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NOVEMBER 29, 1991 VOLUME 83, No. 23 FEATURES Dangerous Games By Richard Steinberg Presumed Guilty By James Cullen 9 DEPARTMENTS Media Observer 12 Political Intelligence 24 Books and the Culture The Antipoet of Santiago By Dave Oliphaht 16 Toxic Urbicides By Steven Kellman 18 Afterword Legal Heroes By Jim Simons 21 Cover photo by Alan Pogue. Tilt TEXAS bse ever WHEN THEN-U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh announced his candidacy for the Pennsylvania Senate seat held by the late John Heinz, the experts agreed that Democrat Harris Wofford, appointed to the position six months earlier, had only a snowball’s chance in hell of hanging on to the office. And the experts were right. On Nov 6, astronomers announced that they’d discovered ice caps on fiery planet Mercury and Wofford was quaffing a toast to a resounding victory. Wofford’s victory is important to Texas and the nation. First, Pennsylvania is, like Texas, a large swing state that has elected both Democrats and Republicans to high office. \(Wofford, a 1960s civil-rights activist and adviser to John Kennedy, was the first Democrat to be elected and gubernatorial elections, the state has switched back and forth between the major parties over the last two decades. Its voters gave President Bush a majority in 1988. Even more significant is the message that Wofford rode to victory: Republican fiscal and monetary policies are hurting most of the American people. That message was expressed in a two-part theme: protect middle-class economic interests and throw, out the rascals who have jeopardized them. The former was represented by Wofford’s proposals for tax credits for the middle class and for national health insurance, which has become a middleclass issue as health-care premiums have skyrocketed over the past few years. The latter was expressed in Wofford’s virulent broadsides against the Washington establishment, Congress included an approach welcomed by populists who had seen pak Democratic presidential nominees Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale abjure such promising issues. Pandering to the Middle Class Wofford isn’t the only Democrat to urge middle-class tax relief. Most of the party’s presidential contenders \(with the conspicuous exception of former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. \(See “Democratic The common element in calls for national health insurance and for tax cuts is the fact that the middle class \(read: the swing votes in share of the price for the Excessive Eighties. The rich can afford high insurance premiums; the poor have Medicaid. It’s the great middle that’s squeezed by the worsening health crisis. This stems from a tremendous mistake made when Medicaid was adopted a quarter-century ago. Instead of adopting a universal health care plan, as every other civilized democracy has, U.S. leaders targeted the poor. But as the late Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme pointed out years ago, taxpayers are reluctant to pay for benefits to the non-taxpaying poor; that’s why most European welfare and health programs are universal, to ensure broad political support. Now that middle-class income has stopped growing, and middle-class families are threatened by spiraling health costs, we’re seeing the consequences of that error. As pundits from Jim Hightower to the late GOP National Chairman Lee Atwater to renegade Republican strategist Kevin Phillips have noted, the Democrats’ best chance to recapture national office is to keep the focus on these pocketbook issues, because that’s where the Republican Party is most beholden to its special-interest, big-money masters. A series of recent studies has shown real per-capita income for most Americans dropping steadily over the past decade, while the rich get richer, the poor and middle class grow poorer. Since most Americans consider themselves to be middle class, and since \(as former University incumbent Presidents’ re-election prospects usually vary directly with the state of the economy, it behooves White House-hungry Democrats to make hay out of such issues. Two of the party’s contenders for the office, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, understand this, and have framed their campaigns accordingly, Clinton by using the term “middle class”‘ in roughly every third sentence in his stump speech, Harkin \(in chardeploring GOP class warfare. Paying the Piper The turn to populist themes can only be welcome for a Democratic Party that has become almost as much a captive of big-money special interests as its supposed adversary. But the trendy “Let’s-help-the-downtroddenmiddle-class” approach of Wofford, Clinton and Bentsen isn’t necessarily a panacea. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Bentsen tax cuts whatever their political appeal won’t do much for the economy, or even for the middle class. For example, Individual Retirement Accounts, which Bentsen’s proposal would expand, are used overwhelmingly by the rich, who would receive the bulk of the benefits. Bentsen would pay for his tax cuts by cutting the defense budget which means that, instead of being invested in schools, health care, or redressing urban blight, what’s left of the peace dividend would go to the midle class. And the rich would keep their gains of the last decade. New revenues are going to be needed to fund relief for the middle class. But, as demonstrated in New Jersey, voters who elect politicians who promise help for the working class will drive them from office if they raise the revenues to pay for them from the same source. The landslide legislative victories scored by the GOP in this supposedly Democratic state were generally viewed as reprisal for tax hikes to pay for progressive education reform, pushed through last year by Democratic Gov. Jim Florio. The electorate’s bipolarity was demonstrated in a non-binding vote on the same ballot endorsing the concept of national health insurance. EDITORIALS Middle Class Crazy THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3