Taxing rhetoric

To the surprise of many Americans, George W. Bush delivered an elegant inaugural address on January 20. In calling for civility, courage, compassion, and character, he spoke to the desire of many for greater national comity and citizen accountability. President Bush insisted that we take our responsibilities seriously both in this country and in the world, reminding us that "compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government." He urged that we think of ourselves as "citizens, not spectators." There was much to applaud in Bush’s brief address, though to his credit, the president did not play his lines for easy applause.

Yet, as carefully crafted as the speech was in its appeal for the nation "to seek a common good beyond your comfort, to defend needed reforms against easy attacks, to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor," it also exposed the contradictions embedded in the Republican agenda-contradictions that belie the president’s appeal to the common good.

Take the promised tax cuts: the first and almost only extended round of applause during Bush’s speech went to the reiteration of his campaign promise to cut taxes. In a time of budget surpluses, it is an offer that few will resist. Yet everything that the Bush administration hopes to accomplish, from education reform to modernizing the military to providing Medicare prescription coverage, may depend on marshaling resources that lie...

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