Well, that didn’t take long. On CNN Monday night, John McCain was treated like any other conservative Republican, as correspondents and a tilted panel of ex-Clinton officials painted him as irresponsible for opposing a supposedly necessary increase in taxes. In a “Keeping Them Honest” segment on Anderson Cooper 360, reporter Tom Foreman wondered if McCain “can keep that promise” of “no new taxes,” before asserting: “Some economists say not.”
But Foreman’s sole economist was Robert Greenstein of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a longstanding proponent of higher taxes. Foreman provided no “liberal” tag nor gave any hint of Greenstein’s agenda, as the latter argued that “the problems in the future are so large that it’s pretty unthinkable we could close those deficits either by just cutting programs or just raising taxes.”
Foreman’s piece quoted two liberals -- Greenstein and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn (who was oddly used as an authority on budgets and taxes -- but just one Republican, consultant Rich Galen. And Foreman himself sought to discredit McCain’s “no new taxes” stance by ticking off some of the “costs hammering the budget: the war, a half-trillion dollars so far, by some estimates; that economic stimulus plan, $168 billion; soaring entitlements for baby boomers; interest on the national debt. All that with no new taxes?”
Then in the panel discussion that followed Foreman’s piece, conservative Bay Buchanan was outnumbered by two ex-staffers to President Bill Clinton: CNN regular David Gergen and Keith Boykin, now the editor of The Daily Voice, which bills itself as “black America’s daily news source.” Anchor Anderson Cooper at one point pitched a softball to the liberal Boykin, asking about McCain, “Do you believe this is a responsible pledge.” Boykin gleefully pounced, “Absolutely irresponsible.”
For his part, Gergen argued that McCain was falling into the same “trap” that ensnared the first President Bush after his “no new taxes” pledge in the 1988 campaign: “I'm surprised that he's taken this pledge, because it was a trap for George H.W. Bush when he said, read my lips. And I think this will become a trap for John McCain, should he become president.”
Back in 1988, liberals ridiculed Bush’s pledge as unrealistic and pandering to the right-wing. But to conservatives, Bush’s error was not his “no new taxes” pledge, but his failure to abide by it during budget negotiations two years later.
Here’s the transcript of Foreman’s “Keeping Them Honest” segment, that appeared at about 10:13pm ET during Monday’s Anderson Cooper 360:
ANDERSON COOPER: One pillar of modern conservatism is tax-cutting, or, at the very least, promising to. The first President Bush did, but he had a tough time sticking to it. Now Senator McCain is talking the same talk. We wanted to know, can voters reasonably expect him to walk the walk? “Keeping Them Honest" tonight, CNN's Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN: In the presidential horse race, it is an attractive and risky gamble, and John McCain is placing his bet.
CLIP OF JOHN MCCAIN FROM ABC’S THIS WEEK: No new taxes.
FOREMAN: But, "Keeping Them Honest," can he keep that promise? Some economists say not likely.
ROBERT GREENSTEIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: The problems in the future are so large that it's pretty unthinkable we could close those deficits either by just cutting programs or just raising taxes. We're going to have to do both sooner or later.
FOREMAN: Among costs hammering the budget: the war, a half- trillion dollars so far, by some estimates; that economic stimulus plan, $168 billion; soaring entitlements for baby boomers; interest on the national debt. All that with no new taxes? Democrats say, get real.
PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That would take an act of magic, not an act of Congress. He cannot do it unless he does something very radical, like cut Social Security, cut Medicare. And he's not going to do that.
FOREMAN, OVER BLACK AND WHITE FOOTAGE OF MCCAIN ON THE SENATE FLOOR: Last year, McCain was attacked because he would not sign a pledge against higher taxes. And some conservatives are uncertain about his beliefs, even now, since McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. McCain says he did so because he wanted reductions in spending, too. He still thinks spending cuts should lead the way to a balanced budget, but now he also wants to make the Bush cuts permanent. Republicans like that.
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I not only think that it's possible to keep taxes low, but I think it's desirable. And, even in the face of a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, a president who is devoted to cutting unnecessary spending really does have a lot of tools in his tool kit.
FOREMAN: Still, 20 years ago, George H.W. Bush accepted his party's nomination with these words.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, CLIP FROM 1988 CONVENTION: Read my lips: no new taxes.
FOREMAN: Read the record. He broke that promise. Now he's endorsing McCain, and Republicans hope, this time, they can keep their man honest, and he will keep his word. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.