EDITORIAL: McCain's Lips
Sen. John McCain let George Stephanopoulos goad him into a mistake the other day, and he might well live to regret it.
"So, on taxes," the ABC commentator asked the Re-publican presidential nominee-presumptive, "are you a 'read my lips' candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?"
McCain replied -- almost blurted -- "No new taxes."
And so McCain fell into the same trap that probably cost the first President George Bush his re-election in 1992. Having made the famous "read my lips" pledge during the 1988 campaign, Bush lost credibility when he later found it necessary to, indeed, raise taxes. (The argument that he raised only existing kinds of taxes without adding any "new" ones held no water.)
Granted, all of us would prefer no new taxes. But how does McCain -- or anybody else -- know what unexpected economic or geopolitical realities may lie four years or eight years down the road, possibly requiring new spending? Why paint himself into a corner that way? Why not just say that he hoped there would be no need for new taxes, but that it would be irresponsible to stake himself out at this early stage?
The pity here is that there was no need for McCain to give voice to that commitment. He was obviously trying to ingratiate himself with the hard-line conservative wing of the Republican Party, whose members tend to view taxes as an evil and who resent McCain's votes against the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.
But who was McCain trying to outflank? Ridiculous threats to the contrary, neither Rush Limbaugh nor any other right-wing Republican is about to vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama when push comes to shove. Nor does Mike Huckabee stand a ghost of a chance to wrest the GOP nomination from the more moderate McCain.
"I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthiest Americans," McCain said in 2004. "I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit."
He was right then, as evidenced by today's deficits. Unless we're misreading his lips, he's wrong now.
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