Skip to comments.Entrapment by Bush: He plays Democrats for fools, and they always rise to his bait
Posted on 01/09/2003 9:47:06 PM PST by Pokey78
As I was waiting for my flight back to Iowa last Friday I scanned an article in USA Today about the Bush economic stimulus package. It reported that the Presidents' advisers stated the "proposal will likely exclude top-tier taxpayers in an effort to fend off Democratic criticism that his tax programs pander to the rich." As the plane headed for flyover country, I jotted some notes for a possible column on how Bush was engaging in both bad politics and bad policy.
Then on Sunday the Bush Administration released the full details of the plan: $674 billion in tax relief that included eliminating the tax on dividends and reducing income-tax rates for all income-tax payers. So much for excluding the rich. Fortunately, I hadn't written the column as the NFL Playoffs intervened. (Hey, gotta have priorities.) But I was left scratching my head as to why the Bush Administration would hint at placating the Democrats in the first place.
As I thought more about it, it became increasingly apparent that it was part of a strategy that the Bush Administration has employed for some time to put the Democrats in a box. It might be called "entrapment with a twist." It works as follows:
Act Helpless. In this step the Bushies leak stories to the press making the Administration look weak. The Administration may appear as though it lacks focus. Other times it may act as though it's afraid of the opposition. The point is to let the Democrats smell blood in the water. In the case of the economic stimulus package, the Bush Administration acted wary of Democrats' class-warfare rhetoric, and so hinted it might drop tax cuts for top income earners.
Wait for Democrats to Pounce. The appearance of weakness naturally induces the Democrats to attack. And as the Bush Administration surely knows, it will be an attack that pleases the Democrats' base. Over the weekend, prominent Donks turned up the class-warfare rhetoric. The Bush tax cuts would help "the wealthiest Americans" fumed then-impending Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. In an ironic choice of words, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi complained that the Bush plan was a "Trojan Horse to wheel in some tax breaks for the high end that they're so fond of." Trojan Horse indeed.
Spring the Trap. Once the Democrats have committed themselves to a line of attack, the Bush Administration ensnares them by pursuing a policy which forces the Democrats to either anger their base or alienate moderates. In his economic stimulus package, Bush not only has the supply-side tax cuts that please conservatives, he also has items that appeal to moderates, like income-tax cuts for the middle and lower class and "Re-Employment Accounts." Congressional Democrats now face a very unpleasant choice. They can vote against the President's plan thereby voting against the items that please moderate voters. Or they can risk dispiriting their base by voting for a plan that includes tax cuts for the "wealthy." Heads Bush wins, tails Democrats lose.
The "Twist." The twist to this strategy is that the Bush Administration also intends for its appearance of weakness to provoke criticism from the political right as well. For example, last week at the Daily Standard, Fred Barnes griped "Somebody tell the Bush White House that Republicans now control the Senate .Somehow the idea got planted at the White House that a watered-down tax cut, less susceptible to Democratic attacks, would be better politically for the president." It seems to me that this has two important psychological effects. First, seeing the president attacked from the right emboldens the Democrats, making them all the more likely to pounce. Second, when the president actually releases a plan that has plenty of conservative ideas, the right heaves a great sigh of relief, and becomes energized and eager to do battle for Bush. Not surprisingly, in Tuesday's National Review Online Larry Kudlow gushed, "President Bush has surprised everyone with his decision to propose a big-bang economic growth package."
The Bush Administration has used this strategy at least since last year, when it rolled the Democrats on the War Against Iraq. In that instance, the Administration leaked stories that Bush was hesitating about going to war with Iraq. This prompted many on the right to complain; most notably Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan at the Weekly Standard zinged Bush for "Going Wobbly." Sensing an opportunity, the Democrats went on the attack in late summer. Then-Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said the President needed to "make the case to Congress and the people," while Senator Joe Lieberman said Bush must "speak to the American people [and] ask Congress for authorization." They had walked right into it.
Shortly after September 11, Bush made the case in speeches to the American people and in front of the United Nations. He reiterated his support for regime change in Iraq, using force if necessary. He also mollified moderates by giving the United Nations one last chance to deal with Saddam. Support for military action surged to near 70% in most polls. Finally, he asked Congress for a resolution authorizing the use of force. Again, the Democrats were stuck. Either vote against the resolution and alienate moderates, or vote for it and anger their base. The strategy yielded big dividends on election day.
Will the Democrats ever get wise to this? Perhaps. More likely, they will persist in their view that Bush is a dimwit who continues to get lucky. Thus, they will continue to misunderestimate his strategery.
David Hogberg is a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute, an Iowa-based think tank. He also hosts his own website, Cornfield Commentary.
It's a start (although a rather timid one), but what we really need is the abolition of the estate (death) tax, the capital gains tax, the marriage penalty tax, payroll taxes, all corporate welfare, and a reduction of the income tax to 10% (flat rate).
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Every long journey starts with a single step. I loved Newt Gingrich but he had no finesse and did not understand technique and strategy. His candor was refreshing but it gave the liberal media a thousand ways to crucify him.
I wouldn't call Bush crafty but he knows how to work the Congress and the press and I will continue to give him the benefit of the doubt as he tries to unravel 40+ years of liberal legislation in Washington DC. Yes, I could think of dozens of ways to improve the tax code, fix immigration, reform the tort system, and fix Washington, but throwing this all at the Congress will create havoc and prevent the Republicans from having any focus.
What a great idea! Win over the elderly by their pocketbooks and perhaps move some of them to the Republican column, or at least make them inclined to vote Republican. This helps ensure more GOP gains in 2004 and also makes passage of more comprehensive tax reform easier. It will also send the a--holes that run AARP into conniptions.
Never, never underestimate our President. Don't forget that he won his first term as Governor of Texas by a squeaker, but when he ran a second time he had the entire state eating out of his hand, such that the Speaker of the Assembly (a Democrat) endorsed Bush for his second term.
Please Freepmail me if you want on or off my infrequent ping list.
I wonder if any of the perpetual critics here will get it, as well. If I had a nickel for every time a New York Times story got people here up in arms, only to have it turn out to be false, I would be a wealthy woman.
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