Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Patronage Politics Via the Tax Code

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Patronage Politics Via the Tax Code

Article excerpt

Where is the Democratic Party headed, and where is it taking the rest of us? The best answer can be found in President Bill Clinton's acceptance speech, which lays out a new strategy for the Democratic Party, one that has been underappreciated by the political pundits.

Clintonism is not merely me-too Republicanism, as Bob Dole charges. Nor is it best described as "centrist," a sort of watered-down version of the old-style Democratic agenda. Instead, Clinton has crafted what amounts to a new branch of ideology: Call it low-tax liberalism.

But it is still recognizably a Democratic strategy, wholly distinct from the conservative agenda of rolling back the power of the federal government. As voters, Americans do not have deep enough faith (or pockets) to support large new government programs. So instead, Clinton offers to use the tax code to deliver big benefits to targeted groups - for much the same reason that, after 40 years of Democratic control, the business tax code is littered with loopholes some call "corporate welfare." Clintonism is traditional patronage politics, with a 21st-century twist. Its whole goal is to create in particular groups of voters a sense of dependence on government, and therefore gratitude, to the politicians who take care of them. It amounts, in other words, to a classic Democratic bidding war for voters' loyalty, conducted through the tax code instead of the spending side of the equation. It is the opposite of the "fairer, flatter tax code" the Republicans propose. Lower everyone's taxes, as Dole proposes, and you've merely reduced the size, power and influence of government. Create a larger special-tax loophole, and you've built a special-interest constituency that will fight to keep it in place and you in power. And for whose vote is Clinton bidding? The answer is, surprisingly, affluent, married, two-income families. There's something for everyone in the Clinton pie, but the biggest chicken lands squarely in the pots of a traditionally Republican stronghold: suburban homeowners with college-bound kids. …

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