Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2003/ 7 Shevat 5763


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2003: Make or break for Bush | George W. Bush begins the new year with an enormous opportunity to virtually guarantee his reelection in 2004. Because the GOP recaptured the Senate-and quickly disposed of the Trent Lott Problem-the President has at least nine months to propose a dramatic domestic and international agenda before the media turns its attention to the growing number of

Democratic presidential aspirants. It's encouraging, after much speculation that Bush would present a scaled-back economic plan, that he's apparently decided to propose eliminating the onerous double-tax on dividends, provide incentives to small businesses and accelerate his lackluster 2001 tax cuts. Not surprisingly, liberals have already attacked, in advance of Bush's Chicago speech on Jan. 7, claiming his blueprint will not stimulate the economy, will create increasing deficits and unfairly favor the most affluent Americans.

Which is exactly why the administration ought to follow its own instincts and not compromise with the opposition before the legislative battle begins. On Jan. 6, The Washington Post editorialized: "Let's see if we have this right. President Bush plans to propose a stimulus plan the centerpiece of which [ending the dividend tax] will have little or no stimulative effect. At a time when some people badly could use help, Mr. Bush's tax cut mostly will help those who need it least."

Wrong. If Bush follows his gut, the financial markets will likely rise in value, reversing the downward trend that began in April of 2000. With more capital available, entrepreneurs and large companies can be expected to create more jobs, which is bound to decrease unemployment. There's no risk for the President: no matter what his economic agenda, Democrats will attack it as a sop to the rich. As for deficits, if the economy improves in the next year, voters, if not editorial boards, won't give them a second thought.

Also on the domestic front, Bush's intention to overhaul Medicare (and one hopes Social Security as well) is a bold but imperative initiative that, if enacted, will modernize decades-old entitlements. It's probably too much to expect, given the Lott controversy, but the President should also express his administration's opposition to affirmative action in the upcoming University of Michigan Supreme Court case. Finally, while he's still flush with political capital, Bush would be smart to bring back both Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen before the Judiciary Committee now that Sen. Patrick Leahy can't exercise his power to deny the nominees a fair up-or-down vote in the entire Senate.

In the current Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes made the following convincing argument for Bush's strategy. He wrote: "The politics here are quite simple: The economy itself is the only political factor that matters, not the packaging, not the distributional tables, not the size of the majority that votes for the tax cut. Rather than avoidance of Democratic criticism now, Bush's goal must be a booming economy a year from now. If the economy is growing at a crisp pace in 2004, Bush will bask in the glow of good times and win reelection easily. If it isn't, he'll be blamed and reelection will be difficult."


Next week, I'll size up the bunch of Democrats who plan to defeat Bush next year, but for now just a few thoughts. Sen. John Edwards, the condescending champion of "regular people," will not last the year as a candidate. With the country at war for probably the next decade, it's not likely even advocates of a Southern standard-bearer will choose the young North Carolinian over John Kerry, Joe Lieberman or, especially Dick Gephardt, who, I suspect, will be the political surprise of 2003: he's hawkish on Iraq, is still a favorite of unions and has enough political chits to raise the money necessary to compete against the patrician Kerry. It's too early to tell which one of the contenders will receive the John McCain idolatry from the media, though that's not necessarily a ticket to the White House.

Even more interesting is this scenario: In the early primaries, like in New Hampshire, where undeclared voters can vote in either primary, wouldn't it be swell if Republicans-with Bush unlikely to face opposition-voted en masse for Al Sharpton, just to cause some mischief? That's what happened in the Michigan primary in 2000, when Democrats voted for McCain over Bush even though they intended to support Al Gore in the general election. Sharpton's a cheap demagogue and racist, but he gets attention. Wouldn't it be a wonder to watch Kerry and Lieberman, for example, kiss his ring in the debates that'll start next fall? It'll be Christmas every day for Sharpton.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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