It was 93 degrees and the sun made the tops of my toes hurt as my shoes baked on the walk in from the van. On the stage, a row of Pearl Harbor vets wore the Hawaiian shirts that have become the uniform for that day's survivors. Behind them a line of re-enactors dressed in deep blue and too-heavy wool jackets and Rough Rider hats represented the Buffalo Soldiers, the African American corps that served at the turn of the 20th century.
He's in the house
The president arrived and the room erupted. The hand-held video cameras went up like periscopes. A man standing next to me whooped his arms up, hitting the polished wooden propeller of a 1917 Sopwith Triplane. President Bush had come to this room full of antique war planes to celebrate America's fallen heros on Memorial Day. It was the 29th state he has visited since becoming president and he was on the ground for less than an hour. He gave a 10-minute speech with two moments of silence (one for Rep. Joe Moakley (D-MA) who had just passed, another for Americas war dead).
"Today, we honor those who fell from the line who left us never knowing how much they would be missed," said Bush. "We pray for them with an affection that grows deeper with the years. And we remember them all of them with the love of a grateful nation." Though the message of the day was America's war dead, the signs on the road and the shouts from the crowd celebrated the tax cut that passed through Congress over the weekend. You see, yesterday was the second day living in Geroge Bush's economy. If the White House is to be believed, the economy is already feeling the benefits of the president's tax cut. Filers are already planning what to do with their rebate and future savings and businesses are eagerly planning for a world customers and their increased disposable income. When refund paychecks start arriving in the mail this summer, the White House hopes, Americans will get another chance to thank their president all over again.
That's the optimist's view. There's a darker outlook too though, and it's not just Democrats who are bringing on the gloom. By arguing that his tax cut will steer the economy away from its slowdown, Bush has put himself on the line. If the tax cuts don't turn things around, he's put himself in a position to be blamed. That's what leaders do, the White House would say. True, but conservatives worry that the tax cut that passed was so tiny that it won't actually spur the economy in a way that can fulfill all the promises Bush has made.
Is he overplaying his hand?>
There's some chance that voters are in a mood to assign blame. Some polls indicate that Americans are gloomier than ever about whether the country is on the right track. Fortunately for the Bush administration not many of them blame the new guy. But, now that he's offered himself as the economy's savior, say some Republicans, he has potentially opened himself up for a big hit if six months from now people still feel the country isn't going in the right direction. If and when that time comes, there's not a lot a president can do to affect the economy other than pass another tax cut. Voters won't want to hear that the guy who claimed to be their savior doesn't have any more tricks in his bag.
Oh, and there's a gloomy way to view those summer refund checks too. Have you ever been promised a raise or a bonus and spent it five times over before it appeared in your bank account? Americans are already spending more than they make and saving almost nothing. Will the promise of a refund and a smaller tax bite in the future only goose spending so that by the time taxpayers tear open those refund envelopes they may find the amount on the check is only a small help in paying down their debts?
A good omen?
On the way out of Mesa the motorcade passed thousands of waving Arizonans. Some stood in the shade of struggling trees. Others held up signs about integrity and taxes and America to block the sun. One ample man hoisted a table umbrella. They waved at all of the 30 or so cars in the motorcade squinting to see which one held The Man. A retiree stood in blue socks and sensible shoes hunched over to take a picture. We passed miles of planned communities with directly perpendicular streets spoking off into long stretches of brown. Suddenly, corn. On both sides of the highway, were fields of the much-too-green-for- here stalks nearly high as an elephant's eye. Did the president see them as well and take it perhaps as a harbinger of recovery? No one can say and the folks did not seem to care.