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BANDWAGON WATCH! Why are Dems so timid with tax cuts? Dionne knows—but he won’t seem to tell:


BRITISH INVASION: We heartily welcome our new British readers, with many thanks to Tina Brown for her incomparable cite. We’ll provide some background to Journeys with George in our postings next week. Meanwhile, check out yesterday’s DAILY HOWLER, which reviewed a comic but appalling episode from Campaign 2000. Incredibly, the press corps behaved this way all through the race. Americans still don’t know it.

THE DEAN LISTS: It’s true. The Olympian gods in Zeus’ great halls still roar with laughter as they gaze on our folly. This morning, they likely began with the Post’s op-ed page. David Broder—scrambling to jump on a speeding bandwagon—improbably typed this great thought:

BRODER: The election demonstrated more than Bush’s personal support. A striking feature was the success of Republican incumbents at all levels. Not a single Republican governor running for reelection lost. The only incumbent Republican senator defeated was Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas…

Clearly, after such an election, Republicans will feel emboldened to push ahead with the agenda that was often thwarted when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords’s switch to independent status gave Democrats their temporary control of the Senate.

Republicans may well feel emboldened, but we’d guess they reason more clearly than Broder. In fact, as with Republicans, so things pretty much stand with the Dems; only one previously elected Democratic senator was defeated, and not a single Dem governor lost reelection (in Alabama, the Siegelman race still can’t be called). Broder’s “data” may produce high excitement, but they also produce hearty laughs from the gods. No matter. Having wasted their time predicting Tuesday’s outcome, our vacuous pundit corps now wastes its time explaining What Tuesday Really Means. [CORRECTION below.]

Indeed, Broder—The Dean—may hurt himself racing to catch that fast wagon. Bush had once seemed like an “accidental president,” he says. Then he pens these heartless mots:

BRODER: In hindsight, it now appears it was the Democrats who had gained from political accidents, enjoying their shaky Senate majority only because a sympathy vote for an airplane crash victim in Missouri was followed by a fit of pique from an iconoclastic Vermonter.
As always, “in hindsight” it all becomes clear! But is it true? Did Democrats “enjoy their shaky Senate majority only because [of] a sympathy vote for an airplane crash victim?” It’s a cruel way of limning a tragedy. In fact, if Mel Carnahan had lived—and had won his tight race—he’d still be in the Senate today. On Tuesday, the GOP gave up one Senate seat, and the Democrats did hand over three. But two of those losses—in Minnesota and Missouri—stemmed from fatal airplane crashes. (Jean Carnahan, an amateur replacement for her late husband, was a weak campaigner—but still almost won.) Today, Broder shows off his newly rough language. But if Wellstone and Carnahan had lived and not died, the Dems might well hold the Senate today. Was Tuesday night some sort of vast mandate? In fact, Broder’s plane crash helps show how our pundits rush to overspin Tuesday’s voting.

Was Tuesday a “catastrophe”—a “rout”—as our pundits are saying? It certainly is in the land of the pundits, where overstatement is the time-honored norm.

Meanwhile, other pundits are deeply upset at the way the Dems ran this race. In the Post, E. J. Dionne rails at the Democrats’ “small-bore approach;” they didn’t go after the tax cuts, he says. But what would have happened if they’d attacked the Bush cuts? There is, of course, no way to know; they might well have lost much more badly. Dionne says that “[t]oo many Democrats were afraid” to challenge the cuts. But Dionne himself has quivered and quaked as the Bush budget plan made its way into law. The truth is, it’s risky to stand against “free money” plans, driven by mis- and disinformation. But it’s easy to write the piece Dionne writes, simple-mindedly blaming Dems for a tricky political situation.

“Republicans stand for things,” Dionne says. But back in October 2000, Bush “stood for” blatant disinformation about his budget proposal. Paul Krugman attacked the misstatements time after time—but Small-Bore Dionne and his insider colleagues politely stood by and said nothing. When Bush baldly misstated at Bush-Gore Debate I, Dionne responded with gumming remarks. Guess what, kids? The timid Dionne is part of the reason why tax cuts are so hard to deal with.

Our pundits wasted time for weeks trying to predict what can’t be predicted. Now they waste their time—and position themselves—with easily-typed Grand Conclusions. The politics of tax cuts is very hard—but your pundits like telling tales that are simple. They give the gods a good, hearty laugh. But democracy functions on insight and wisdom. Read the Post’s op-ed savants today and see how our democracy falters.

What should Dems have done in this race? What should Dems be doing now? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But why are tax cuts hard to deal with? Duh. Voters are relentlessly misinformed, and almost always sign up for free money. In Campaign 2000, Bush offered a free money plan in Social Security (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/14/02, 5/15/02), and he offered the voters free money in tax cuts. Meanwhile, he baldly misstated the facts of his plans—at Bush-Gore Debate I, for example.

We recently discussed Bush’s major misstatements at that crucial debate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/22/02). He quickly misstated his own budget plan. He grossly misstated his prescription drug offering (calling Gore a liar as he did so). Two days later, all the Washington Post’s vaunted heavyweights appeared on the paper’s op-ed page. And guess what? None of them—none of them, including Dionne—said a word about Bush’s misstatements. Why is it hard for Dems to tackle tax cuts? Voters always sign up for free money—and slackers like Dionne have stood by for years, too timid to insist on real facts.

Dems have lost many times in the past on such matters. Meanwhile, your millionaire press corps has long stood back and played silly games as the Bush plan moved forward. E. J. Dionne was part of that crowd. This morning, he worries about timid Dems. He might want to go buy a mirror.

THE TRUTH WILL GET YOU LAUGHED AT: At Walter Mondale’s debate with Norm Coleman, he made this accurate statement:

MONDALE: You talk about my proposal for tax increase in ’84. You know, right after the election, they raised taxes. I was the one who told the truth before the election. And I think that’s one of the big things that Minnesotans have to look at: Who’s got the courage to stand up and level with the people even when it’s difficult? It wasn’t an issue with tax increases—we had to do it. We had deficits of $300 billion.
Indeed, the increases continued through Bush I and Clinton. Back in 1984, Mondale did tell the truth before the election. But Mondale was mocked for his statement back then—and he’s still widely mocked for his statement today! (By Coleman, for example.) Why do Dems have trouble with tax cuts? Duh. Because voters rush to get their free money—and because our pundit corps is simply too scared to mention such impolite facts.

How do things work in our feeble democracy? Telling the truth about tax cuts is risky. Before Dionne blasts the Dems for their caution, he ought to go say that himself.

CORRECTION: Why do we ever critique published work on the day it appears? It used to be against our rules; today shows why we devised that rule to begin with. The Dems did lose two sitting govs--the quickly-forgotten Barnes of Georgia and Hodges of South Carolina. So here's the breakdown: Reps lost no sitting govs, Dems lost two. Reps lost one incumbent senator, Dems lost two (one of them Jean Carnahan, an unelected amateur candidate). Semanticists can decide if that's a "rout." Under the unusual circumstances of this election, we wouldn't draw sweeping conclusions. Our suggestion to pundits: Stop predicting. Stop explaining. Start developing key information. And oh yes: Wait a day before you put that info into print.