Much has already been made of the Bush campaign’s decision to push big ideas–an “ownership society,” private Social Security accounts, greater homeownership, a simplified tax system–in the president’s acceptance speech this Thursday night.
Knowing how these speeches have the tendency to be tweaked, amended, and rewritten right up until the moment they are given, I want to make an argument for two very big government-reform ideas–congressional term limits and a two-thirds, super-majority vote to raise taxes.
Both of these ideas are big enough to generate significant press, motivate the conservative base, and interest regular voters. Plus–an added benefit–they put Kerry in a box.
Take, for example, congressional term limits.
First, let’s consider where the voters stand. The feverish craving for term limits seems to have exited the American body politic, but strong majority support for this idea remains. Voters know why they support term limits, and right about now John Kerry, with all his flip-flops and double talk, looks like a pretty good example of why we should have them.
Bush could play on this and put Kerry squarely in the “insider” box. After all, Kerry started in the Senate when the Bush twins were teething. Since then, Bush has been a baseball team owner, a governor and a president. The only thing Kerry has succeeded in doing is voting with Ted Kennedy in Washington D.C. (And Bush could note that Kerry voted with Kennedy against a term-limits bill–he voted against ending debate–when he had the chance back on April 23, 1996.)
Kerry was a career politician back when he voted against term limits and he’s still a career politician who continues to draw a Senate paycheck while missing most of the votes this year. Moreover, the president can come out for term limits without any real pain. After all, even if he wins, he’s already term limited.
But, bringing up the issue puts Kerry in a pickle. If Bush pushed for a vote on this and Congress cooperated, Kerry would be forced to make a painful and public vote against the wishes of most Americans. If Bush pushed for a vote this year, but Congress didn’t deliver, Kerry would still be in an awkward position.
The other big idea the president should consider pushing in his acceptance speech is a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds, super-majority vote in Congress to raise taxes. I’ve extolled the virtues of this idea in the past .
Polling already shows this idea has widespread support. Fourteen states–and important battlegrounds like Florida, Missouri, California, and Nevada–already have super-majority requirements for tax increases enshrined in their constitutions. If it’s good for these states, why won’t it be good for America?
Forcing this issue onto center stage would again put Kerry in a box. Much like a term-limits debate, a two-thirds, super-majority amendment for tax increases would highlight Kerry’s liberal orthodoxy and help shatter any lingering impressions that he is somehow a “fiscal conservative.”
But the greatest benefit of pushing these two big ideas in the president’s acceptance speech is how the two would work together to define Kerry. Opposition to a super-majority amendment for tax increases is a good reason why we need to limit career politicians. Opposition to term limits is a good reason why voters need a taxpayer protection amendment. It’s common sense, populist, and conservative–the combination that most effectively wins us elections in November.
Opposition to both a taxpayer-protection amendment and term limits would be the perfect illustration of Kerry’s career-politician views. Opposition to both of these ideas would prove that John Kerry is more interested in protecting career politicians like himself than in protecting taxpayers’ wallets.
Americans instinctively understand these two constitutional amendments. They’re big. They’re bold. And they put Kerry in a bind while giving the Bush campaign several excellent contrasts to exploit.
–Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.