THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

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I WAS WRONG AND I HOPE TO BE WRONGER | 2001-07-21

Bush's tax cut program was considered radical and impossible during the 2000 campaign. Now a version of it has passed.

What caused this turnaround was the economic downturn.

But the point is that George W. Bush, son of the wimpiest kind of wimp Republican, stuck by his guns until history turned his way. He learned something from his father's mistakes.

As an expert on real world politics, I honestly believed that no moderate Republican could ever learn anything. They blindly make the same mistakes over and over.

My pessimism was well-grounded. For decades I have watched moderate Republicans lose election after election. Every time they said the middle of the road was the way to win, and they blamed their failures on a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Bush Senior and Robert Dole blamed their crushing defeats on Pat Buchanan. Back in 1976, Ford blamed his defeat on Ronald Reagan. Those were long and horribly frustrating years for people like me.

After Bush Senior won the Gulf War, his popularity hit 91%. There was a skit on "Saturday Night Live" where Democrats got up and insulted themselves so they would not be matched against the unbeatable Bush in 1992.

How could even a moderate Republican find a way to lose after hitting 91%?

Bush Senior did what moderates do: he just wanted to keep that high popularity, so he did not take any political advantage of it. He proposed nothing, hoping to keep everybody happy. Bush Senior used his popularity as an excuse not to lead, and he lost overwhelmingly in 1992.

As always, a moderate Republican snatched defeat from the very jaws of victory. That's routine.

I am astonished to hear from insiders that the younger Bush understood what actually happened in 1992. He learned that he had to lead, and that is why he stuck by his tax cut.

This is wonderful. This is unique.

Naturally Bush is still making the same old mushy-mouth mistakes. The Democrats said they would pass the tax cut to help economic recovery.

But then they said it didn't go far enough, and that all the tax relief doesn't kick in until years from now.

Reagan would have said, "You want more tax cuts NOW? All RIGHT, let's go with it."

Instead, Bush wanted to go slow to please the liberals in his party who were frightened by the tax cut.

But he did learn SOMETHING. And that is an unspeakable relief.

If this happens when I'm wrong, I want to be wrong a lot more.