Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Hot air: Bush taxes logic

Last week, we took Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to task for his ads and speeches that distorted the Bush administration's stance on the outsourcing of jobs. Well, the Bush camp isn't above playing a cynical game of Twister, either.

For more than two weeks, it has been hammering home the specious claim that Kerry has supported 350 tax increases - count 'em, 350 - during his 19-year Senate career. Why, that's 18.4210526315 and change a year!

President Bush himself told reporters that Kerry "voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people." Campaign manager Ken Mehlman told CNN Kerry "supported 350 tax increases over the course of his career." Commerce Secretary Don Evans said Kerry "has voted to increase taxes some 350 times." You get the picture.

The problem is, it paints gross distortion of Kerry's record. He may tend to favor higher taxes, but "350 tax increases" is a wild exaggeration made only by fudging and stretching definitions. Kerry's opposition on one issue, Bush's 2003 tax cut, is counted four times, including votes against two non-binding budget resolutions and two votes against the actual tax bill. The Bush camp counts separate items within a single bill separately. It counts various procedural votes and variations on proposals.

And it doesn't even consider the reasons behind the votes. As columnist Michael Kinsley noted in the Washington Post, one vote was on a 1995 resolution declaring that a proposed $700 billion tax cut would make it difficult to balance the budget. As they say in the Senate cloak room, "Well, duh!"

Even the Republican National Committee admits that the Bush folks arrived at that total only by including Kerry's:

 • Votes against tax cuts.

 •Votes to reduce the size of proposed tax cuts.

 •Votes against repealing previously enacted tax increases.

 •Votes for Democratic tax-cut substitutes.

Without belaboring the obvious, may we simply point out that THOSE ARE NOT TAX HIKES? Alas, we see this sort of linguistic deception often. At the state and federal level, when Republicans propose merely slowing the rate at which an agency's funding is increased, Democrats call it a "funding cut" that will hurt the elderly or children or the disabled or yada yada.

This should be a transparent ploy, but unfortunately, it works all too often.

"The purpose of a phony statistic such as this one isn't to convince people of its own accuracy," Kinsley wrote. "The purpose is to trap your opponent in a discussion he doesn't want to have ... bog down the discussion in silly details that few people will follow, and leave a general impression that where there's smoke there must be fire."

Blazing hot air from cold, hard statistics: Expect to see much more of this tactic - from both sides - as the campaign progresses.


Have you heard, seen or read a statement for a politician, media personality or other public figure that you think doesn't quite add up? Let us know. Call Ray Cooklis at (513) 768-8525; e-mail rcooklis@enquirer.com.

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