"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.' "
Vice President George H.W. Bush
Aug. 18, 1988
George Stephanopoulos: [Y]our critics say it is a tax increase.
Barack Obama: My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I'm taking over every sector of the economy. You know that. Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we're going to have an individual mandate or not, but ...
George Stephanopoulos: But you reject that it's a tax increase?
Barack Obama: I absolutely reject that notion.
Sept. 20, 2009
I remember the night George H.W. Bush made his famous "Read my lips" pledge to a convention hall filled with approving Republicans.
I had just moved to north Texas, where I had begun a new job at the local newspaper, and I had enrolled — that very day, as I recall — in graduate school. Settling in to my new apartment (i.e., unpacking boxes) had to be done incrementally.
It is safe to say I had several irons in the fire.
Anyway, I was unpacking some boxes that night, but I had the TV on so I could listen to Bush's acceptance speech. And, at first, I was inclined to dismiss that line as merely another political applause line — like when his boss, Ronald Reagan, appropriated Clint Eastwood's "Make my day" movie line for his own political purposes.
Reagan had a history of wrapping himself in socially popular phrases, sometimes to his detriment. Maybe it was the actor in him. When running for re–election as president, Reagan spoke of the "message of hope," a paean to patriotism, embodied in Bruce Springsteen's hit song, "Born in the U.S.A." when, in fact, the song was filled with images of gloom and despair.
But that was Reagan, the teflon president. He was always doing stuff like that, and people always let him get away with it, too. There he goes again.
I never really understood it. But I wasn't a Reagan fan, anyway.
I guess some politicians are like Reagan. They can get away with some of the most outrageous comments — and everyone seems to agree that they are outrageous.
But others can't get away with it.
Bush, for example. Lots of people probably responded dismissively to "Read my lips" as I did.
But there were plenty of folks who made notes of it and remembered it when Bush went back on his pledge in the 1990 budget compromise agreement.
In the storm of criticism that came Bush's way in 1992, I don't recall anyone pointing out that, in 1988, Bush faced considerable opposition from conservatives who had always doubted his commitment to cutting taxes, and many of his advisers thought a strong stand like his "read my lips" statement in his acceptance speech was needed to secure their active support in the fall.
To be fair, there were no new taxes in the budget, but, in his 1988 acceptance speech, Bush also drew the line against increases in existing taxes. That was a technicality as far as many were concerned. Agreeing to a budget compromise that raised existing taxes could only be seen as a broken promise.
And Bush 41 paid the price at the ballot box in 1992, first in a tougher–than–expected battle with Pat Buchanan for the nomination, then in his ill–fated campaign in the fall against Bill Clinton.
I thought a lot about Bush's famous remark yesterday after I heard that the Supreme Court had upheld the Obamacare legislation under congressional taxation authority.
The two situations are not mirror images of each other, but I suppose we won't really know that until after the voters have rendered their verdict in November.
Obama didn't break his promise not to raise taxes on anyone who made $200,000 a year or less; the Supreme Court decision did it for him.
As people absorb the court's decision and come to understand that the fee they will have to pay for noncompliance will amount to a massive tax increase on the very people Obama said had nothing to fear when he was running in 2008, their attitudes are likely to shift.
And, after watching him for four years, I have no doubt that Obama will spin it as something that was forced on him by the Supreme Court if it looks like there is going to be a huge backlash over it this fall.
Bush tried to spin his way out of trouble, too.
We'll see if it works any better for Obama.