POLITICS JULY 1, 1985
DOWN THE MEMORY HOLE: Columnist James J. Kilpatrick recently denounced critics of William Bradford Reynolds, President Reagan’s nominee to be associate attorney general. These critics, he said, “do not truly believe in equal rights or in an end to discrimination. Theirs is the Orwellian doctrine that some are more equal than others. In their curious vision, it is wrong to discriminate against blacks, but it is not wrong to discriminate against whites.” What’s truly Orwellian is for James J. Kilpatrick to pose as a defender of equal rights. As editor of the Richmond News Leader, in the late 1950s, Kilpatrick made his name defending Jim Crow laws. Indeed, in a TV debate with Martin Luther King Jr. on November 26, 1960, he suggested that the notion of equal rights for blacks and whites subverted civilization itself: “We believe it is an affirmatively good thing to preserve the predominantly racial characteristics that have contributed to Western civilization over the past 2,000 years,” he said, “and we do not believe that the way to preserve them lies in fostering an intimate race mixing by which these principles and characteristics inevitably must be destroyed. Toward that end we believe in public policies that promote separation of the races in those few essential social areas where intimate personal association, long continued, would foster a breakdown, especially among young people, of those ethnic lines that seem to us important.”
THE WAY THE WORLD WORKS: Representative Jack Kemp caught a lot of heat in mid-May when he restored to his tax-reform bill two generous tax subsidies for oil and gas interests. Kemp, who had previously denounced tax preferences for big business, told The Wall Street Journal on June 5, “I talked and listened and debated and was persuaded. I didn’t cave.” Here’s how Jude Wanniski, a former Wall Street Journal editorial writer and a key Kemp adviser, describes what happened: In the spring of 1984, the oil and gas lobby led by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) was “shocked” that the tax-reform plan cosponsored by Kemp and Wisconsin senator Robert Kasten failed to include the tax breaks they had enjoyed for years. Wanniski, by the way, has been a consultant on retainer for the IPAA since 1978; he declines to say how much he earns from the lobby. “My first involvement was to get the IPAA people together with John Mueller [Kemp’s top aide on tax issues],” Wanniski explains. There were two or three meetings between Mueller and petroleum lobbyists in the summer of 1984 but Mueller remained unpersuaded. In November the Treasury Department released its original tax simplification plan—which also eliminated the oil and gas loopholes. “That’s when the IPAA people really started sweating.” Wanniski says that the oil and gas lobbyists grew even more scared after a high Treasury Department official “practically threw them out of his office” when they came to ask that the loopholes be restored. Sot the IPAA went back to Kemp. “I talked to some IPAA people and said they should send an oilman to talk to Kemp’s staff, somebody with grease under his fingernails.” A wildcatter was imported from Michigan, several more meetings ensued, and finally Mueller agreed that tax breaks for the oil and gas industry were economically essential. Kemp, in turn, changed his bill and attracted a lot of attention. Meanwhile, in revising its proposal the Treasury Department restored one of the tax breaks by granting partial tax credit for so-called intangible drilling costs. At this point Wanniski says that Vice President Bush feared Kemp would get all the credit for the restored tax break. So Bush, Wanniski claims, intervened at the last minute to restore full tax credit for intangible drilling costs in Reagan’s tax proposal. Result: Bush and Kemp curried favor with a powerful special interest group that will be influential in the 1988 Republican presidential politics, and the oil lobby protected its government handout.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Our colleague Fred Barnes noted in last week’s Washington Diarist that in Washington “brilliant” is no compliment: it’s a synonym for grating and controversial. The opposite of “brilliant” in Washington-speak is “thoughtful. Former representative Barber Conable was awarded this encomium in a sycophantic profile June 6 by Dennis Farney of The Wall Street Journal. Conable “isn’t an ideologue, hasn’t any special interest axes to grind, and has made a lifetime habit of looking farther down the road than the typical politician.” Thoughtful, in other words, means devoid of all ideas and convictions, except for the chin-pulling axiom that there are no easy answers. “Nuances. They remain important to Barber Conable, even if they seem out of favor in a Washington currently preoccupied with simplifying many things. “Guess what? Conable is totally opposed to tax reform: “Most of the complexities were put there for equitable reasons,” he thoughtfully opines.
A FINAL POSSIBILITY: James Rosenthal argues on page 15 that in all likelihood there are no American prisoners of war still being held in Vietnam. Rosenthal’s mustering of the available evidence is compelling. Still, there is one possibility that the available evidence doesn’t address: the Hanoi regime may simply have lied, and to no purpose—just to be cruel. That is exactly what happened during the recent negotiations for an exchange of prisoners between Israel and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General command. For months Ahmed Jibril denied that his guerrilla army was holding Hezi Shai, an Israeli soldier captured in Lebanon on June 11, 1982. Finally, just before the actual exchange, the Palestinian terrorist organization admitted that in fact id did have Shai in captivity. There is no reason to think that the Vietnamese government is any less callous about such things than the Popular Front.
HOW DID THIS MAN GET HIS JOB? The American Enterprise Institute is holding a reception in Washington this week for the special adviser to Habib Bourguiba, the president of Tunisia. This adviser has served as chairman of Tunisia’s development bank, has held three ambassadorships, and is a member of his party’s politburo. His name? Habib Bourguiba Jr.
MEDLEY’S PERSPECTIVE: In a recent luncheon at TNR’s offices we heard from J. William Medley, author of the syndicated column “Conventional Wisdom,” whose thoughtful collection “The Bipartisan Imperative” will be published this fall. “The abstract goals of tax reform must be balanced against the concrete needs of our free enterprise system. While our tax system does have perceived inequities, we must remember that it has also been an essential cog in the mighty machine of American economic growth for several decades. Ideologues may prefer sweeping solutions, but tinkering is the American way. Tinkering can transform a divisive and political controversy like tax reform into a worthwhile and practical solution that meets the needs of all Americans—a group that, after all, includes our so-called special interests. Washington observers now recognize that the president’s tax-reform plan, while worthy and important, needs congressional fine-tuning.
This article originally ran in the July 1, 1985 issue of the magazine.