Don't Rush Me! (Part 1)

Political commentary and more.
Oct. 20 2000 5:46 PM

Don't Rush Me! (Part 1)

(Continued from Page 1)

Would Bush be any better? Good question. One reason I'm undecided is that I don't know the answer. Bush's father, after all, was easily rolled by the House Democrats. But on the issue I know most about, welfare, I do think his son would be firmer. Bush Sr. had no apparent interest in the subject, but Bush Jr. has personally lobbied in Texas for a welfare provision--the "full family sanction"--that you wouldn't support if you didn't really understand the system. (For an explanation see this earlier article on the subject).

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What if the Republicans keep control of both houses of Congress? Isn't there a parallel risk in letting them loose on the tax code, on Social Security, on the environment, unchecked by a Democratic president? You bet. Deciding whether to vote for Bush or Gore isn't a yes/no, up/down decision, then. It demands a matrix! Here it is:

Chart

A quick explanation of these ratings:

Upper Left--Gore/Democratic Congress: "Risky" for the reasons given above. But may offer a better chance at some necessary expansions of government--e.g. health insurance for the uninsured.

Lower Left--Gore/Republican Congress: This configuration has prevailed for the past six years and has served the country well--Good Gridlock, you might call it. As commentator Walter Shapiro pointed out in a seminal article years ago, a divided government with a Democratic executive tends to produce fiscal responsibility because the Democratic president keeps defense spending in check while the Republican Congress keeps social spending in check.

Upper Right--Bush/Democratic Congress: This is Not-So-Good Gridlock because (as Shapiro noted) it tends to promote rather than restrain spending. The Republican executive builds up defense while Congressional Dems protect and expand social programs. When we had this array during the Reagan years, it produced "deficits as far as the eye can see." On the positive side, presumably Bush would be able to block the worst excesses of the paleoliberal House Dems.

Lower Right--Bush/Republican Congress: Mindless cuts in capital gains taxes, threats to sensible environmental and business regulations, educational choice plans that may reinforce class segregation. But a better chance to preserve welfare reform.

According to this handy matrix, Gore's election (the left vertical column) yields the best possibility, or one of the worst possibilities. Bush's election (the right column) offers only an OK possibility, or the other worst possibility. That would seem to give the edge to Gore--if the odds were even on who will control the Congress, or more specifically the House. (Why focus on the House? Because the Senate is always more of a bipartisan ball of mush with 100 separate voices. The House is more disciplined, so party control means more.)

Alas, the odds aren't necessarily even. House Republicans seem doomed to me, for the simple reason that (aside from ending the "death tax") they don't have all that much more to say these days that appeals to the voters. The main issues that might have some anti-Democratic bite--race preferences and school choice--are issues House Republicans seem scared to bring up. Instead, they're trying to cling to power by aping their opponents' policies on prescription drugs and patients' rights. When this happens, the party clinging to power usually loses it pretty rapidly. I expect a Democratic House majority--if not in this election, then the next.

In fact, last Wednesday, Congressional Quarterly made its best guess at predicting all the contested Congressional races, and it estimated that the Democrats would gain just enough seats--seven--to retake the majority. Which means it's likely that we'll be on the top line of the decision matrix, with Gore as a "risky" president and Bush as an "OK" choice.

I was leaning heavily toward Gore, but his rating, for this undecided voter, just dipped about 20 percent.