Sunday, March 14, 2004

Should Bush campaign on 9/11? 

One way to answer this sort of question in American politics is to look at what other Presidents have done. David Broder has looked at whether FDR made an issue out of Pearl Harbor and the war in his own re-election campaign. The answer seems to be that Roosevelt made a very big deal out of it, which should come as no surprise to anybody. His conclusion:

If you accept President Bush's premise that this nation is at war with terrorism, then you have to applaud the restraint his campaign has shown so far in exploiting the attack that began that war.

Of course, the qualifier is decisive for many voters -- unfortunately, the nature of this war is such that many Americans do not believe that we are, in fact, at war with anybody. Perhaps this is due partly to the Bush Administration's own unwillingness to ask American civilians for sacrifices. Broder's parting shot makes the point quite well:

Far better than criticizing his ads, ask why Bush is not calling on comfortable Americans to make any sacrifices for the war effort and why he refuses to raise the revenues to pay for what he calls a life-and-death struggle.

To my mind, this is the best criticism of the Bush tax cuts, particularly the second wave. It is not that we did not need to reduce marginal rates -- we did. But just as Lyndon Johnson's famous ambitions for guns and butter undermined his moral authority to wage the Vietnam War, Bush's dependance on the "Easy Street" conservatives who push for tax cuts makes it possible for Democrats to argue that terrorism is no big deal compared to slow job growth.

Put differently, Bush cannot argue that we should make sacrifices for the war because his own wealthy supporters have made no such sacrifices. Well, if the war on terror isn't worth making sacrifices for, is it worth fighting at all? That's the Democrats' argument in a nutshell, and the Bush tax cuts have made it viable.


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