The Magazine

All Hat and No Cattle

From the May 17, 2004 issue: Why, despite everything, Bush should win.

May 17, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 34 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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Give Bush the edge on this one, especially since Kerry's conceit that he can persuade a Franco-German-dominated Security Council to ride to the rescue is about as likely to be realized as the president's plan to cut the budget deficit. And Kerry's long history of opposing increases in military spending, and his commitment to the left of his party to step up spending on domestic entitlement programs, suggests that he is even more likely than the president to look for victory on the cheap. Besides, Kerry has said that every fire engine we put in Iraq, and every school we refurbish there, comes at the expense of an American city. Which is why he voted against the $18 billion appropriation right after he voted for it. Bush, at least, recognizes that it is not in America's interest to leave a ravished Iraq in our wake; Kerry either doesn't see that, or is so beholden to his Come-Home-America constituency that he has no choice but to ignore the needs of Iraq.

Both men will have to do something about the budget deficit. Kerry proposes to raise some $850 billion over 10 years by increasing taxes on families earning over $200,000 per year, but to spend it on expanding health care coverage rather than on deficit reduction. Bush proposes to spend that $850 billion on more tax cuts. As far as the red ink is concerned, this is much of a muchness, although tax cuts generally have an efficiency edge over more government spending. What can be said in the president's favor is that, if reelected, and relieved of the necessity of ever again seeking voters' approval, he is in a better position than Kerry to fight for the reforms needed to keep the Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare systems solvent, and to begin the long slog towards fundamental tax reform (those reforms are already on Bush's drawing board).

And while we are thinking about economic policy, it would be well to ask ourselves which candidate is more likely to introduce environmental regulations the costs of which exceed their benefits, which is more likely to appoint an EPA administrator who is insensitive to the trade-off between jobs and environmental enhancement, and which is more likely to satisfy trade union demands for protectionist measures and workplace rules of the sort that have brought European economies to their knees. The name Kerry comes up every time.

Not exactly inspiring reasons to fight for the reelection of the president, but reasons of sufficient weight to hope that Kerry continues his feckless wandering about the country in search of a message other than "I want to add 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to my portfolio of homes."

Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).