Matrix Politics

George W. Bush was right when he scoffed that the $350 billion tax cut passed last week by the Senate was “itsy-bitsy.” Or even “itty-bitty” as the president later revised his remarks. Dubya got it right not only because he is an expert in All Things Tiny. In a way far too complicated for him to fully grasp, this measure — after it’s reconciled with an even larger slash voted by the House — will turn out to be not a tax cut at all, but rather one of the largest tax increases in history. Especially for those of us below the top 1 percent of earners.

Remember all that media angst about “red” Republican states and “blue” Democratic states being almost equally divided? Well, now the Republicans can claim — in a perverse way — to have upped their count to a whopping 43 red states. Thanks to the trickle-on-you economic policies of the GOP (as well as the business cycle and the post-9/11 downturn), that’s exactly how many states of the union are now fiscally in the red, led by California with its staggering $38 billion shortfall.

With the new federal tax reductions kicking in, cash-starved states (and cities and counties) will have no choice except to levy a panoply of regressive taxes to stay afloat. As bigtime investors get cut more slack by the White House, millions of us average shlumps are going to be forced to pay more for everything from cigarettes to car tags to college tuition. All this while actual services are reduced.

This, much more than the Iraq adventure, will be the lasting, shameful and injurious legacy of this administration: At a time when it is sending troops all over the world and when the need for spending on and investing in the domestic infrastructure is urgent, Bush and his congressional minions can find nothing better to do than to continue feverishly redistributing wealth upward. The White House was so adamant in getting this tax cut that its operatives later admitted to the press that literally any reduction measure would do — even one as blatantly irrational as that passed by the Senate with its absurd on-again–off-again schedule of slashes in dividend taxes.

Out there in the real universe beyond our domestic matrix, when other governments attempt such foolishness they are confronted by hordes of angry and organized citizens. When Italy’s version of George Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, first tried to slash social-security pensions a handful of years ago, 3 million protesters showed up in the street the next day. Similarly, France was met with rolling strikes by hundreds of thousands two weeks ago when its center-right administration attempted a similar set of “reforms.”

Here in America we respond differently to such threats. Instead of millions coming out to defend their own futures, they flocked to watch American Idol. As for our “opposition” politicians … well … according to the latest CBS/New York Times poll, 66 percent of all Americans and 64 percent of Democrats last week couldn’t name a single Democratic candidate running for president. And no wonder. Watching the C-SPAN version of this collection of pols debating last Saturday night in Des Moines was like parachuting into a kennel of yelping Chihuahuas.


Bush is lying to the country. But so are these Democrats. Can you imagine the gall of Kerry, Gephardt, Dean and even Dennis Kucinich standing with a straight face before the nation and arguing over whose health-care “plan” will cover 94 percent or 96 percent or 98 percent of Americans? What plan? To paraphrase one of Jerry Brown’s quirkier advisers, the British had a plan and Rommel stole it. So there will be no plan, friends, because, frankly, there will be no money. There already is no money. That’s what these Democrats ought to be telling the American people — because that is the truth. But far be it from these candidates to be the bearers of bad news to the almighty American public.

No matter who is elected to the White House in 2004, there will be no national health plan. Period. Even if Dean or Kerry or Kucinich goes all the way, he will still need 60 senators to pass his “plan,” and that’s something else that isn’t going to happen.

Instead, these guys would like you to think that the health and welfare of our nation depend solely on replacing Bush with one of them. The truth, obviously, is infinitely more complicated than that. Unfortunately, you don’t change the entire body politic of America by merely changing a president.

Recently, political pundit Matt Miller, also alarmed by the tide of red ink, wrote that 2004 would be a great moment for some sort of new Ross Perot to emerge. Miller took great pains to emphasize that he was referring to the early Perot who was stiffly challenging the duopoly, not the later Perot who was defying the bounds of sanity by singing “Crazy” on national TV.

I could quibble with some of what Miller prescribed. But his bigger point is well taken. As the Republicans become more retrograde every day, they only allow more space for dreary Democrats to be as conventional as possible. This is the time for a viable alternative. Neo for president? At least he has name recognition.

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