Begala, "Crossfire" Host
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
James Carville writes of just-published "It's Still the Economy, Stupid," "Armed with the facts, stats, and logic, Paul Begala indicts Bush-onomics. I recommend this book to everyone with a brain. And Republicans too."
If Paul Wellstone represented the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," then Begala represents the "Democratic wing of Consultants to the Democratic Party."
BuzzFlash is pleased to offer this pre-election interview with Paul.
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BUZZFLASH: The premise of your book is that the economy is still what matters to Americans voters. However, based on mainstream media coverage, an outside observer would say what matters is Bush's Iraq huffing and puffing, the D.C. Area sniper, pilots being armed, and so on. If you follow Michael Moore's thesis in "Bowling for Columbine," couldn't one argue "it's the fear, stupid"?
PAUL BEGALA: I think the fear factor is overstated. Most folks here in Washington rose to the occasion with the sniper. Few changed their daily lives. Just like New Yorkers after 9-11, or Israelis, we refused to let fear govern our lives.
But the media was distracted, completely, by the Iraq debate and the sniper. Hard to argue those weren't news stories, but I think the Democrats who believed we needed to go along with Bush on Iraq just to get it behind us were wrong. Look at Paul Wellstone. The only seriously contested Democrat up for re-election with the stones to vote against Bush's use of force resolution. And Wellstone moved up in the polls at the time. Turns out people actually want a Democrat, not a Republican-lite. My prayer is that Senator Wellstone's death will light a fire under his fellow Democrats here in Washington to start acting like Democrats again.
BUZZFLASH: If it is the economy that ultimately weighs on the mind of voters, why can't the Democrats strategically outsmart Bush and define the issue as you define it in your book?
BEGALA: Too many of them are so cowed by Bush you can almost hear them moo. They're afraid that Bush will define a freeze in a promised tax cut as a tax increase. That's preposterous. Jeb Bush himself postponed a promised tax cut. Is he a tax raiser, Dubya?
We should stand four-square against Bush's economic policies. They're bad policy, bad economics and bad morality. Democrats should call for a smaller tax cut that targets the middle class and working poor. Reducing the payroll tax would have more stimulative effect and do less damage to the deficit. It would create jobs and put cash in the pockets of people who need it most. That's Democratic economic thinking. I just can't believe there's a Democrat with a brain who's scared of Bush. Why should we be scared of someone who couldn't even get as many votes as Al Gore?
BUZZFLASH: How can the Republicans get away with flat out lying? For instance, now they are claiming, in message points from the RNC, that the Democrats were the ones pushing the privatization of social security? Does it get anymore brazen than that?
BEGALA: No. As R.G. Ratcliffe of the Houston Chronicle wrote on May 17, 2000: "Bush on Tuesday said his plan to create private savings accounts could be the first step toward a complete privatization of social security." Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill similarly has questioned the fundamental need for social security. Bush and his people hate social security. They want to privatize social security. Every one of the three proposals from Bush's commission would cut guaranteed social security benefits -- even if you decide not to gamble your social security in the stock market.
BUZZFLASH: You have a few chapters on the history of Bush cartel corporate crime, including Harken, Enron and Halliburton. Why didn't the Democrats, who controlled the Senate, subpoena the heck out of the Bush administration? There was a window of opportunity to nail the administration, and the Democrats in the Senate played nice-nice. Then the Karl Rove Iraq "packaging" strategy kicked in and the opportunity was lost. What's going on here?
BEGALA: Republicans spent eight years and $80 million looking into Whitewater. It was a failed land deal that Bill Clinton lost $40,000 on 20 years ago. But Harken, Halliburton, Enron, these are real scandals, and yet the Democrats are nowhere. If the Democrats were to launch an investigation into Bush's and Cheney's business dealings it would be fair -- (so long as they didn't use it as an excuse to pry into Bush and Cheney's personal lives the way Starr and the republicans probed Clinton's sex life.) Apparently some Democrats have bought into the republican theory that morality is defined more in the bedroom than the boardroom. But the press has looked into much of this, and I've collected it and documented in this book.
BUZZFLASH: You call Bush and his economic team, "the Keystone Cops." But the Keystone Cops made people laugh. A lot of Americans are crying because of the Bush economic policies. How do the Democrats get the message to penetrate through to the voter that Bush is responsible for this economic disaster, when the administration is constantly saying one thing and doing another? They are masters of the bait and switch school of politics.
BEGALA: People can't process information they're not given. We've allowed Dubya and his team to define the presidency downward, as if to say, "There's nothing he can do about the economy. He's only the president." We should point out, aggressively and repeatedly, that policies have consequences. Bush reversed every major tenet of Clinton's economic program -- with disastrous results. When you put the car in "R" instead of "D", don't be surprised if it goes backwards.
BUZZFLASH: Your last chapter describes "what the Democrats are for (or at least what they should be for)." Can you tell BuzzFlash readers what you think the Democratic economic policy should be?
BEGALA: Democrats should stand for working people, period. As Paul Wellstone said in his last campaign ad -- Worldcom, Enron, the big financial interests, they have great representation in Washington. So we should be for stopping the Bush tax cut for the rich before it does any more damage. We should be for an immediate cut in the payroll tax -- 80% of us pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes. We should apply the inheritance tax to estates valued over $2 million, with protections for family farms, then use half the proceeds to repeal the "pre-death tax" -- the Medicaid requirement that forces seniors to "spend down" their life savings to almost nothing before they can receive long-term care under Medicaid.
Far more Americans are taxed to death before they die because of our lack of long-term care insurance. Democrats should stand for free and fair trade, with appropriate compensation for people who are hurt by it. We should invest in our people -- education, training, the things that make us smarter. And we should save social security from ever being gambled on in the stock market. The 75-year shortfall in social security is $3.7 trillion. But the 75-year cost of the Bush tax cut is $8.7 trillion. So we can save social security, without a tax increase and without a benefit cut, and still have $5 trillion left to balance the budget, cut payroll taxes, and invest in education.
BUZZFLASH: The Democrats haven't been able to get the message out that our deficits are subsidizing the rich, through a gluttonous, ruinous tax cut. The Democrats are petrified that if they speak out, the Republicans will accuse them of wanting to raise taxes. How do the Democrats get out of this box?
BEGALA: I think I answered this one above, but let me try again: when Bush says we're for raising taxes, we should say, "The Hell we are! We're for cutting payroll taxes to create jobs and put money in the pockets of working people. But with the country at war, with Bush spending our social security surplus, we're going to ask the wealthiest one percent of Americans to forgo the tax cut Bush promised you. It's nothing compared to the sacrifice of those families who are sending loved ones to the Persian Gulf. It is, literally, the least you can do. And guess what? The strong economy our policies will create will put more money in your pocket than any tax cut ever could."
BUZZFLASH: What will happen to the economy if the Republicans assume control of the Senate as a result of the November election?
BEGALA: The entire federal judiciary will look like the famous "ascent of man" evolutionary chart -- except stopped about two guys from the end. Every right-wing, mouth-breathing knuckle-dragging thug they can squeeze into a black robe will receive a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. You can bet that someone who became president because he lost an election but won a lawsuit understands the power of the courts. The Democratic Senate has stopped Bush thus far. If we lose the Senate, we lose the courts for a generation.
Second, bar the door on corporate giveaways. Senate Democrats killed Bush's plan to rebate billions of dollars in corporate taxes, including $254 million to Enron.
Third, chew carefully while you breathe. Polluters will control environmental policy and it won't be a pretty sight.
Finally, you can make book that social security will be turned over to Wall Street, where Aunt Gladys' retirement savings will pay for Jack Welch's dry cleaning and Dennis Kozlowski's $6,000 shower curtain.
BUZZFLASH: Finally, be honest with us, did you ever want to drop kick Tucker Carlson?
BEGALA: Tucker's a good guy. He's got a great sense of humor. Besides, he makes me look like I've got gravitas.
A BUZZFLASH.COM INTERVIEW
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