For Presidential candidates, developing a coherent and worthwhile economic policy is notoriously difficult--and even more so if the economic backdrop is as favorable to the incumbent as it appears to be this year. Now, as Bob Dole tries to fashion a winning economic platform, there are signs that he may be willing to countenance some measures that would amount to bad economic policy--simply to differentiate his stance from President Clinton's.
What Dole doesn't do in formulating economic policy is as important as what he does do. He shouldn't tamper with the gas tax. Indeed, his embrace of a rollback in the 4.3 cents tax is a sop to voters that will likely be seen as such. It's a troubling disincentive to conserve energy and will raise America's oil-import bill. He shouldn't backpedal on trade. Yet this one-time NAFTA supporter is arguing for a go-slow strategy on expanding the accord and pandering to economic nationalists by suggesting a possible out for the U.S. from the new World Trade court. Finally, he shouldn't contemplate supply-side style tax cuts. In theory, big cuts in tax rates could jump-start growth. In reality, though, it's always easier to cut taxes than to make the offsetting spending cuts, so ballooning deficits and rising interest rates would likely ensue.
For years the senator from Kansas has hewed to mainstream, traditional economic beliefs: that budget-cutting and spending restraint are good, and that free trade is good. He continues to sound the budget-cutting theme, and he has wisely agreed with President Clinton's plan to renew most-favored-nation status to China. Such positions may not be headline grabbers, but they have held him in good stead. Pursuing measures that run counter to his beliefs would be bad economic policy--and probably bad campaign strategy, too.