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Jewish World Review Aug. 12, 1999 /30 Av, 5759

David Corn

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The Tax Cut Con -- LAST WEEK, BEFORE CONGRESS fled Washington for the rest of this hot summer, the Republican Party achieved a breakthrough. Its two wings agreed on a tax bill. In a feat of legislative diplomacy, the faction that craves a tax cut heavily tilted to the rich and the faction that desires a tax cut moderately tilted to the rich were able to work out their differences. It was an inspiration to see politicians strive so hard, bridge such a gap, and not lose sight of the big picture: tax cuts that favor the rich.

Under the compromise $792 billion tax-cut proposal, the bottom 60 percent of American taxpayers (people who earn less than $38,000 a year) would reap 8.5 percent of the giveback, which translates into an average of $157, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. Those in the top 10 percent (earning $89,000 or more) would pocket 68 percent of the tax cut, an average of $7520. Rather than use the surplus to pay down the debt, shore up Medicare, fully fund the Head Start child education program or invest in other social priorities, the GOP suggests it be doled out to the wealthiest among us. Moreover, the GOP shoved into the bill numerous corporate tax breaks that specifically benefit timber companies, nuclear power plant owners, poultry manure producers (yes, there is a chicken manure lobby) and the oil and gas industries.

Regardless of how the tax cut is divvied up, it remains a scam. Its Republican advocates base the tax cut on a Congressional Budget Office estimate projecting a $2.9 trillion budget surplus over the next 10 years. Thus, they say, a $792 billion tax cut would merely be a quarter of the surplus. Sounds quite affordable and reasonable, doesn’t it? The math, though, is not that simple. While crafting its surplus estimate, the CBO did not include a $792 billion tax cut in its calculations. If there were to be such a cut, a smaller portion of the surplus would be used to pay down the national debt. That would result, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in $141 billion more in interest payments than the CBO assumed. Consequently, the true cost of this tax cut is $932 billion.

We’re not done. Of the projected $2.9 trillion surplus, about $1.9 trillion consists of Social Security payments. These funds will be needed to cover the cost of retiring baby boomers. That leaves a cool $1 trillion to play with—which means the GOP tax cut would consume practically all of the non-Social Security surplus. Little would be left for, say, Medicare or the national debt.

There’s more. The CBO’s surplus estimates assume that Congress will abide by the tight spending caps negotiated in the 1997 budget agreement and cut discretionary programs $595 billion below current levels in the next 10 years. Everyone in Washington knows that assumption is bunk. Republican chairmen of appropriations subcommittees have been screaming that they cannot fund their programs and remain within those spending limits. The Republican leadership has resorted to the gimmick of using emergency spending bills—which are not subject to the caps—to fund nonemergency programs. This money, however, still has to be counted in the big picture.

The bottom line: the surplus, in reality, is far smaller than Republicans claim, and their $792 billion tax cut would likely consume far more than 100 percent of the non-Social Security surplus. That will bring back deficits. How reassuring to see the Republicans revert to form. Tax cuts for the well-to-do, tax breaks for the corporations, and deficits or the most draconian budget cuts for everyone else. President Clinton’s veto threat is justified. But the Democratic plan for a smaller tax cut of $290 billion poses similar, though smaller, problems. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing tax-cut politics. In this case, gridlock would be a welcomed outcome.

Talk Talk

By the time a commoner was able to get hold of a copy of Talk, the sizzle was off the steak of that made-for-buzz Hillary Clinton interview. What was surprising about the piece was that it contained little worthy of the punditry overkill it provoked. Why all that babble over her psychobabble? Hillary thinks her husband, all things considered, is a good guy and that his positive traits warrant her loyalty. Where’s the news in that? So she tried to figure out what in Bill Clinton’s past had led to his adult philandering and came up with the thin explanation that early childhood trauma—she loosely called it “abuse”—had had an impact on his psychological development. Why were so many commentators flipping out over these few sentences?

A more significant remark came when, defending the bombing of Yugoslavia, she said, “What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?” Time for remedial history. NATO was created not to defend “our way of life” but supposedly to defend Europe from the Soviet Union. Whether the bombing of Serbia was wrong or right, what did pummeling Slobodan Milosevic have to do with defending “our way of life”? Such a facile comment about an important public matter was more telling that her musings about Bill and his problem—whatever it may be.

Nevertheless, National Review’s Kate O’Beirne, speaking of Hillary’s reflections on her husband, remarked, “I think this one might matter.” O’Beirne was saying that voters in 15 months would still be contemplating Hillary’s talk with Talk. Wanna bet? All the loose talk about Hillary’s supposed revelation prompted consultant/pitchman/professional self-promoter James Carville to announce he would give $100,000 (and you know he has it to spare) to any reporter who could prove that HRC had attributed WJC’s sexual misconduct to his less-than-secure childhood. The Cueball had a case. (A day later, after the article’s author, Lucinda Franks, insisted Hillary had not pushed an abuse-excuse, Carville declared the offer over.) The media characterization of what Hillary had told Talk went far beyond the words that appeared in print. But at least one media hotshot didn’t care about journalistic accuracy. “At this point,” Cokie Roberts told The Washington Post last Wednesday, “it doesn’t much matter whether she said it or not because it’s become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about.” Hooray for standards.

The Hillary interview spasm (Washington Post front-page headline on Thursday: “No Rest From the Query”) was one more reason why those of us suffering from Clinton fatigue wish that Hillary would contract a case of politics fatigue and drop her New York state of mind. She and her mate provide the media a national soap opera that is open to endless commentary. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Clintons left us alone for a while—or, more accurately, we had cause to leave them alone?

Overall, Talk’s premiere issue seemed fine, even if too much of the mag was an irritating exercise in synergy. A Tommy Hilfiger ad promoting the singer Jewel. Francis Ford Coppola selling wine. An editorial feature on what designer (Armani, Helmut Lang, Hugo Boss) was favored by which celebrity at a Las Vegas fight (an ad for Armani preceded the package). Ads for two films from Touchstone Pictures (which is owned by Disney, which owns Miramax, which co-owns Talk). Gwyneth Paltrow photographed as a dominatrix. A full-page pitching Max Factor mascara with a tie-in to Blockbuster Video and (Miramax’s) Shakespeare in Love, which starred the aforementioned domme. In between all this were a few spots of decent journalism (trailer park in northern Virginia, serial killing in a Mexican border town), including the obligatory article on Princess Di.

I’d write for Talk.

But the synergy stuff does wear out the reluctant consumer in me. I was not one of the special few who received the special offer to subscribe to Talk. (Why not? I’m on The New Yorker’s sub list.) But still, the corporate octopus behind the magazine reached me in my home. Days before Talk struck, I was in the living room, preparing to watch a rented video of the Touchstone film Enemy of the State—an entertaining flick with an ACLUish message regarding high-tech invasions of privacy—and in the midst of the previews, Tina Brown appeared. “I think a new century needs a new magazine and a new voice,” she said. The words “Get Ready To Talk” flashed on the screen. And then, through a series of quick cuts that showed various parts of Brown’s face and presented brief snatches of her talking, the commercial turned Brown into a rapper. Above a Muzak version of hiphop—and as the words as “murder,” “chocolate,” “religion,” “weather,” “baseball,” “psychology,” and (of course) “sex” moved across the screen—the disjointed voice of Brown quickly bounced: “Investigate, simplify, understand, conversation, discussion, noise, sound, chatter, culture, news, tv, movies, fashion, entertainment, journalism, politics, technology, celebrity, fantasy, reality, how we live today, strains of modern life. Want to talk. Need to talk. Why talk? It’s what we do. We talk in the office, on the phone, in restaurants, in airports. Talk is who we are.” Then she was gone. It was as if Brown was channeling Allen Ginsberg, or had listened to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” 100 times before recording this spot. But she was saying less.

This was all packaging and flash. Very Hollywood. I wouldn’t have minded if she had actually taken the time to explain the magazine and how she was going to craft a different and exciting book. Instead, I felt like a captive—my VCR remote works intermittently—being programmed. Yeah, pizza, ballet, the elderly, plastic surgery, divorce.... yeah, Talk. Let’s chat, gossip, converse about it all. Nothing is more important than anything else. Whatever will sell. Then let’s talk about Talk. Surely if there needs to be a national conversation, as Brown suggests, about such subjects as what Madam-to-the-stars Heidi Fleiss would look like as a man (an actual feature in the current issue), then we need to have a conversation about that national conversation. Isn’t that what we just went through with the Hillary interview? (Feeling entrepreneurial, I thought about plunking down $120 to reserve the web address, but, unfortunately, someone had beaten me to it.) For the moment, Brown has succeeded greatly. Cokie Roberts’ beauty parlor was full of Talk-inspired talk. And, according to Cokie, in all this talking we don’t have to get our facts straight.

After all, it’s just talk.

JWR contributor David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation, writes the "Loyal Opposition" column for The New York Press.

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