Another George Bush Takes the Taxes Plunge

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If he really wanted to be just like Dad, maybe George W. Bush should have jumped out of a plane. The presumptive-but-undeclared front-runner for the 2000 presidency instead took a familiar political plunge this week: No new taxes. Not that George W., the coyest of all the nomination-hunters, bothered to step up to the stump to have his lips read in vintage Bush fashion. This Bush, watched like a hawk, doesnít need to. All it took was a letter on Tuesday to Grover G. Norquist, director of Americans for Tax Reform, who has been eliciting such pledges from GOPers in time for the New Hampshire primary since 1986, pledging to "oppose and veto any increase in individual or corporate marginal income taxes." And everybody had already done it but Bush.

"Taxes remain the only thing that Republicans can still rally around," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "Itís their one unifying issue. And therefore woe betide the Republican candidate that doesnít take some stand against them." In 1988, Bob Dole refused to sign the pledge, and Bush Sr. beat him up for it. And of course when Bush reneged on his pledge, Clinton beat him up for it, and then raised taxes himself. The point being that itís a stupid pledge Ė- no candidate should have to foresee fiscal or economic crises in his would-be four (or eight) years -Ė but an irresistible one. At least Bush seems to have learned one thing from his fatherís infamy: If it ever comes to reneging time, "Read my lips" is a lot more memorable than "Read my letter."