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Diet Coke and the coming election

It’s one of the oldest complaints against democratic government. But
if a democracy conceals the true facts of the national situation from
the voter, how is the public to know if the man presenting himself for
election to public office is a solid citizen or a charlatan?

And, indeed, one needn’t delve back into 19th century American
history to the Credit Mobilier scandal for examples of blatant
skullduggery. For that matter almost every major speech in America,
particularly one involving financial affairs, now contains examples of
financial deception, as if only candidates who confine themselves to
mathematical skills on the fourth-grade level (or below) are safe.
Fifth-grade mathematics or beyond, watch out.

Now, in his acceptance speech last Thursday, Democratic candidate Al
Gore unleashed upon the world a startling statistic. According to Mr.
Gore, his opponent, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, in his
acceptance speech at the Republican convention, had come up with some
very funny figures as part of his tax plan. “If you add up Bush’s
figures,” explained Gore, to demonstrate his own plan’s clear
superiority, “the average family (under his plan) would get enough money
to buy one extra Diet Coke a week — about 62 cents in change.”

This was greeted in the hall by a roar of scorn. But Gore wasn’t even
reading the text accurately, although he had it in print right in front
of him. The paper in front of him did indeed say one extra Diet Coke “a
week,” but he’d changed this in the course of his speech to one extra
Diet Coke “a day.” One Diet Coke a week. One Diet Coke a day. A simple
multiple of seven, you say. But they weren’t going to hang a man for
giving one seventh of a total that made sense, were they? But that’s not

Mr. Gore’s figure was not actually based on the income of the average
family but on the average income of the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers
— who pay precious little federal income tax anyway. The real income of
federal taxpayers at this level (Social Security and all federal taxes
included) is $9 a day. Compare this to $1.67 a day. Another day, another

Returning to the attack on his Republican opponents, Gore bellowed in
the hoarse tone he reserves for the “emotional” part of his speeches
that “for every $10 that goes to the wealthiest 1 percent (meaning in
income), middle-class families would get one dime, and lower-class
families would get one penny.” Although it was one of the dynamite
passages in his speech, Mr. Gore didn’t seem to have done his homework
on this either. Didn’t he know that — income aside — the middle
classes in America pay the bulk of the taxes and that, in proportion to
their vast income, the taxes paid by the rich are comparatively modest?
But he didn’t seem to want to change even this in his
speech. They were driving the poor audience crazy with all this math.
Things had gone so far that a man couldn’t even make a nice, honest
speech without an adding machine. If he was elected, he’d hire someone
else to do the mathematical stuff.

Many of the speakers at Gore’s Democratic National Convention spent
much of their assigned time trying to rebut Republican claims, at their
convention a couple of weeks earlier, that President Clinton had done
little to bring about the booming economy. Clinton, in fact, had devoted
almost his entire speech to claiming credit for having turned the
economy around by himself. In rather purple prose, Gore, the vice
president, you will remember, declared, “I’ve been the partner of a
leader who moved us out of the valley of recession and into the longest
period of prosperity in American history.”

Now the relatively mild recession during the presidency of George
Herbert Walker Bush had ended months before Clinton took office. And
economists give the elder Bush credit for enacting early in his
presidency a deficit reduction plan that both brought down interest
rates and impressed the bond market. Meanwhile, the Clinton forces were
greatly aided by a Congress that refused to approve some of his ideas,
such as an unnecessary stimulus package and a massive health-care reform

According to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, much of the
resulting surplus was only in a small part the consequence of
legislative actions, which actually would have made the deficit worse.
Instead, the economy generated much higher tax revenues, which quite
wiped out the deficit.