Is Bush smarter than a fourth-grader?

Notes from the political sidelines.
May 17 2007 3:58 PM

Is Bush Smarter Than a Fourth-Grader?

Maybe he's failing on purpose, to help our young people make gains in civics and history.

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Like Forbes, Giuliani is a one-note candidate—but they're completely different notes. The Onion teased Giuliani for running for president of Sept. 11; Forbes ran for president of April 15, the national day of remembrance for taxes.

As a candidate, Forbes had one idée fixe—the flat tax. Over the years, that has been his economic policy, his social policy, and, at times, his foreign policy. Steve Forbes viewed the flat tax the way George W. Bush views Iraq: You're either for it or against me.

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Until this week, Giuliani was one of the flat tax's most outspoken Republican opponents. Back in 1996, as the New York Times pointed out yesterday, Giuliani took to the airwaves to attack the Forbes flat tax as "a disaster." This week, Giuliani stood alongside Forbes and offered up a reverse double pander, declaring that he'd rather not have a federal income tax at all, but if we must have one, it ought to be a flat tax.

Giuliani didn't even try to hide the motives behind his strange, new arranged marriage. In conjunction with the Forbes endorsement, his campaign started running ads on conservative talk radio touting his support for "supply-side policies." He told Larry Kudlow, "I regard myself as a supply-sider for sure."

Never mind that in eight years, Giuliani's supply-side revolution managed to reduce the top personal income tax rate in New York City by nine-tenths of 1 percent. The campaign's theory is obvious: Giuliani can't win the nomination as a social liberal, and Mitt Romney is already running as the social flip-flopper. So, Hizzoner will run as an economic flip-flopper instead.

The trouble with this theory is that even Steve Forbes doesn't believe in it. In 1996, Forbes ran a campaign like Giuliani's—as a pro-choice supply-sider. He lost everywhere but Delaware and Arizona. When he ran the next time, Forbes turned himself into such a pro-life enthusiast he accused Bush of hedging on whether abortion would be a litmus test for judges and his running mate. (He lost again, anyway.)

Forbes writes in the Wall Street Journal that he supports Giuliani because he's the "real fiscal conservative" in the race and "will inspire the next generation of the Reagan Revolution." Of course, if Giuliani is as much of a supply-sider as Reagan was a fiscal conservative, he'll triple personal income taxes the way Reagan nearly tripled the national debt.

As they suffer through one of the most unpopular presidencies of all time, it's easy to understand why Republicans long for the days of Reagan, who won successive landslides. But supply-side alchemy isn't what conservatives miss about the '80s; if anything, Bush has outdone Reagan in that regard. What Republicans really miss is the Mr. Magoo spirit of the Reagan years, when America was made of Teflon instead of Velcro, and no amount of ideological bad driving could crash us in the ditch.

Steve Forbes is proof that Magoo-like vision doesn't always bring Magoo-like results. In any case, waiting for Magoo won't bring back America's Teflon. Neither will always looking on the supply side of life.

If Republicans want to restore strength to the presidency, they need to speak honestly and forcefully about how to restore strength to the country, not pretend that the Laffer Curve will suddenly start to work the third time around. It was easy to mock Giuliani for running to be president of 9/11. But that made more sense than what he's doing now—running for president of 1981. ... 8:25 P.M. (link)

Rackets:Giuliani's new friend Steve Forbes is harmless compared to old ones like Bernard Kerik. His campaign's new pander to conservative talk-radio: Giuliani Partners tried to keep the government from restricting sales of OxyContin.