"Over my dead body"

Another Bush tax cut pledge ... and the crowd goes wild!

Published January 7, 2002 10:34PM (EST)

The sense of dij` vu just gets stronger and stronger. President George Bush leads the country into war, riding stratospheric approval ratings, with the specter of a struggling economy looming in the background. And as the national debate about the economy heats up, Bush makes a pledge to not raise taxes, even in the face of an economic crisis. Just what year is this?

In his response to Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle's criticism of his tax cut, President Bush did what he refused to do during the presidential campaign -- made a "No New Taxes" pledge, just like his father did.

"There's going to be people who say, we can't have the tax cut go through anymore," the president said in a quick stop in California Saturday. "That's a tax raise. And I challenge their economics, when they say raising taxes will help the country recover. Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes."

Later that day, at a stop in Portland, Ore., Bush hit back at Daschle, implying the senator was putting partisanship before patriotism. "The terrorists not only attacked our freedom, but they also attacked our economy. And we need to respond in unison," Bush said. "We ought not to revert to the old ways that used to dominate Washington, D.C. The old ways is: What's more important, the country or my political party? I stand here as a proud party man, but let me tell you something -- the country is far more important."

Of course, Bush couched his counter punch in choruses of Kumbaya. "We ought to come together to do the right thing. It's time to take this spirit of unity that has been prevalent when it comes to fighting the war and bring it to Washington, D.C."

News of the Bush tax pledge dominated headlines over the weekend, and by Monday morning, the partisan bulletin boards were ablaze.

This thread at the Democratic Underground already has more than 100 postings, including this outburst from poster "BenSteel."

"The man's a political schmuck! I guarantee, [Bush advisor Karl] Rove is going apeshit over this." Indeed, it was unclear whether Bush's pledge was off the cuff or scripted. In Portland, he eliminated the "over my dead body" line from his remarks.

In any event, it was enough to earn a blue ribbon from the liberal Buzzflash.com, which bestowed its "FIRST PLACE POOR TASTE AWARD OF 2002" upon the prez.

But the conservatives were elated.

"That's the right side of the issue to be on," said George Will on ABC's "This Week." "Look, Mr. Daschle really ought -- somebody ought to send him a calendar because the recession began in March. The tax cuts came later. The tax cuts are so back-end loaded, they've had trivial effect on the economy so far. It's -- it's just a derisory argument he made."

"Ladies and Gentlemen, A president with cojones, after eight years of one who only knew where they were, thanks to a fat intern," wrote one Free Republic poster in that trademark tasteful style.

The events of the weekend make it increasingly clear that the economic showdown looming in Washington is becoming a head-to-head battle between President Bush and Tom Daschle. And the troops are rallying. Under the headline "The Daschle Recession," the Washington Times said this Monday: "Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who bears overwhelming responsibility for the political fiasco that prevented a fiscal stimulus package from being enacted during the final months of 2001, seems determined to ensure that things don't get much better anytime soon. His obstructionism has virtually ensured that a growth-oriented, tax-cut-centered package will not be put together in time to be of help to those Americans who lost their jobs during this year's economic downturn, which began approximately six weeks after President Bush took office and significantly worsened after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

Unity, indeed.

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By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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