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For Lip Readers, Bush’s Turnabout Flops - Even in Peoria

June 27, 1990

Undated (AP) _ Read my lips? Yo, George, read this. President Bush’s flip-flop on his hallmark campaign pledge of ″no new taxes″ is generating more heat than a summer hot spell in Death Valley.

Taxes and the hot air of broken political promises provided a combustible mix for people in the street, radio talk show callers, headline writers and late night comics.

″I think all politicians have some little white lies in them,″ said Peter Sienkowski, 52, a Dallas Republican.

WABC Talk Radio in New York City played Bush’s oft-repeated campaign pledge with his Tuesday statement that reducing the federal deficit would need ″tax revenue increases.″ The about-face prompted a torrent of calls.

″How many times have we heard that phrase, ’read my lips?‴ wondered Paulette Pettit of WABC. ″There wasn’t passion or anger among callers. It was more a feeling of, ’I can’t believe I fell for that line.‴

Ted O’Brien of WRKO in Boston, home of defeated Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, said the phone lines sizzled Wednesday.

″It was THE topic,″ O’Brien said. ″There is a sense of disappointment among his supporters. Those on the other side had a sense of let him twist slowly in the wind. And there were those who said the Duke would have done it 14 months earlier.″

Headline writers had a field day.

″Read My Lips...I Lied 3/8″ said the New York Post on its front page. Inside was this line: ″Read His Forked Tongue.″

The New York Daily News offered: ″Bush’s Lips Say The ‘T’ Word.″

The Times-Picayune in New Orleans had this: ″Re-Read My Lips, Bush Says: Taxes Must Increase After All.″

″Late Night″ comic David Letterman on Wednesday’s show listed the top 10 other campaign promises Bush has broken. His list included a birthday joyride on the stealth bomber for every U.S. citizen, going 10 rounds with Dukakis at Trump Plaza, adding a mechanical shark to the White House tour and, number one, the nude Elvis postage stamp.

Bush’s new pitch flopped in Peoria, where the president was pilloried.

″I think it stinks,″ said Marsha Barnes of that Illinois community. ″He’s just like all the rest. They promise you something, then they get in office and break their word. I won’t believe him in the future.″

″He’s a liar,″ said Susan Russell, a resident of the Illinois city. ″I never did believe that ‘read my lips’ stuff and now I think all that publicity about his loving family was a lot of baloney.″

Robert Miller, a Peoria Republican who voted for Bush, said the president’s change of heart was predictable if not well-received. ″Don’t they all break their promises once they get in office?″ he said.

Indeed, Bush’s turnabout didn’t come as that much of a surprise.

In a May 30 Gallup Poll, 74 percent of the respondents said Bush would not be able to keep his pledge of no new taxes.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll of May 14 showed 49 percent of the respondents said Bush should drop his promise and consider raising taxes to reduce the federal deficit. Thirty-eight percent said he should keep his word.

And who pays will have a big impact on how any tax increase is received.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last month said 68 percent of the respondents favor high taxes for the rich.

Pollsters say Bush’s credibility hinges on whether the public sees the switch as a change of direction or the cold reality that taxes are needed to cut the deficit.

″How people read the economy is the important context on how this decision will be read,″ said Andy Kohut of Princeton Survey Research. ″Our surveys show a willingness to pay more in targeted areas, such as health care, the war on drugs, the environment.″

Some of Bush’s supporters grudgingly said he had no choice.

″He wouldn’t have done it unless his back was up against the wall. When he said no new taxes, I think he was sincere at the time,″ said Laurie Ashcraft, 45, a Chicago marketing research manager.

″I think the guy’s got some savvy for being able to recognize the situation and having guts to go against what he said earlier,″ said Jon Simon, 29, of Boston. ″I applaud him for it. He finally took a stand and wasn’t afraid to contradict himself.″

But no reasonings appeased Chago Saldana, 67, the owner of a tire shop in Rio Hondo, Texas, a community of 2,000 residents near the Mexican border. Said Saldana, ″It’s a bunch of bull.″

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