There was a curious phenomenon surrounding the GOP convention that you probably had to be in New York to notice. For weeks, if not months, leading up to the event, New Yorkers were walking around, huffing and puffing about how the Republicans should just stay away, about how it was going to screw up the whole city, foul our traffic, ruin our commutes, and just generally be a pain in the ass. The grumbles were never overtly political, as people seemed simply to be bitching about the nuisance of the whole thing.
This attitude was reflected with undue ugliness in the New York print media. Magazine after newspaper after magazine offered tips on "surviving" the convention, and how to "get through the week." Our own copy of New York magazine, delivered to our house, had a cover famously depicting the rear-view of an elephant, strolling calmly away from the camera, after have left a steaming pile behind.
What city is this, New York or freakin' Provo? Mammoth events are routine in this town. We regularly play hosts to the World Series, huge celebrity bashes and awards shows, and U.N. summits that include practically every head of state in the world! The city takes them in stride, and most people ignore them altogether. It's simply an aspect of life in the big city. Was the Republican convention really such a huge logistical deal in the overall scheme of things? Of course not.
My wife, herself a Democrat, noticed this as well, and offered a simple, and I believe correct, explanation: "New York just doesn't like Bush."
I am happy, by the way, to note that many of the direst, frequently made predictions utterly failed to materialize:
- That the decision to host the convention in New York would prove a disastrous miscalculation,
- That the president would not get a post-convention bounce, or would perhaps get a negative one, and
- That Zell Miller's speech would famously backfire, much as Pat Buchanan's did in 1992.
All of these were wrong. I'm glad.
Now I'd like to talk a bit about one aspect of the convention that didn't make me so happy.
Like most Republicans, I thought the first half of Bush's speech was by far the weaker part. I was dismayed at the SOTU-like laundry list of new spending initiatives. We might as well be blunt, and call this what it is: vote buying, plain and simple.
There are two big problems with this.
- When Republicans do it, they are betraying their own principles.
- Worse, it avails them nothing, since the Democrats will always outbid them.
I wish this administration would finally realize that. If the GOP is to survive, it must
(among other things) reclaim the mantle of the party of fiscal responsibility. Fiscal conservatism is actually "cool" these days. That's a good thing, because it means that our side has finally won
that debate. It would be a damn shame, after winning the philosophical victory, to cede the issue to the Democrats.
There were two domestic initiatives in Bush's speech I liked, however: Social Security reform and tax code simplification. The president was short on details, of course, but these are perfect examples of potentially winning campaign issues that can be deeply popular with the public while remaining true to conservative ideals.
Social Security is no longer the political third rail. If Bush can effectively communicate the structural, actuarial problems that FICA now suffers, as well as the benefits of (at least partial) account ownership, this issue could be a huge win for the Republicans.
The case for tax simplification, by contrast, does not even need to be made. We don't know exactly what the president has in mind. A flat tax, or a consumption-based tax, is probably too much to hope for, but we can always fantasize, right?
The Democrats would immediately attack either plan as "regressive," of course, as poor people have much less discretionary income than rich people. They may have a valid point here, but this could be easily corrected by a standard income exemption or rebate program. This would give us an effective tax rate of zero for income earners below a certain threshold. This effective rate would increase with income, asymptotically approaching the actual (flat) tax rate. Ultimately, this is the only kind of "progressivity" that makes any sense. Anything more is merely redistributionism, plain and simple.
I'd love to see Bush tackle both these issues in a second term. I know that's a tall order, but he does have a reputation for boldness. Do it, George. "Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid."
All right, enough. I apologize for the rambling, uneven character of this post, but there were some things I just had to get off my chest.