A Tale of Two Cities


San Diego

Journalists in San Diego for the Republican convention circulated their complaints at how dull everything was. It is true that Newt Gingrich deprived us of expected entertainment. The Speaker of the House normally gavels the action along at a convention. Memories of political conventions begin, for many of us older sorts, with Speaker Joe Martin wielding a gavel that looked as big as he was and shouting, “Clear the aisles.” Gingrich was too unpopular to play so prominent a role in San Diego. Like Pat Buchanan, he exercised his power from the periphery. But while Buchanan prowled the edges of the action resentfully, Gingrich discreetly indulged his naturalist’s hobby at the San Diego zoo, his white hair decorating the night, when—as the zoo puts it, advertising late summer hours—“nocturnal animals come out for a night-time prowl.”

No animals were odder in the night than those filling the convention center. Here were millionaires who flew into town in their private jets to hear how miserable Bill Clinton had made their lives. One in five of those delegates makes over a million dollars a year, and another one in five makes over $200,000. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas told her prime-time convention audience on TV that the country had to be rescued from the “business-busting” and “class-baiting” Democrats. Jack Kemp, in his acceptance speech as the vice-presidential nominee, moaned that Bill Clinton’s is “a government that runs our lives, our businesses, our schools.” Earlier, in an address to small-business advocates attending the convention, Kemp said that it takes great courage for a businessman to face up to a government that can “regulate, litigate, and tax away your profits.” Representative John Kasich of Ohio told the convention that “government programs disconnect our souls from one another.” Corporate CEOs nodded in agreement while they worked, at their yacht parties, to knit expensive soul to soul.

Republicans were cowering in fear before a left that does not exist. If there were any kind of left in this country, we would not put up with a situation in which CEOs make 225 times the compensation given to average employees under them, or in which the top 1 percent of the population owns 48 percent of the nation’s financial wealth, while the bottom 80 percent owns only 6 percent.1

Other countries in the industrialized West are more heavily taxed than we are, and the taxes fall more heavily on the rich, since they have a wealth tax as well as an income tax.2 But our pampered class feels that it is taxed to death. No charge was more frequently launched at President Clinton, during the San Diego convention, than that he imposed “the biggest tax increase in American history”—$241 billion over five years. Actually, the greatest increase in history was sponsored by Senator Dole and signed by President Reagan in 1982—$286 billion (allowing for inflation). What’s more, this huge tax increase was followed by five more tax increases in…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.