An Agenda for Victory

An Agenda for Victory

An Agenda for Victory

Policy made plain.
Oct. 16 2001 3:00 AM

An Agenda for Victory

At this extraordinary moment, all Americans must put aside partisan differences and special-interest concerns in order to pursue two overwhelming national goals: defeating the evil of terrorism and salvaging our economic prosperity. We must prove to the terrorists that they cannot change our way of life, so this is no time for business as usual. We must be bold and we must be quick: We cannot enjoy the luxury of worrying about matters that occupied our minds just a few short weeks ago. History will not be kind if we allow lesser concerns such as Gary Condit or fiscal responsibility to distract us from the urgent task at hand.

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Working together with only minimal partisan bickering, President Bush and the Congress have already produced a bailout for the nation's troubled airlines. They are on the verge of agreement on new anti-terrorism legislation that strikes a necessary balance between the individual's desire for privacy and the government's legitimate need to know everything about you. And President Bush is said to be considering other helpful measures, such as financial subsidies for the hard-hit insurance industry and another round of business tax cuts. Every day's op-ed page, it seems, brings more valuable suggestions from patriotic ideologues, industrialists, and trade organizations.

All this is well and good. But a truly adequate plan for military, economic, and spiritual victory requires us to go much further. For example, bailouts for the business sectors directly affected by the events of Sept. 11 do nothing for sectors that may have been hit just as hard, albeit indirectly. There are many such sectors, but one in particular is especially vital to America's future—and the world's: the Internet. Even before Sept. 11, Internet companies were going under by the dozens every week. Now, hundreds more bankruptcies are threatened as advertising plans are scaled back and investors get even more skeptical than before.

This must not be allowed to continue. It would be a cruel irony indeed if the forces of medievalism were permitted to strangle the infant economy of the future in its bed. What is needed is a carefully targeted tax credit of 50 percent for new or additional investments in Internet startup firms—or for money spent on advertising in online publications. We also need a 100 percent capital-gains-tax exclusion for Internet-related stocks. Nothing would do more to revive what was wrongly dismissed so often as a "speculative bubble" that this misnomer became a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Would that we had such a "speculative bubble" today!) As someone who works in the Internet sector, I can testify that I and all my Internet colleagues are totally dedicated to showing Osama Bin Laden that he cannot drive the American spirit off-line—but we need a little encouragement.

Another essential step in the war against terrorism is for President Bush to order the Justice Department to drop its antitrust suit against Microsoft. As an employee and stockholder, I know the dispiriting effect this litigation is having on people at one of the U.S. economy's most important companies. At a time when the U.S. government is reaching out to Russia (our sworn enemy until recently) and dropping sanctions against Pakistan (which is only building nuclear weapons, f'r Chrissake)—all to strengthen the alliance against terror—our government should not be picking a fight with this American company with so much software to contribute to the war effort.

Third, we need to seriously consider special tax considerations, regulatory relief, and possibly even direct financial subsidies for people named "Mike" or "Michael." In this time of crisis, we cannot allow superficial considerations of fairness to prevent us from doing what is necessary to assure that this essential group of Americans is fully engaged in the war effort.

According to the National Association of Michaels and Allied Names, what is necessary includes, at a minimum, suspension of all automobile speed limits and parking restrictions and a blanket forgiveness for all past tickets, as well as various tax incentives—for Michaels only. In order to have the proper incentive effect, these must be made permanent and not just for the course of the war. We Michaels are not asking for special treatment. At some stage, when fiscal circumstances allow, consideration should be given to extending similar benefits to people with other names.

But government cannot do it all. What can individual citizens—those who are not contributing directly as members of the uniformed services—do to serve the war effort? President Bush has asked us all to do our bit by buying something. A local RV dealer here in Seattle has been invoking this advice in TV commercials urging folks to buy a home on wheels as a patriotic gesture. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has said the best thing people can do to help is to visit New York, stay in a hotel, and buy theater tickets.

These are stern challenges, appropriate to the crisis we face. For those who feel they cannot take on this kind of burden, let me suggest an alternative: Send me the money and I will buy an RV in Seattle, drive it to New York, stay in a hotel, see a few shows, eat in some nice restaurants, and buy something there, too. As politicians from the president on down have reminded us, sacrifice will be required from every American if this war is going to be won.

Michael Kinsley is a columnist, and the founding editor of Slate.