TCS Daily


Long on Specifics

By Arnold Kling - September 3, 2004 12:00 AM

"The biggest unanswered question about President Bush's reelection campaign has been whether he has a second-term economic and domestic agenda to match his commitment to fighting terrorists. He began to provide the answers here Thursday night with an acceptance speech long on ambitions but far shorter on the ways or the means to accomplish them."
-- Dan Balz, front-page analysis in The Washington Post

The Media's Lapham (pre-determined story line) about President Bush's acceptance speech is that it was short on specifics with regard to domestic policy. On the contrary, if you read the speech, you will find it long on specifics. It is certainly more specific and less demagogic than Senator John Kerry's Nothing speech. What follows are President Bush's statements, and my reactions upon reading them.

'my plan will encourage investment and expansion by restraining federal spending, reducing regulation and making the tax relief permanent.'

On "restraining federal spending," he has a bad record and offered no specifics. This is a bad start, but the speech improves later on.

'To create jobs, we will make our country less dependent on foreign sources of energy. To create jobs, we will expand trade and level the playing field to sell American goods and services across the globe. And we must protect small business owners and workers from the explosion of frivolous lawsuits that threaten jobs across America.'

More generalities. At least he did not talk about energy "independence" as demagogically as Senator Kerry.

'I will lead a bipartisan effort to reform and simplify the federal tax code.'

I can remember when the Democratic Party was the party of tax reform in the 1970's. More recently, in his book Hard Heads, Soft Hearts, Kerry adviser Alan Blinder praised the tax reform of 1986, passed during the Reagan Administration.

'we will double the number of people served by our principal job training program and increase funding for community colleges'

Another policy that Democrats should support. Now we are getting into specifics -- too bad they are about increased government spending.

'we will create American opportunity zones. In these areas, we'll provide tax relief and other incentives to attract new business, and improve housing and job training to bring hope and work throughout all of America.'

More specifics, more spending, and, notwithstanding the earlier call for tax reform, more tax gimmicks.

'We will offer a tax credit to encourage small businesses and their employees to set up health savings accounts, and provide direct help for low-income Americans to purchase them. These accounts give workers the security of insurance against major illness, the opportunity to save tax-free for routine health expenses, and the freedom of knowing you can take your account with you whenever you change jobs.'

Another tax gimmick, and the health-care saving account idea. The goal of moving away from the Middle Man Mess is laudable, but I would have preferred a less wonkish approach.

'we will provide low-income Americans with better access to health care: In a new term, I will ensure every poor county in America has a community or rural health center.'

Very specific and very Un-wonkish! He takes Nobel Laureate Robert Fogel's idea and runs with it!!

'we must pass medical liability reform now!'

Over the trial lawyers' deceased corpses, of course. But certainly specific.

'we will change outdated labor laws to offer comp time and flex time'

I do not know what this refers to, but it sounds specific.

'Thanks to our policies, homeownership in America is at an all-time high.'

I think that the President was wrong to claim credit for this. Better would have been to say, "Contrary to what you are hearing from the Democrats about middle-class squeeze..."

'We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account'

A specific endorsement of the Ultimate Lockbox.

'By raising performance in our high schools, and expanding Pell grants for low and middle income families, we will help more Americans start their career with a college diploma.'

Pell grants are like vouchers for college, so I can't argue with that specific. But overall, I am not a big fan of the Federalization of education under "No Child Left Behind."

'we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government's health insurance programs.'

A constructive approach for improving the nation's public health statistics, which would raise our standing in the Health Care Olympics.

'Anyone who wants more details on my agenda can find them online.'

This is only sort of true. I went to this page, and I found a list of spending proposals and programs that is so long it is scary. But not so much if you are looking for details about restraining Federal spending.

Overall, I am afraid that the President's concept of the "ownership society" owes more to David Brooks than it does to Stephen Bainbridge. But the mainstream media's characterization of the speech as short on specifics is 180 degrees wrong.


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