"I solemnly swear that if I am president of the United States I will never raise the taxes of the American people." So says the New Hampshire pledge that Pat Buchanan signed. He has called on President Bush to do the same. That is an issue that is at least one election late. Sen. Bob Dole refused to sign such a pledge in New Hampshire in 1988, and lost the primary to George Bush. Many blamed the tax issue at the time, but LTC pollsters on the scene said other factors were more important.
This year, all the candidates are talking about cutting taxes, not raising them. The New Hampshire pledge is beside the point. For that matter, past tax policies are not really the issue. It is the state of the economy. Very few New Hampshire voters would be upset enough about a federal tax increase to support Pat Buchanan if New Hampshire's economy were still as robust as it was in 1988. And if the president had never agreed to a tax increase, and if the economy had still turned sour, the president would still be in trouble.
The economy, not the tax code, is the issue.
We know it is impossible to keep taxes out of the presidential campaign. The president said in New Hampshire on Wednesday that he intends to offer his own tax-cut proposals, which seem in the vague outline he offered to be a response to his Democratic rivals' in the sense that they are aimed at middle-income voters' immediate concerns. We have a queasy feeling that changes in federal tax policies that would have a long-range and positive impact on the economy are likely to lose out in the campaign environment to policies that would bestow a short-range income on those voters.
The president also tried out what is sure to be another favorite theme in the months ahead. That was his leadership in the Persian Gulf war. He is entitled. Mr. Buchanan and many Democrats, including some now seeking the presidency, opposed following him in that endeavor. Voters have a legitimate interest in hearing them explain why they think they were right, if they still feel that way, and why voters should trust their judgment in the Oval Office.