“This economy of ours is strong,” George W. Bush informed voters in Ohio. But if Democrats win control of the House of Representatives, he warned in Florida, “they’ll raise your taxes. It will hurt our economy, and that’s why we’re not going to let them get control.”
In late September the President momentarily interrupted his drumbeat on the threat Democrats pose to the failing “war on terror” to trumpet the threat they pose to the flailing economy. With Americans squeezed between sluggish wages and rising costs, the slogan “they’ll raise your taxes” rouses fears, just as “cut and run” does on Iraq. As in the Iraq debate, the President doesn’t tell us what he’ll do to get us out of the mess he’s made; he simply charges that Democrats will make it worse.
Just as in the Iraq debate, Bush’s claim regarding the economy is a true lie: Most Democrats have pledged to roll back the President’s tax cuts for the wealthy–but they’ve also championed tax breaks on college tuition and childcare that would benefit the vast majority of Americans. Just as in the Iraq debate, most Republicans will echo Bush’s charge, giving the GOP a clear message on the economy in the final month of the campaign.
Bush can’t govern worth spit, but he does know how to run campaigns. Polls suggest that his late-summer fear offensive helped rally disgruntled Republicans. His tax offensive is designed for broader appeal to families already struggling to make ends meet.
The challenge for Republican incumbents, just as in the debate on the war, is that they must distract the electorate from the failure of Bush’s policies. The economy is growing, CEO salaries are soaring and profits are up–but most Americans aren’t seeing the benefits. Their jobs and incomes are less secure. Companies are bailing out on healthcare benefits and pension obligations. Costs for everything from healthcare to college tuition are up. Personal debt and personal bankruptcies are at record levels. Americans are working harder and longer just to keep up.
So when Bush talks about how strong the economy is, most Americans think he’s out to lunch. He traveled to Cincinnati to hail a family-owned manufacturer that had added 125 jobs, touting this as a product of his tax cuts. AFL-CIO leader John Sweeney stepped on the story, calling Bush “unbelievably out of touch” to think he can fool the 195,000 workers who have lost good manufacturing jobs in Ohio over the past five years.
The economy ranks just after Iraq and terrorism as a central concern of voters. The issue is teed up for Democrats, since the President and the Republican Congress, catering to corporate lobbies, have acted consistently to make things worse. Their trade and tax policies have accelerated the flight of jobs abroad, the “outsourcing” that Administration economists claim is a benefit to the economy. The GOP has blocked any increase in the minimum wage for nine years and coddled employers who trample on labor laws and exploit undocumented workers, adding to the downward pressure on wages. They turned the prescription drug benefit into a drug company subsidy by prohibiting Medicare from negotiating lower prices with the pharmaceutical industry. They blocked efforts to hold Big Oil accountable for price gouging and fraudulent underpayment of royalties for oil leases, while lavishing billions in subsidies on oil companies and starving progress on alternative energy. They provided companies with incentives to abandon pensions and replace them with individual retirement accounts. They cut billions from the student loan program, even as interest rates were soaring on student and parent loans.