The rules of politics are like the rules of selling Fuller Brushes door to door, which I once did. It's not enough to know your product and be honest. You also need gimmicks. I used to soap up storm-door windows before ringing a customer's doorbell. Then I'd whip out an aerosol can of Fuller Brush window cleaner and demonstrate its effectiveness. That worked fine until I reached into my bag one day and came out with a can of cleaner whose top was broken off. No sale there.
President Clinton and GOP challenger Bob Dole have been reaching into their sales cases for new products, but a lot of the tops are missing. Herewith, in no particular order, my list of their 10 most deficient campaign ideas:
-- OVERKILL. Dole wants to amend the Constitution to allow for "voluntary prayer" in the public schools, to balance the federal budget, and to prevent flag burning. But students can already pray anytime they want, and Congress can balance the budget if it chooses. Flag burning is disrespectful but hardly widespread in the U.S.
-- YOU PAY. Clinton wants to make Internet providers give free service to public schools and libraries. Why stop there? Why not free electricity, textbooks, heating oil? Because such freebies are hidden taxes on other customers who would be subsidizing them. Same with the Net.
-- HANDOFF. Both Clinton and Dole want a commission to fix Medicare, which faces bankruptcy in 2001. Both also want a commission on campaign finance. But what are we paying politicians for if not to work out solutions to public problems? Why hold elections if the tough jobs are passed off to unelected commissioners?
-- WRONG DEFENSE. Both candidates want to build a high-tech shield against an ICBM attack from a "rogue" state such as North Korea or Iran. But that would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and ruin talks with Moscow to further reduce its nuclear arsenal. Also, the shield would rely on technology not yet developed, cost tens of billions of dollars, and do nothing to keep terrorists from delivering bombs in planes, trucks, or even golf bags.
-- YELLOW RIVER. Clinton wants to deny drivers' licenses to teenagers who fail a urine drug test. But to pass, teens would only need to refrain from drugs for a month before the test. For that matter, why single out youth? Why not everyone who renews a driver's license, or serves on a jury? Why not senior citizens as they apply for Medicare? Because it's ridiculously intrusive.
-- QUICK DRAW. The Brady Law requires a five-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun, a provision that has left an estimated 60,000 miscreants empty-handed at the gun counter. Dole wants to substitute an instant computer check of all criminal records. But no such national database exists. Besides, what's wrong with the cooling-off period?
-- ROBBING PETER, PAYING PAUL. Dole proposes to repeal a 1993 tax hike on the benefits of high-income Social Security recipients. But that yearly $4.5 billion goes to paying hospital bills for seniors covered by Medicare. Dole's plan would give wealthier seniors a tax break at the expense of medical care for all elderly.
-- THE GANGPLANK. Dole supports a law to make English the official language. And he wants to let states deny public schooling to children who are illegal immigrants. But what are kids supposed to do all day if not go to school? And if English isn't the official language, then what is?
-- BROAD CUT. Dole wants to cut tax rates by 15% as part of a $548 billion package. Capital-gains tax rates would be halved and indexed for inflation. But all this would negate Dole's promises to simplify the tax code and balance the federal budget.
-- NARROW CUT. Clinton would exempt most home sales from capital-gains taxes and provide $43 billion in tax breaks for college tuition as part of a $117 billion cut. Besides increasing the deficit, these subsidies would only inflate the cost of housing and tuition. The housing subsidy gives older Americans yet another tax break, while pricing lower-income families out of the market.
That's it--a sad bag of missing tops sure to leave a lot of soapy windows. Voters could be forgiven for sicking their dogs on these salesmen.