be true, but in politics it pays to understand the potential risks presented by your opponent's inside strategy. Let's hope the Bush administration takes notice.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate