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Getting Even — Republican Style

If the Republicans win, will the Democrats have wasted the last eight years?

October 12, 2000

If the Republicans win, will the Democrats have wasted the last eight years?

As evidenced by Al Gore in the presidential debates, the Democratic Party is hoping to use the next four years in the White House to spread the financial benefits of the booming 1990s economy more evenly throughout U.S. society. Republicans, led by Gore’s rival George W. Bush, appear determined to return the federal budget surplus largely to the affluent in the form of steep tax cuts.

For their part, the Democrats feel like they have already earned the next four years in the White House. Having exercised fiscal prudence during the Clinton years, they watched as the government’s balance sheet emerged from the red and moved well into the black. With the government again on solid financial ground, Democrats are looking forward to what they describe as a well-earned chance to implement long-desired party policies, such as equitable access to health care.

But they could be cruelly robbed of that opportunity by a George W. Bush victory. If the Republicans take back the White House, it would most certainly obliterate the prospects of using the mounting budget surplus in the manner Democrats would prefer.

Republicans, eager to steal the Democrats thunder, are not shy about attributing the economy’s performance to Alan Greenspan (first appointed to the Federal Reserve by a Republican president), the stock market or the information technology revolution.

In short, anything or anybody other than the Clinton-Gore administration. But Republicans reserve their highest praise for the one man they feel did more than anyone to foster the economic recovery of the 1990s — namely, George H.W. Bush, Clinton’s Republican predecessor in the White House.

Seen in that light, a victory by the former president’s son, George W., would only give the Bush clan its long deserved due: the opportunity to reap the benefits of the painful economic medicine administered by his father during the recession of 1991.

Therefore, if Democrats now see George W. as an interloper intent on stealing away what is rightfully theirs for four more years, Republicans are likely to remind them that they are only returning the favor that Bill Clinton bestowed on them once before — by robbing the senior Bush of his well-deserved reelection victory in 1992.

But the Republicans should be careful about cheering prematurely. Bill Clinton became a political success story because he directed his party away from such traditional staples as spending on large social programs.

He successfully shed his party’s tax-and-spend reputation and focused the party on a more “Republicanesque” agenda.

And therein lies the major irony relating to the November election. With a whopping budget surplus, George W. Bush has the opportunity to govern as though he were a Democrat. Late in the campaign, he shows every sign of doing just that. His budget proposals lavish $1.9 trillion in tax cuts and spending programs on voters — a total that far outpaces the $1.5 trillion plan of his Democratic rival.

Indeed, as a high-ranking French official put it recently, watching the U.S. candidates racing to outspend each other reminded him of the current debate between the two wings of the French Socialist Party. True as that may be, you probably won’t hear either Republicans or Democrats laying claim to that statement as an endorsement.