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Jewish World Review March 14, 2001/ 19 Adar, 5761


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Consumer Reports

The "accidental" president prospers; big labor reels -- A quick question: Who won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election?

If you correctly guessed Democrat Al Gore, go have that extra slice of pineapple upside-down cake. When the same teaser is posed six months from now, I'm betting that a lot fewer Americans will receive a passing grade. That's how decisively George W. Bush, especially in the past 10 days, has asserted his political strength. It's been a remarkable blitz. The House passed the bulk of his tax cut; the ergonomics regulations issued by Bush's predecessor were repealed; and it's no longer possible to declare bankruptcy if you're having a lousy day. Even Sen. Joe Biden sided with the GOP on the latter initiative, saying, "Unnecessary and abusive bankruptcy costs everyone. This costs every single American consumer."

The President intervened in the labor impasse at Northwest Airlines, mandating a 60-day "cooling off" period, with the implied threat that he'll fire striking workers if an agreement isn't reached. And when similar walkouts are considered by employees at United, Delta and American Airlines in coming months, they can expect the same action. Explaining his decision last week, Bush said, "It's important for our economy; but more important, it's important for the hardworking people of America to make sure air service is not disrupted." The prose might be sloppy, but the message isn't.

Commerce Secretary Don Evans has barred the use of "adjusted" census figures, a huge blow to liberals hoping to gain control of the House next year. Democrats are whining that Bush isn't playing fair, that he's not governing in the spirit of bipartisanship.

What a bully.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton has all but vanished from the front pages, having served his purpose as a media distraction while Bush got settled in the White House. You'd think that Clinton was a double agent. With his laundry list of auctioned-off pardons, revelations about the Ozark Playboy Mansion (masked as his presidential library) dribbling out day by day and his rapid retreat to the $100,000-a-pop lecture circuit, he's done Bush a favor: the President couldn't have asked for a better decoy.

The Republican Congress has wised up and let history, and local prosecutors, be the judge of Clinton's last hours in office. Just imagine the raw material John Waters has if he chooses to write and direct a film dubbed Bubba's Final Days: characters like the Rodham brothers, Marc and Denise Rich, Beth Dozoretz, Paul Begala, Roger Clinton, James Carville, Hillary, John Podesta, and David Kendall come around just once in a lifetime. Half of the unsavory lot, given 10 grand or so, would even play themselves. Waters would finally have the box-office bonanza he deserves. Best of all, it might forever douse the insulting literary conceit that the Clinton saga was a tragedy reminiscent of Shakespeare or Tolstoy. It's bad enough that the Kennedy family's triumphs and turmoils have been accorded that status. A Dominick Dunne novel-a long one, I'll admit-could wrap up Papa Joe's clan in one fell swoop.

But Clinton? The story of his sleazy "public service" has no relation to Macbeth or even a Shirley Lord novel; Joe Klein could make another mil or two with a sequel to Primary Colors. Set in Harlem, of course.

Let's get back to current events. Bush's controversial $1.6 trillion tax cut is really much ado about nothing, a tepid tonic for an ailing economy that's valuable mostly for its symbolism. Which shouldn't be minimized. Bush has sent an unmistakable signal to Congress-and the country at large by staging rallies in states burdened by Democratic senators-that if money is left in Washington it'll be spent on further government entitlements, pork handouts and meaningless research studies. The President's determination on this issue has successfully changed the agenda in DC, and that alone is a major achievement. That's why it was significant that the House acted so quickly in passing part of his bill; had it languished for six weeks, with everyone from Patrick Kennedy to Jesse Jackson Jr. getting his scripted licks in, there wouldn't be the impetus for the Senate to get off their butts and take action before the Fourth of July.

However, let's not be deluded that this 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut is at all substantial. Bush couldn't get away with it politically so early in his term, but a real jump start to the economy would be to front-load the cuts, retroactive to Jan. 1, with a slash in capital gains taxes. It's possible, as the recession kicks in, that the Senate will accelerate the process. As for the Democrats' drumbeat that Bush's proposal is a reward for the wealthy-Dick Gephardt seems to think that any family making more than $75,000 is "rich," an absurdity in an era when college tuition alone wipes out a bank account-there's not much you can do but recognize it for the poll-tested class warfare that it is.

With the departure of Clinton and Gore, however, this is a strategy that's about as relevant as the latest dotcom that's gone belly-up. Most people, unless they're wealthy liberals who don't carry cash in their pockets, really don't care if millionaires get a tax break: they'd be plenty happy to receive a refund of the money they earned.

I don't believe self-interested politicians like Gephardt and Tom Daschle when they talk of lower- and middle-class resentment against the top 1 percent of America's economic bracket. Donald Trump is an abhorrent public figure, but people buy his books and some even wish he'd run for president; Hillary Clinton made a shrewd $8 million book deal (and more power to her), a boondoggle that will eventually lose several people their jobs; movie stars and athletes rack up unimaginable salaries, yet ballparks and movie theaters are filled. The country's citizens are a lot more broad-minded than Beltway bubbleheads like Gephardt think: all they want is a fair deal.

It's hilarious listening to Democrats suddenly talk about how Bush's tax plan isn't equitable because it doesn't address FICA taxes, which everyone pays. Funny, I thought Social Security was in a "lockbox," never to be touched, lest it go broke in 2049. This is political hypocrisy in its most repellent form, and simply demonstrates the chaotic state of the Terry McAuliffe-led Democratic Party. They're adrift, floundering around in several different directions. Some are still fixated on the Florida recount, and perhaps they're the most pitiful of all-taking the latest Palm Beach Post article about dimpled chads and shouting to anyone who'll listen that Bush stole the election.

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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© 2000, Russ Smith