Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2004 / 13 Teves, 5764

E. Thomas McClanahan

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Bush bad, Dean angry, therefore back Dean | (KRT) In less than two weeks Iowa Democrats will caucus, and the results will provide the first solid clues, beyond polls, about the strength of the Howard Dean phenomenon.

If the former Vermont governor does well, he'll have momentum heading into the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary. A few weeks later, he could have the nomination all but wrapped up, and the Democrats will be well on their way to political suicide.

Frankly, I don't understand it. But then I'm a red-state guy and to me, blue-state thinking is often mysterious. A few weeks ago, I was at a party, chatting with a Democrat. At one point he observed, ``George Bush has done tremendous damage to this country."

We were standing in a kitchen full of revelers, next to a pot bubbling with chili. My interlocutor was staring glumly at the floor as if someone had died, and my mind was racing. What could he mean, exactly? The budget deficit? Iraq? Problems, certainly, but you'd have thought from his mood that we were in a sci-fi movie and an asteroid had just taken out the East Coast.

Whatever. To the Democratic base, the main issue in this election isn't the economy or Iraq or education or health care or any of the usual suspects. The issue is Bush. Bush lied. Bush is destroying our civil liberties, etc., etc., etc.

If that's how you see reality, then perhaps it makes sense to support the most passionately anti-Bush candidate in the field. For Dean voters, maybe it's no more complicated than: Bush bad, Dean angry, therefore back Dean.

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That probably explains Dean's rabid support among so many young people. But what about more experienced Democrats? Surely, they're having qualms about evoking the party's anti-war past.

The economy is gathering strength. New jobs are being created. The capture of Saddam Hussein looks more like a turning point in the Iraq insurgency. Things could change, of course - a terrorist strike would jumble the political equation and play into Dean's general-election strategy of attempting to move to Bush's right on homeland security.

But right now, the tide of the news is running in favor of Bush, and Dean's dyspeptic personality and hip-shooting tendencies are considerable liabilities. Most revealing is his desertion of the Episcopal Church in favor of the Congregationalists in a dispute regarding a bike path. This is not the sense of proportion most Americans would associate with a president.

Dean's ability to stand up to attack is also questionable. Rather than fire back at opponents when attacked, he tends to gripe about being picked on.

But his biggest problem - assuming he wins the nomination - will be his promise to revoke all of Bush's tax cuts.

The media have portrayed the tax cuts as a sop to the rich, but substantial percentage-point reductions went to the lower brackets. That money is now flowing into people's paychecks. Dean would take it back.

According to Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth (which has placed anti-Dean ads in Iowa), Dean's tax plan would mean a $2,472 tax increase for a middle-income family of four. For low-income workers, Dean would jack up the tax rate from 10 percent to 15 percent, back where it was before Bush lowered it.

Dean wants higher taxes on dividends and capital gains, which is like saying he wants lower stock prices. He wants the child tax-credit to be smaller. He wants to restore the marriage penalty. He would also eliminate the cap on payroll taxes, which would be a huge hit for every American earning more than $87,000 - far from wealthy in high-cost cities.

Most voters aren't paying attention yet, but if Dean becomes the Democratic nominee the implications of all this will dawn on voters and he'll drop in the polls faster than you can say Walter Mondale, who also wanted to raise taxes.

Many Democrats don't realize that the politics of tax cuts aren't working as they did in 2000, as the Almanac of American Politics has noted.

Four years ago, Bush ran on tax cuts and voters didn't believe him. They believed Democrats when they pledged to keep taxes at the same level. But now, voters assume Bush will defend the current lower rates, and they're likely to believe Democrats when they promise to raise taxes.

In August, Dean told an interviewer, ``I won't be talking like this during the general (election)." In other words, he'll move to the right - or try. But first he has to win the nomination, and to do that a lot of Democrats will have to take the political equivalent of a flying leap.

E. Thomas McClanahan is a member of the Kansas City Star editorial board. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services