A foreigner observing this year’s presidential campaign could be forgiven for coming away with the idea that American political history since 1960 has consisted largely of a series of changes in the tax rate. A list of highlights, drawn from the presidential and vice-presidential debates, would look something like this.
1964: Congress passes Kennedy tax cut; 1965: Bob Dole votes against Medicare; mid-to-late 1960s: socialism comes to the inner cities (which had been doing just fine under capitalism) via public housing, public schools, and welfare, which pays people for doing what liberals tell them to do; 1970s: in an otherwise uneventful decade, Dole blames the Democrats for starting World War II; 1980s: the largest tax increase in the history of the world is voted for by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the deficit triples, and crime and drug use soar in the tiny state of Arkansas, which maintains the second-lowest tax burden in America; 1991: Colin Powell (Norman Schwarzkopf is also involved) leads American troops, who are the finest, best-trained, and best-equipped men and women in the history of the planet, to victory in the Persian Gulf.
1993: Bill Clinton signs the largest tax increase in the history of the world, which lowers taxes on nine million working families; 1994-1996: the United States causes a fiscal crisis in Mexico, lends that country billions of dollars, and makes a $100 million profit, which is used to reduce the deficit; 1995: Newt Gingrich shuts down the federal government in an effort to cut Medicare payments to our seniors; 1996: the no-fly zone is extended to the suburbs of Baghdad, making Saddam Hussein better off than he was four years ago; 1993-1996: ten and a half million new jobs are created, but half these people are working just to pay income taxes and would rather not work at all unless they felt like it, which is what America is all about.
As for the future, we will see either one huge tax cut disproportionately favoring the wealthy, raising taxes on twelve million working Americans, and blowing a hole in the deficit while bringing free enterprise to the inner cities and civility to baseball (if Dole and Kemp are elected), or else a lot of tiny designer tax cuts providing the tools people need to make the most of their lives and also bringing civility to baseball (if the President is re-elected and we can trust anything the guy says).
There seem to be a few holes in this cheese. It is the aim of political campaigns, of course, to put them there—to string together just those bits of history that lead to the moral that is the candidate’s platform. And by the nature of campaign give-and-take, both sides usually end up running on more or less the same narrow issue, spinning each historical “fact” as it suits them. In 1988 the issue was patriotism; in 1992 it was gridlock; in 1996 it is taxes. Once the issue is established, it is …