Some friendly advice for Rick Lazio

By Jack Kemp

Copley News Service

To: The Honorable Rick Lazio, congressman from the Second District of New York

Re: Some unsolicited advice from an old friend and even older New Yorker

Dear Rick:

As someone who spent eight years in Buffalo with the Bills and another 18 years representing the Buffalo area in Congress, I think I know something about New York, and I offer you the following friendly advice and counsel.

No. 1: Please don't feel the need to remind us that you're from New York and Hillary Clinton is from Arkansas. Everyone already knows Mrs. Clinton is from Arkansas, and in fact, a large share of New York has its roots in other states and even other countries. The purpose of a campaign is to provide the electorate with new information, and you have so much to impart that it is a waste of time to worry over trivia.

No. 2: You're running for the United States Senate. I know, you have many people telling you that you're running against Mrs. Clinton, but as much fun as that is, never forget that you're running for a larger purpose, not just against another person. You need to help restore the Empire State to its status as first in the nation in educational opportunity, jobs and quality of life, not first in terms of taxes, regulations and government meddling. Remember, the day people move across the border into Pennsylvania, Connecticut or New Jersey, their after-tax income goes up. And one very important thing I learned in the factories of western New York is that no one works for pretax income, they only work for after-tax income. You should run with the pledge to increase after-tax income - working and investing in New York and America.

No. 3: Don't throw labels at your opponent like, "She's a left-wing extremist." First of all, everyone knows Mrs. Clinton is a left-wing extremist, but labeling is ad hominem, and contrary to the advice of too many political consultants, name-calling doesn't work in a campaign and is beneath you.

No. 4: The purpose of a great campaign is not to defeat an opponent but rather to provide great leadership and great ideas. Great political leaders demonstrate leadership not by testing the polls in a compulsion to win but by taking a risk of losing by offering ideas in the political marketplace and allowing people to choose the ideas they think are best for the country and themselves.

No. 5: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Mrs. Clinton will attempt to demonstrate how much she cares by offering more government spending programs and tax credits designed to engineer people's behavior from Washington, D.C. Please don't counter with tax credits and social engineering from the right. Instead, offer New Yorkers bold new ideas based on individual freedom and personal choice, such as allowing workers to own assets and create wealth by placing a significant portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts and cutting tax rates to increase the incentives to work, save and invest. And please sit down with Teddy Forstmann and discuss school choice. It's a winning and worthy issue to bring educational reform.

No. 6: Which brings me to the tax code. Right after you entered the race, Tim Russert asked you on "Meet the Press" if as a senator you would vote for Gov. George W. Bush's proposed across-the-board tax rate cuts. You withheld your endorsement of the Bush tax rate reduction and said, "It's going to depend on the revenues coming in." Rick, aaaaaargh!

Let me remind you what John F. Kennedy said about tax-rate reductions: "Our true choice is not between tax reduction, on the one hand, and the avoidance of large federal deficits on the other. An economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance our budget." He went on to say that paradoxically tax rates that are too high cause tax revenue to be low and that the best way to get more revenue is to cut the top rates. Rick, cut the tax rates across the board. They'll love you in Buffalo as well as New York City.

Finally, Rick, don't be intimidated by Alan Greenspan. Begin by questioning the wisdom of slowing down the economy to fight a phantom inflation. Demand some justification for throwing people out of work in the name of some abstract economic theory for which there is no empirical substantiation. And remember, all of this advice comes free of charge from a guy who lost his last election to Al Gore, aaaaargh!

Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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