This commentary was originally published on Sept. 30, 2004.
In anticipation of Election Day, today we're dueling over the presidential candidates' economic policies. First, read the opening arguments if you missed them. Here you have our duelists' rebuttals -- their final stabs at each other.
The opinions of this Duel are those of the writers only and not the opinions of The Motley Fool. (We know 50% of you will flame us for half of what is said here.)
It's Not a Lie If You Believe It
By Chris Rugaber
Jeremy is right about one thing: The two candidates do have differing platforms and views. Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) tax cuts and economic proposals are intended to help people get ahead, while President George Bush's are intended to ensure that those on top stay there -- and pull up the ladder behind them.
End the deception
But beyond the numbers and rhetoric, there's a more important consideration in this debate: Bush and his minions have a bad habit of lying to the American people about economic issues, while Kerry does not.
Unfortunately, Jeremy repeats the Bush campaign's ridiculous charge that Kerry has voted for higher taxes 350 times. To be precise, he actually said Kerry supported "higher tax levels than those preferred by his Republican colleagues," which, as pointed out by FactCheck.org, is a slightly more accurate formulation than the one Bush and his satraps repeatedly used this spring. (They said Kerry voted 350 times for "higher taxes.")
But regardless of how it's phrased, it's still an assertion that insults the intelligence of the voters. As the same article from FactCheck.org says, the Bush campaign released an accounting of Kerry's votes to back up its claim, yet on that same list were "scores of votes Kerry cast against tax decreases (which would leave taxes unchanged, not higher), votes to reduce the size of proposed tax cuts (which would leave taxes lower, though not as much lower as proposed), and 'votes for watered-down, Democrat "tax cut" substitutes' (which often proposed to distribute the benefits of tax cuts farther down the income scale than Republican proposals). Thus the Bush campaign counts some votes for tax cuts as votes for 'higher taxes.'" [Emphasis added.]
As Slate.com editor Michael Kinsley pointed out in his evisceration of this claim, using the same standards, Bush has proposed higher taxes 63 times in just four years.
Other examples of Bush's deception: He hid the true cost of his Medicare prescription drug plan -- $534 billion, not the advertised $400 billion -- until after it passed. His Medicare director illegally threatened to fire (free registration required) Medicare's chief actuary if he revealed the true costs to Congress.
And as noted (free registration required) in a recent issue of the New Republic, Bush calls practically every health-care proposal by Democrats a "massive government takeover" of the health-care system, even though they aren't. This isn't a matter of opinion either. Simply nothing in Kerry's proposals comes close to a "massive government takeover" of anything.
But as sitcom character George Costanza once said on Seinfeld, "Remember, Jerry, it's not a lie if you believe it." That seems to be the motto of the Bush administration.
Where lies hide
When not lying, Bush is being slick. He routinely promotes his tax cuts to the voters with faux-populist appeals highlighting their impact on single moms and families earning $45,000, even though the vast majority of the benefits go to upper-income earners. If cutting taxes for the richest 2% is such a great idea, then why doesn't he campaign on it? If cutting taxes for middle-class families is such a great idea, then why not just do that by itself and save a few hundred billion?
Regarding the "flip-flop" charge: Sorry, Kerry has never flip-flopped on the economy. Voting against Bush's pandering tax cuts was an act of political courage, and the fact that he doesn't want to repeal all of them doesn't make him any more of a flip-flopper than Ronald Reagan, who opposed practically half the federal government but signed all the checks for eight years anyway.
Besides, Bush has quite a slippery record himself: He imposed steel tariffs, then removed them when the French socialist bureaucrat who runs the European Union's trade policy made him. He opposed the $170 billion farm subsidies bill, then signed it. He even opposed the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, then supported it.
And remember, Bush's first tax cuts were initially proposed during the 2000 campaign as a way to return the surplus to taxpayers, not boost the economy. Only after everyone realized we were in a recession was the marketing of the cuts hastily rejiggered -- and presto! The cuts were intended to help the economy!
Why would Bush take this approach? Some believe George Bush is stupid, but that's not it. He thinks you are stupid and that you'll fall for all this.
Fortunately, we live in a free country, and you don't have to take what Bush is giving you. On Nov. 2, you can vote for a clearheaded economic policy over blinkered ideology by voting for Kerry.
Chris Rugaber is a former Fool staffer who currently works as a journalist covering international trade issues. The opinions expressed here are his own and not The Motley Fool's. The Fool has a disclosure policy.
Texas Hold 'em
By Jeremy MacNealy
Something smells like the old bait and switch. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) hooks a worm in the likeness of selective, temporary tax relief, all the while preparing to reel in a whale in the form of a new massively expensive, never-ending government programs.
Legislators are still trying to figure out a way to pay for such bureaucratic behemoths as Social Security (arguably the most significant fiscal problem facing the U.S. today) and Medicare. Now Kerry and his fellow Democrats are proposing the biggest budget-buster of them all: a national health-care system. The reality is that Kerry's selective, temporary tax cuts will soon reverse in full force, and American taxpayers will be stuck footing the bill for another ineffective program.
The fuzzy math of old has been reinvented anew. Kerry's plan suggests the problem is that Americans pay too little in taxes, and increases are needed. The real problem we face is that the federal government spends money like it's going out of style. A nation can't tax and spend its way to prominence and prosperity.
Economic growth necessitates economic freedom. Economic freedom comes in the form of President George Bush's supply-side policies. The results speak for themselves:
In 2000 and 2001, real gross domestic product began to decelerate. Since the tax relief, real GDP average annual growth accelerated to 5.6% (the highest growth in 20 years).
Since January 2001, real disposable income is up an average of 7.5%, positively higher than gains following the last recession.
During the current presidential term, more than 90% of all job losses occurred in 2001 -- nearly 50% of which were lost 90 days after 9/11. In the three and a half years prior to Bush's tax cuts, job growth grew 18,000 per month. Following the cuts, jobs have grown 143,000 per month. With 1.5 million new jobs added over the past year, more Americans are employed today than in any other time in our nation's history.
With the economy back on track, Bush is preparing to address other concerns:
Reform of the litigation system: $233 billion -- the cost of frivolous lawsuits to the U.S. economy in 2003 (13.3% increase over 2002, following a 14.9% increase over 2001).
Regulatory reform: $850 billion -- the cost of regulatory compliance to the U.S. economy.
Simplified tax code: $194 billion -- the cost paid by individuals and corporations each year to try and keep up with the ever-changing and mind-boggling complexity of the U.S. tax code.
Social Security reform: It's simple. Every payday, the government takes a chunk of our money (12.4%), and we're told the money will be returned with marginal interest upon retirement. The truth is, the current system is bankrupt, and unless drastic changes are made, our money will vanish.
Decrease the deficit: Because of 9/11 and the resulting war on terror, including reorganization of our national intelligence agencies and formation of Homeland Security, the deficit expectedly increased. With supply-side-induced economic growth, coupled with platform objectives of limited spending growth, line-item veto, pay-as-you-go, Sunset Commission, and Management Agenda, a plan is in place to rein in the deficit.
Americans are weary of continuous regulation, endless litigation, increasing intrusion, and burdensome taxation. We long for commonsense policies, returning more dollars and cents to the American taxpayer.
I encourage you to go out and vote. And over the coming weeks, consider the economic platform of freedom advocated by Bush -- the right response for today's challenges.