Finally, Republicans, Democrats and the news media agree that
George W. Bush will be the next President of the United States. But
during the first weekend news cycle since Al Gore conceded the
election, some liberal journalists suggested Bush should discard his
plan for across-the-board tax relief and other conservative
positions, and switch to a more Democratic posture on the issues.
this what they mean by a honeymoon? On the December 16 edition of
CNN’s Capital Gang, Time’s Margaret Carlson advised
that if Bush were truly intelligent, his proposals would exactly
match those of the liberal establishment. "The smartest thing he
could do would be the working man’s President and go for a minimum
wage bill," Carlson counseled.
On the same program, the Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt
repeated some of Gore’s campaign rhetoric in blasting Bush’s tax
cut. "This is so disingenuous to talk now about how we need a tax
cut because the economy is going south," Hunt exclaimed. "I’m sorry,
if there’s something that has to be done about the economy, it’s not
that tax cut, which is back loaded [and] which is geared to the
On the broadcast networks’ discussion shows the next morning,
reporters seemed accepting of the Democratic-inspired notion that
it’s bipartisan to reject the Bush tax program but partisan to
promote it. On ABC’s This Week, co-host Sam Donaldson set up
Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle by reminding him of an earlier
complaint he’d expressed about Bush’s plan: "You said that if the
Bush administration tried to push that $1.3 trillion tax package
that it would, and I quote you, ‘It would send a signal that they
aren’t prepared to work with us.’ Now President-elect Bush, this
past week, said, yes, he was coming to Washington to do it....Is
that your signal?"
Daschle replied that he believed an across-the-board tax cut was
indeed more divisive than the Democratic plan for "targeted" tax
cuts, in which relief would only reach selected taxpayers.
Daschle’s rejection of Bush’s proposal on the ABC show formed the
basis of an antagonistic question on CBS’s Face the Nation
from host Bob Schieffer to Vice President-elect Dick Cheney.
"Let me just tell you about something that the Democratic leader
in the Senate, Tom Daschle, said this morning," Schieffer lectured
Cheney. "You’re talking about going forward with this, I assume what
you’re saying here is you’re going forward with this enormous tax
cut that, that George Bush proposed during the campaign. Tom Daschle
said this morning, ‘I can’t think of anything that would divide this
nation more than you pushing that tax cut at that size.’"
Cheney replied that "this notion that a tax cut is somehow
divisive, I just don’t think that’s the case," and predicted that it
would pass. "Let me just make sure I understand what you’re saying
here," Schieffer demanded. "You’re saying you’re still going to push
the tax cut that George Bush pushed during the campaign?"
While confrontational with Cheney, Schieffer was noticeably more
agreeable a few moments later with Daschle’s deputy, Nevada Senator
Harry Reid. Referring to his interview with Cheney, Schieffer noted
that "he does not seem to be backing off the tax cut that George
Bush talked about in the campaign. Is there any possibility that
something like that can be enacted?" Reid: "No."
Schieffer’s meek follow up to Reid: "So you’re saying that’s
going, not going to happen," before shifting the discussion to
Senator McCain’s campaign finance reform proposal.
Later that day, December 17, a report by correspondent Bob Orr on
the CBS Evening News (broadcast only in the Western time
zones and retrieved from the Lexis-Nexis data base) re-iterated the
idea that Bush’s tax cut wasn’t especially popular. Anchor John
Roberts cited the public’s response to a peculiarly-worded poll
question: "Will Bush have public support to pass his tax cut?" A
slim plurality (42%) said yes, compared with 38 percent who
predicted Bush wouldn’t have sufficient support.
The Evening News failed to inform viewers about the
results of a much more direct question about whether citizens would
prefer a five-year, $460 billion tax cut (the same size tax cut that
Bush advocates, which reaches $1.3 trillion when the projections are
extended to ten years). When CBS asked the question that way, twice
as many said they wanted their taxes cut (61%) than did not (28%).
CNN political analyst Bill Schneider reported on the CBS poll.
During a news special which aired at 10:00 p.m. (Eastern time) on
December 17, Schneider reported that, "As for Bush’s agenda, there
is one piece of good news we can report for the President-elect;
that comes from another poll, a CBS News poll taken over the
weekend. And it showed that over 60 percent of Americans say that
they support Bush’s idea for an across the board tax cut. Now that
the economy is getting a little bit shaky, a big tax cut sounds
better and better, especially at Christmas time."
So, voters like tax cuts after all — a fact which was tardily
acknowledged on the December 18 edition of CBS’s The Early Show.
The media’s equation goes something like this: Bush won the White
House by the slimmest of margins, the U.S. Senate is evenly divided,
and the Republican majority in the House is as narrow as it has ever
been. Thus, to demonstrate a commitment to bipartisanship and unity,
Bush and the Republicans must acquiesce to the demands of Democrats
who control neither the White House, House or Senate.
This calculation from the media’s analysts is essentially
political, while the argument of those, such as the Heritage
Foundation’s tax expert Dan Mitchell, who support major tax relief
is based on assessments of the current state of the tax code and the
overall health of the economy. "The tax-cut issue is about much more
than political posturing and election battles," Mitchell wrote in
a recent op-ed. "It reflects fundamental judgments about the
role of government. It demonstrates whether we intend to keep
America competitive in a world economy. And it reveals whether we
will finally take an important step on the road to fundamental tax
"Politicians currently are awash in a sea of surplus tax revenue.
They are collecting an extra $200-plus billion in taxes this year,
and excess revenues could reach $4 trillion over the next 10 years.
Unfortunately, one side effect of these surpluses is that
politicians have lost the will to say no to special interest groups.
With so much extra money floating around, politicians have doubled
the inflation-adjusted growth of federal spending," Mitchell
explained. In other words, the alternative to tax cuts is higher
government spending — spending which would establish even higher
baselines for future federal budgets.
If the networks oblige those who wish to make the debate about
tax cuts a measure of how far Bush is willing to compromise his
principles to placate Democrats, they will be squandering the
opportunity to broadcast the rich debate over the tax cut’s merits
and the country’s economic future that Mitchell outlined.
Journalists need to get with the program — the campaign is over, now
it’s time to govern.