Michael Kinsley takes a look at the Bush attack on Kerry’s “350 Votes to Raise Taxes.”
The purpose of a phony statistic like this one isn’t really to persuade people of its own accuracy. The purpose is to trap your opponent in a discussion he doesn’t want to have (in this case about his past votes about taxes), bog the discussion down in silly details that few people will follow, and leave a general impression that where there is smoke, there must be fire. And certainly, if what matters to you above all else is paying fewer taxes, you’d be a fool to choose Kerry over Bush. But this isn’t about taxes; it’s about honesty. Honesty means more than factual accuracy, it means avoiding disingenuousness: not talking crap when you know it’s crap. If that matters to you above all, you may be out of luck with either candidate this election. But if you wish to measure comparative crapology, this 350-tax-increases business may be hard for Kerry to top.
The best way to see the absurdity of saying that John Kerry voted for higher taxes 350 times is to apply Bush’s madcap logic to Bush himself. Every year, in the president’s budget, there is a table called “Effect of Proposals on Receipts.” It lists the president’s proposed changes in the tax rules and how they will affect government revenues for various periods up to 15 years. Most of Bush’s proposals will cost revenues, obviously. But in the four fiscal years 2002-2005, Bush has proposed 63 actual “revenue enhancers,” as his father used to call them. This doesn’t include, as Bush includes for Kerry, his opposition to any tax cuts (and there have been some, such as Democratic proposals to reduce the payroll tax). Nor does the list seem to include any “supply-side” revenue enhancement by magic or growth. These are actual proposals to take more money out of people’s pockets and give it to the government.
At Bush’s current rate of 16 “tax increases” a year, he’d have 320 under his belt if he could stay in the White House for 20 years. Depending on how you figure—but without wandering beyond Bush himself into the jungles of absurd logic—this is as many as eight times the number that Bush has managed to pin on Kerry. But isn’t it unfair to call, for example, more efficient administration at the IRS a tax increase? And isn’t it simply ridiculous to suggest that George W. Bush is more complacent about higher taxes than John Kerry? Yes, it’s unfair. It’s ridiculous. That’s the point.