HALEY Barbour, of Yazoo City, Miss., was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee on Jan. 29. His task is to bring Republicans back from last year's loss of the presidency, building on modest gains in congressional and state elections.
Barbour, while visiting Oklahoma City last month to address the Republican faithful at the state GOP Convention, stopped long enough for an interview with The Oklahoman.
He is not shy with assessments of the campaign. Former President George Bush ultimately "should have learned that compromising with that Congress is like paying the cannibals to eat you last. In the end, you've got no benefit. The tax increase is the classic example.
President Bush ultimately agreed to a tax increase because he thought that was what he had to do to constrain spending. He gets the tax increase, loses his credibility on one of the threshold issues of his election, and then doesn't get the spending restraint in the end! ...
If you have to keep feeding the tiger, sooner or later you have to feed him your children. " Still, if the campaign had been run better, could Bush have won?
"Sure. There's no single thing that was the proximate cause of Bush's losing. If the economy had been better? I have friends that used to say, 'There's nothing wrong with Bush's re-election that 4 percent growth wouldn't cure. ' Interestingly, we had 4 percent growth by Election Day, but people didn't know it.
"So, with a puny economy, with having broken the tax pledge, with dissatisfaction among a lot of his supporters about increased regulation, increased spending, increased taxes, with a lackluster campaign, with the perception among people that they didn't know where Bush wanted to go, they didn't know where he wanted to take the country - all of those things were present. Had they not all been present, he might have won. If only one or two of them had been present, I think he clearly would have won.
"He might still have won if people had understood in November what they understand today, that Bill Clinton, that 'new kind of Democrat', is a Democrat who wants to raise taxes hundreds of billions of dollars, raise spending $160 billion, and call that a 'deficit reduction plan. ' " Another factor "was the press coverage. ... People didn't know the economy was growing as fast as it was. ... It was interesting that 80-something percent of the economic news as presented by the media in October was bad, and 86 percent of the economic news as presented by the press in December was good. I don't think that's a coincidence. " Barbour is hopeful about the 1994 congressional elections and the 1996 presidential contest: "If we can regain our position in this country as the party of principle and the party of ideas, that will be our strength. ... (I)f Clinton's government growth package is any indication, we're going to have plenty of opportunities to show the American people the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. People understand ... that we don't have a $300 billion deficit because we tax too little. It's because we spend too much. ...
"Principle and ideas. ... (W)e have an obligation to oppose the spending increases and the tax increases, because they're bad for the country. But, it is a huge opportunity for us, politically. " He believes time will make the Reagan-Bush era, particularly the Reagan years, glow in memory: "(T)he 1980s were good. The Reagan policies of economic growth through low taxes, and peace through strength, worked. Those Reagan policies brought about the collapse of communism, the demise of the Soviet Union, the end of Russian hegemony in eastern Europe, and democratization of that part of the world, and victory by the West in the Cold War. Those are the direct results of Reagan's policy, that Bush supported, of peace through strength.
"Economic growth through low taxes worked just as well. We created 18 million new jobs in eight years. The longest peacetime economic expansion in history. And, not low-paying jobs. The average job created during the Reagan years of the 1980s paid $23,400. Per capita income during the 1980s went up 15.7 percent. I saw Albert Gore on TV the other day saying that per capita income didn't go up during the 1980s. It didn't go up during the 1970s, it went up 15.7 percent in the 1980s!
"Many people were pulled up from poverty, from working class to middle class, and from middle class to higher incomes during this period of time. What happened was good, and we cannot allow people to be misled into thinking that private sector, free enterprise, market economics didn't work.
"It did work. The problem is that we got away from it. After the longest peacetime economic expansion in history, we haven't been able to repeal the economic cycle. What really hurt us is that we got away from that. We raised taxes and we raised government spending in the early 1990s. That hurt us. It ended the success. ...
"Of course, many on the left, and many in the media, did not want Reagan to succeed. They believe in government. They are thrilled to cooperate in saying that things were bad, but the people are not stupid. That's one thing that the left has never understood, that the American people are smart. ... It may take them awhile to get all of the facts. ...
"The Republican vision for the future is that the more we allow the private economy to grow and to ... not be stifled by government, the more jobs we'll create, the more competitive we'll be in the world, the better future we'll have for the American people.
"Bill Clinton said it right: 'Private enterprise is the engine of economic growth. ' But then, he ... proposed more than $300 billion in new taxes ..., and ... $190 billion in new government spending. He had the right quote, he had the right rhetoric, he just had the wrong program.
"We will continue to promote economic growth through low taxes, small government not big government, less government spending, less government regulation, individual freedom and individual responsibility. ... And, I should say, the United States has not had its last international crisis. We have to remain strong. We have to make the effort to remain strong. These are the great principles that unite Republicans. " Barbour clearly has a zest for political combat. He's determined to unite Republicans on issues where they agree. He gives Clinton his due: "(D)o not underestimate the guy. The Clinton fog machine is very, very potent and effective. They are very smart. It's the perpetual campaign. But, ... I have faith that the American people are smarter than politicians give them credit for. "
Patrick B. McGuigan is chief editorial writer for The Oklahoman. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 534455