PRESIDENT BUSH is peeved at Democrats in Congress for misleading Americans about taxes and saying he is a pal of the rich.
He says, "They've been getting away with this tax-the-rich class warfare kind of garbage that they always resurrect at election time."
Well, of course they have. But as a politician, President Bush should recognize it might be just garbage, but it is extremely effective garbage. And it almost never fails. Congressional Democrats will be swept back into office next week.
Even now, with the new budget nicely bloated, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski is still aiming his beady eyes at the TV cameras and vowing to stay on the heels of the well-heeled. It's about "fairness," he says with a straight face. Then he goes off to tee it up with his rich buddies, who forgive him because they know it's all part of his political con.
What else would President Bush have Democrats like Rostenkowski do -- tell voters the truth? That would be exciting, but so is watching someone threatening to jump from a 10th-floor window ledge.
How would it sound if Rostenkowski went on a TV show with this routine?
"Congressman, as head of Congress' top money-grabbing committee, how much are you going to soak the rich this time?"
"We're not. The rich are already being thoroughly soaked."
"That's right. Don't you media types ever read the tax revenue statistics?"
"No, we only read our TelePrompTers."
"Then you should. It says right here that less than 1 percent of all tax returns come from people in the $200,000-plus bracket. But that tiny minority is kicking in more than 15 percent of all the income tax revenue. Seems more than enough to me. Especially when you consider how little the lower brackets pay."
"How little? Everyone knows that the poor hand-to-mouth taxpayer gets gouged worse than anyone."
"Hah, that's the line we've always fed you, but I didn't think you were really dumb enough to believe it."
"You mean the hard-up aren't being clipped?"
"Of course not. Look at the stats. About 69 percent of all tax returns are from people earning between zilch and $30,000. That's a lot of people. But they are paying only 21 percent of all taxes. And those under $10,000, about 30 percent of all the returns, are paying just about nothing. So if less than 1 percent of the taxpayers are paying almost as much in taxes as almost 70 percent of the taxpayers, that seems fair to me."
"Yes, but the rich must be getting away with something sneaky. What about all their tax shelters, those sly loopholes we heard so much about?"
"Ancient history. We killed most of the tax shelters back when we changed the brackets. And we're now getting rid of the few that remain. No, ladies and gents of the media, we're squeezing the rich pretty hard. In fact, if we take much more, it really won't be fair. Remember, the rich are really a tiny minority. And we Democrats believe in being kind to minorities."
"But don't you realize that most Americans want you to soak the rich more and more? They would be thrilled if you stripped them of every nickel they have and sent them out on the street corners with tin cans to beg."
"That's what they did in Russia and China and Cuba and Albania. What are you, a bunch of commies?"
"No, but how do you think most voters will react to what you're saying?"
"A good question. The answer is that as a result of my saying these true but shocking things, my political career is now over. Which is why I take back everything I just said and will plead temporary insanity."
And he would be doomed and would face a life of poverty. Well, not exactly, since Rostenkowski could still legally shift his $1 million political war chest to personal use. And he'd have a lifetime $70,000 pension (which will jump to $93,000 if he waits until '93 to retire. Congress doesn't soak itself.)
If Bush were smart, he wouldn't carp about how Rostenkowski is misleading (polite word for lying to) the voters. He'd get out there and engage in boob-rousing, class warfare himself.
Don't Republicans know how to do simple math? If less than 1 percent of taxpayers are in the top bracket, they don't represent enough votes to elect a town constable. Ah, but those $30,000 and under, they're almost 70 percent. You can get a landslide out of them.
So Bush should wise up. Months ago, he could have gone on TV and said: "I am horrified to find that a man making $500,000 a year pays only $150,000 of that in taxes. So I'm going to propose to Congress that they take everything away from the money-grubbing swine except a few dollars to feed his pampered family. And we'll seize his home, car and country club membership and dress him in rags. And I'm going to give it all to those of you who, because of this insensitive, insulting society, are not rich."
Try it, Mr. President, and watch those approval ratings soar in the polls. And don't worry, your golf buddies will understand. Rostenkowski's do.