Read my lips: no new taxes

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Bush delivering the famous line at the 1988 convention George HW Bush saying "Read My Lips" (screenshot).jpg
Bush delivering the famous line at the 1988 convention

"Read my lips: no new taxes" is a phrase spoken by then-American presidential candidate George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention as he accepted the nomination on August 18. Written by speechwriter Peggy Noonan, the line was the most prominent sound bite from the speech. The pledge not to tax the American people further had been a consistent part of Bush's 1988 election platform, and its prominent inclusion in his speech cemented it in the public consciousness. The impact of the election promise was considerable, and many supporters of Bush believe it helped Bush win the 1988 presidential election.

George H. W. Bush 41st president of the United States

George Herbert Walker Bush was an American politician who served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993 and the 43rd vice president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. A member of the Republican Party, he held posts that included those of congressman, ambassador, and CIA director. Until his son George W. Bush became the 43rd president in 2001, he was usually known simply as George Bush.

1988 Republican National Convention

The 1988 Republican National Convention of the Republican Party of the United States was held in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana from August 15 to August 18, 1988. It was the second time that a major party held its convention in one of the five states known as the Deep South, coming on the heels of the 1988 Democratic National Convention, which was held in Atlanta, Georgia. Much of the impetus for holding the convention in the Superdome came from the Louisiana Republican National Committeewoman Virginia Martinez of New Orleans, who lobbied on behalf of her adopted home city as the convention site as a member of the RNC Executive Committee.

Peggy Noonan American author and journalist

Margaret Ellen "Peggy" Noonan is an American author, weekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and contributor to NBC News and ABC News. She was a primary speechwriter and Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and has maintained a center-right leaning in her writings since leaving the Reagan administration. Five of Noonan's books have been New York Times bestsellers.

Contents

The line later hurt Bush politically. Although he did oppose the creation of new taxes as president, the Democratic-controlled Congress proposed increases of existing taxes as a way to reduce the national budget deficit. Bush negotiated with Congress for a budget that met his pledge, but was unable to make a deal with a Senate and House that was controlled by the opposing Democrats. Bush agreed to a compromise, which increased several existing taxes as part of a 1990 budget agreement. [1]

Democratic Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party.

United States Senate Upper house of the United States Congress

The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress, which along with the United States House of Representatives—the lower chamber—comprises the legislature of the United States. The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C.

United States House of Representatives lower house of the United States Congress

The United States House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the United States Congress, the Senate being the upper chamber. Together they compose the legislature of the United States.

In the 1992 presidential election campaign, Pat Buchanan repeatedly cited the pledge as an example of a broken promise in his unsuccessful challenge to Bush in the Republican primaries. In the general election, Democratic nominee Bill Clinton, running as a moderate, also cited the quotation and questioned Bush's trustworthiness. Bush lost his bid for re-election to Clinton, prompting many to suggest his failure to keep the pledge as a reason for his defeat.

Pat Buchanan American politician and commentator

Patrick Joseph Buchanan is an American paleoconservative political commentator, author, syndicated columnist, politician, and broadcaster. Buchanan was a senior advisor to U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, and was an original host on CNN's Crossfire. He sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996. He ran on the Reform Party ticket in the 2000 presidential election.

A primary election is the process by which voters, either the general public or members of a political party, can indicate their preference for a candidate in an upcoming general election or by-election, thus narrowing the field of candidates.

Bill Clinton 42nd president of the United States

William Jefferson Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Prior to the presidency, he was the governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981, and again from 1983 to 1992, and the attorney general of Arkansas from 1977 to 1979. A member of the Democratic Party, Clinton was ideologically a New Democrat, and many of his policies reflected a centrist "Third Way" political philosophy.

Vice President Bush and taxes

In 1984, there was some controversy when Bush seemed to diverge somewhat from Ronald Reagan's view on taxation.[ how? ] Responding to Walter Mondale's admission that if he were elected taxes would likely be raised, Bush also implied that tax increases might be necessary in the next four years. Reagan asserted that he had no plans to raise taxes in his second term, and Bush quickly argued that he had been misunderstood. Bush's statements led some conservatives to begin doubting Bush's dedication to tax cuts. [2]

Walter Mondale 42nd Vice President of the United States

Walter Frederick "Fritz" Mondale is an American politician, diplomat and lawyer who served as the 42nd vice president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. A United States senator from Minnesota (1964–1976), he was the Democratic Party's nominee in the United States presidential election of 1984, but lost to Ronald Reagan in an Electoral College landslide. Reagan won 49 states while Mondale carried his home state of Minnesota and District of Columbia. He became the oldest-living former U.S. vice president after the death of George H. W. Bush in 2018.

As the competition to succeed Reagan began in 1986, it was clear that taxes would be a central issue. Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, had created a no-new-taxes pledge and was encouraging Republican candidates to sign it. A large number of congressional candidates signed, as did Bush's primary rivals Jack Kemp and Pete du Pont. Bush at first refused to sign the pledge, but in 1987 eventually acquiesced. (Norquist still urges politicians to sign his tax pledge and claims that almost 50% of congressmen have taken the pledge). The Bush campaign would later join other candidates in using the tax issue to attack Bob Dole, who had not been clear on the subject. [3]

Grover Norquist Conservative Lobbyist

Grover Glenn Norquist is an American political advocate who is founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, an organization that opposes all tax increases. A Republican, he is the primary promoter of the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge", a pledge signed by lawmakers who agree to oppose increases in marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses, as well as net reductions or eliminations of deductions and credits without a matching reduced tax rate. Prior to the November 2012 election, the pledge was signed by 95% of all Republican members of Congress and all but one of the candidates running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Americans for Tax Reform organization

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is a politically conservative U.S. advocacy group whose stated goal is "a system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today." According to ATR, "The government's power to control one's life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized." The organization is known for its "Taxpayer Protection Pledge", which asks candidates for federal and state office to commit themselves in writing to oppose all tax increases. The founder and president of ATR is Grover Norquist, a conservative tax activist.

Jack Kemp American football player, 9th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Jack French Kemp was an American politician and a professional player in both American football and Canadian football. A member of the Republican Party from New York, he served as Housing Secretary in the administration of President George H. W. Bush from 1989 to 1993, having previously served nine terms in the United States House of Representatives from 1971 to 1989. He was the Republican Party's nominee for Vice President in the 1996 election, where he was the running mate of presidential nominee Bob Dole. Kemp had previously contended for the presidential nomination in the 1988 Republican primaries.

Pledge

Bush had firmly secured the nomination by the time of the convention, but his advisers still worried about the lack of enthusiasm for Bush in the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Taxes were one issue that, in the words of Bush adviser James Pinkerton, "unified the right and didn't antagonize anybody else." [4] Thus a firm no-new-tax pledge was included in Bush's acceptance speech at the New Orleans convention. The full section of the speech on tax policy was (emphasis added):

James Pinkerton American political analyst

James "Jim" P. Pinkerton is a columnist, author, and political analyst. A graduate of Evanston Township High School (1975) and Stanford University (1980), he served on the White House staff under both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and on each of their presidential campaigns from 1980 to 1992. In January 2008, he became a senior adviser to the Mike Huckabee 2008 presidential campaign.

And I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, "Read my lips: no new taxes."

The passage was written by leading speechwriter Peggy Noonan, with Jack Kemp having suggested the basic idea. [5] Including the line caused some controversy, as some Bush advisers felt the language was too strong. The most prominent critic was economic adviser Richard Darman, who crossed the phrase out on an initial draft calling it "stupid and dangerous." [6] Darman was one of the architects of Reagan's 1982 tax increase, and expected to have a major policy role in the Bush White House. He felt that such an absolute pledge would handcuff the administration. [7]

Upon the advice of others however, especially Roger Ailes, the line remained in the speech. It was felt the pledge was needed to keep conservative support in a campaign that was trying to position itself as centrist. It was also hoped it would add an element of toughness to a candidate who was suffering from a perception of being weak and vacillating. At the time Bush was significantly behind Michael Dukakis in the polls, and Darman later argued that the campaign was far more concerned with winning than governing. [8] The strategy appeared successful; after the convention, Bush began to take the lead over Dukakis. A Gallup poll taken the following week showed Bush leading by a 48 to 44 percent margin, with his favorability ratings increasing by nine points from pre-convention polls. California-based pollster Mervin Field declared that "I have never seen anything like this, this kind of swing in favorability ratings, ever since I have seen polls, going back to 1936." [9] Another Gallup poll taken for Newsweek showed Bush with a 51% to 42% lead coming out of the convention. [10]

Taxes raised

When in office, Bush found it challenging to keep his promise. The Bush campaign's figures had been based on the assumption that the high growth of the late 1980s would continue throughout his time in office. [11] Instead, a recession began. By 1990, rising budget deficits, fueled by a growth in mandatory spending and a declining economy, began to greatly increase the federal deficit. The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act mandated that the deficit be reduced, or else mandatory cuts unpalatable to both Republicans and Democrats would be made. Reducing this deficit was a difficult task. New cuts of any substance would have to come either from entitlement programs, such as Medicare or Social Security, or from defense. [12]

The budget for the next fiscal year proved far more difficult. Bush initially presented Congress a proposed budget containing steep spending cuts and no new taxes, but congressional Democrats dismissed this out of hand.[ citation needed ] Negotiations began, but it was clear little progress could be made without a compromise on taxes. Richard Darman, who had been appointed head of the Office of Management and Budget, and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu both felt such a compromise was necessary. [13] Other prominent Republicans had also come out in favor of a tax increase, including Gerald Ford, Paul O'Neill, and Lamar Alexander. [14]

At the end of June, Bush released a statement stating that "it is clear to me that both the size of the deficit problem and the need for a package that can be enacted require all of the following: entitlement and mandatory program reform, tax revenue increases, growth incentives, discretionary spending reductions, orderly reductions in defense expenditures, and budget process reform." [15] The key element was the reference to "tax revenue increases" now being up for negotiation. An immediate furor followed the release. The headline of the New York Post the next day read "Read my Lips: I Lied." [16] Initially some argued that "tax revenue increases" did not necessarily mean tax increases. For example, he could mean that the government could work to increase taxable income. However, Bush soon confirmed that tax increases were on the table. [17]

Some of the most enraged over the change in policy were other Republicans, including House Whip Newt Gingrich, the Senate leadership, and Vice President Dan Quayle. They felt Bush had destroyed the Republicans' most potent election plank for years to come. That the Republican leadership was not consulted before Bush made the deal also angered them. This perceived betrayal quickly led to a bitter feud within the Republican Party. When Sununu called Gingrich with the news, Gingrich hung up on him in anger. When Senator Trent Lott questioned the reversal, Sununu told the press that "Trent Lott has become an insignificant figure in this process." [18] Republican National Committee co-chair Ed Rollins, who issued a memo instructing Republican congress members to distance themselves from the president if they wished to be re-elected, was fired from his position. [19]

These events delivered a severe blow to Bush's popularity. From the historic high of 79% early in his term, Bush's approval rating had fallen to 56% by mid-October 1990. [20]

On November 5, 1990, Bush signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. [21] Among other provisions, this raised multiple taxes.

The law increased the maximum individual income tax rate from 28 percent to 31 percent, and raised the individual alternative minimum tax rate from 21 percent to 24 percent. It also increased other taxes, including payroll and excise taxes, and limited itemized deductions for high-income individuals. However, it increased access to the earned income tax credit for low-income families, and limited the capital gains rate to 28 percent. [1]

This was a blow to Republicans generally, who lost ground in both the House and Senate in the 1990 midterm elections. However, the events of the Gulf War pushed the issue out of the news, and Bush's popularity up. [22] By February 1991 his approval rating rose to its highest level—89%. [23]

1992 election

The reversal was used by the Democrats seeking their party's nomination, but it was first widely used by Pat Buchanan during his primary election battle against Bush. Buchanan stated that Bush's reversal was one of his main reasons for opposing Bush. On the day he entered the race, he said it was "because we Republicans, can no longer say it is all the liberals' fault. It was not some liberal Democrat who said 'Read my lips: no new taxes,' then broke his word to cut a seedy backroom budget deal with the big spenders on Capitol Hill." [24] Buchanan subsequently made extensive use of the 1988 quotation in his New Hampshire campaign, repeating it constantly in both television and radio commercials. Buchanan won a surprising 40% of the vote in New Hampshire, a major rebuff to the President.

The early response by Bush was that raising taxes had been essential due to the condition of the economy. Polling showed that most Americans agreed some tax increases were necessary, but that the greater obstacle was the loss of trust and respect for Bush. When the primary campaign moved to Georgia, and Buchanan remained a threat, Bush changed strategies and began apologizing for raising taxes. He stated that "I did it, and I regret it and I regret it" [25] and told the American people that if he could go back he would not raise taxes again.[ citation needed ] In the October 19 debate he repeatedly stated that raising taxes was a mistake and he "should have held out for a better deal." [26] These apologies also proved ineffective, and the broken pledge dogged Bush for the entirety of the 1992 campaign.

Bush's eventual opponent Bill Clinton used the broken pledge to great effect late in the campaign. In October 1992 a television commercial, designed by campaign strategist James Carville, had Bush repeating the phrase to illustrate Bush's perfidious nature. It was regarded[ by whom? ] as one of the most effective of all of Clinton's campaign ads. The tax reversal played a central role in reducing the public's opinion of Bush's character. Despite the variety of scandals that affected Clinton during the election, polls showed the public viewed Clinton and Bush as similar in integrity. [27] Even after the election, Clinton feared similar retribution from voters for raising taxes. Early in his first term, Bill Clinton was confronted by a larger than expected deficit. He responded with a tax increase, against the advice of aides, who insisted that he was breaking his campaign promise of a middle class tax cut. [28] Ross Perot capitalized upon disenchantment with Bush and the status quo entering the 1992 race as an Independent candidate, leaving and subsequently re-entering. While the effects of his candidacy have been speculated, exit polls showed Perot essentially drew votes from Bush and Clinton evenly. [29]

Later views

Bush's broken promise was one of several important factors leading to Bush's defeat. In fact, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh in his book See I Told You So, believes Bush would have easily won re-election had he not increased taxes. Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin called his promise "the six most destructive words in the history of presidential politics." [30] Ed Rollins has called it "probably the most serious violation of any political pledge anybody has ever made." [31] White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater called the reversal the "single biggest mistake of the administration." [32] Others disagree with this view. Richard Darman does not believe that the reversal played a central role in Bush's defeat; rather he argues that it simply became a focal point for discontent with an economic situation that Bush had little control over. [33] Others feel that the reversal was politically disastrous, but also good for the country. Daniel L. Ostrander has argued that Bush's actions should be seen as a noble sacrifice of his own political future for the good of the nation's well-being. [34]

Conservative Republicans generally feel that Bush should have stood by his pledge no matter the pressure exerted by Congress. While the reversal played an important role in Bill Clinton's 1992 victory, it also played a role in the 1994 Republican congressional victory. Newt Gingrich, while a member of the congressional negotiating committee, refused to endorse Bush's compromise on the tax issue. He then led over one hundred Republican House members in voting against the president's first budget proposal. This made Gingrich a hero to conservative Republicans, and propelled him into the leadership role he would play in the "Republican Revolution" of 1994. [35]

The phrase was subsequently used by Brian Lenihan, Jr., Irish Minister for Finance on September 17, 2009, promising not to raise taxes in the December 2009 budget. [36]

George W. Bush

At a Republican primary debate in New Hampshire on January 6, 2000, George W. Bush, son of the former President, and Governor of Texas at the time of his campaign, was answering a question about his economic plans, when he referenced taxes. Manchester Union Leader reporter John Mephisto then asked "Is this 'no new taxes, so help me God?'," to which the candidate replied, "This is not only 'no new taxes,' this is 'a tax cut, so help me God'." [37] Bush would go on to be elected and serve two terms. In Bush's 2004 reelection, taxes were typically seen as taking a back burner to foreign policy issues, though they had been lowered during his first term.

The phrase was often parodied with other words substituted for lips or taxes. Dana Carvey frequently did versions of the line on Saturday Night Live. [38] Bush once told a reporter, who had interrupted him while he was jogging, to "read my hips" as he jogged away. [39]

The phrase also became the title of a political party, albeit one that was a sham. In a 2002 U.S. House race in Minnesota's Second District, Sam Garst, a supporter of incumbent Democrat Bill Luther's, ran as a candidate of the No New Taxes Party, ostensibly to siphon votes from the Republican challenger, John Kline, in a closely contested race. [40]

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 "Major Enacted Tax Legislation, 1990-1999 - Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990". Tax Policy Center.
  2. Jack Germond. Mad as Hell. pg. 23
  3. Germond pg. 24
  4. Germond pg. 22
  5. Peggy Noonan. What I Saw at the Revolution. pg. 307
  6. John Robert Greene The Presidency of George Bush. pg. 37
  7. Richard Darman. Who's in Control? pg. 192
  8. Darman pg. 193
  9. "Bush Leads Dukakis, 48% to 44%, in Gallup Poll". articles.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. August 24, 1988. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  10. Los Angeles Times, "Bush Leads Dukakis"
  11. Peter B. Levy "No New Taxes." Encyclopedia of the Reagan-Bush Years. pg. 260
  12. Darman pg. 198
  13. York, Byron (December 10, 2011). "Read-my-lips feud returns in Romney-Gingrich fight". washingtonexaminer.com. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  14. Darman pg. 200
  15. New York Times, Bush Now Concedes A Need For Tax Increases to Reduce Deficit in Budget, June 27, 1990 Rosenthal, Andrew (June 27, 1990). "BUSH NOW CONCEDES A NEED FOR 'TAX REVENUE INCREASES' TO REDUCE DEFICIT IN BUDGET". The New York Times.
  16. Smith, John W. (July 5, 1990). "How Headline Writers Read Bush's Lips". Reading Eagle. p. 9.
  17. Germond pg. 34
  18. John Robert Greene (2000). The Presidency of George Bush. University Press of Kansas. ISBN   978-0-7006-0993-2. pg. 86
  19. Greene pg. 84–88
  20. Germond pg. 45
  21. "Actions - H.R.5835 - Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990".
  22. The Illusory Power of Grover Norquist| Timothy Noah| November 27, 2012
  23. Presidential Approval Ratings -- Gallup Historical Statistics and Trends Gallup.com
  24. Quoted in the New York Times December 11, 1991 pg. B12
  25. The apology first ran in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution
  26. "Presidential Debate in East Lansing, Michigan". Bushlibrary.tamu.edu. 1992-10-19. Retrieved 2012-06-28.
  27. Honor and Loyalty: Inside the Politics of the George H. W. Bush White House pg. 374
  28. "PBS Frontline: Chronology, The Clinton Years".
  29. Holmes, Steven A. (1992-11-05). "THE 1992 ELECTIONS: DISAPPOINTMENT — NEWS ANALYSIS An Eccentric but No Joke; Perot's Strong Showing Raises Questions On What Might Have Been, and Might Be". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-17.
  30. MacKenzie, Colin. "How Bush Blew It." The Globe and Mail November 4, 1992 pg. A1
  31. Germond pg. 35
  32. Ryan J. Barilleaux and & Mark J. Rozell. Power and Prudence. pg. 34
  33. Darman pg. 286
  34. Richard Himelfarb and Rosanna Perotti. Principle over Politics? pg. 56
  35. Himelfarb and Perotti. pg. 53.
  36. Brennan, Joe, Molony, Senan, and Sheahan, Fionnán, "Lenihan: Read my lips, no tax hikes", Irish Independent, 18 September 2009
  37. Paulson, Amy "Bush, McCain lock horns in GOP debate", CNN, January 6, 2000. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  38. "Saturday Night Live show, Top 50 impressions". Saturday-night-live.com. Retrieved 2012-06-28.
  39. "Time Magazine — Read My Hips". Cnn.com. 1990-10-22. Retrieved 2010-03-17.
  40. The Almanac of American Politics 2006, p. 914–915.

Bibliography