The way we ... always will be
WASHINGTON — The looming deficit is a result of recession, war, and national emergency, and the "economic stimulus" package will be re-submitted to Congress as the "economic security" package. Get it?
The 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut helps the wrong people, is eating up the surplus, and may result in short-changing vital defense needs. Get it?
President George W. Bush and Senate majority leader Tom Daschle were out on the hustings last weekend, opening the campaign season early and trying out attack lines compatible with post-Sept. 11 patriotism and national unity. The result was a lot more partisan posturing than bipartisan accommodation on stalled programs.
Personal attack was largely avoided as presumably anathema in time of war. Senator Daschle has a particular problem with Mr. Bush's stratospheric approval ratings, which the president is trying to extend to the domestic debate.
So, the Democratic leader tries to put the commander-in-chief on a pedestal to get him out of the way. He praises Bush to the sky as wartime leader, but tries to dissociate him from domestic policy, which he ascribes to "a wing of the Republican Party that isn't interested in fiscal discipline."
The president, in turn, never mentions Daschle by name as he accuses the Democrats of wanting to raise taxes. "Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes," he said in Portland, Ore., in an ad-lib that seemed to surprise his own staff.
History should tell the president that such an unqualified promise - like his father's famous "Read my lips, no new taxes" - is a risky business.
But history also tells him that, in the 1992 election, his father lost some conservative support because he was perceived as resting on his Gulf War laurels and staying out of the domestic fray.
What much of this early campaign season seems to be about is seizing the semantic high ground for later blame-laying. The Democrats accuse the Republicans of enacting the wrong taxcuts. The Republicans accuse the Democrats of wanting to raise taxes. Each side then accuses the other of partisan bickering at a time when the nation is in peril.
In Portland last weekend, the president avoided direct criticism and said, "The old way is beginning to creep into the people's minds in Washington." It is doubtful that, except for a brief period after Sept. 11, the "old way" ever left.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at NPR.