Say what you will, Yair Lapid is the best copywriter in Israel. From “my brother slaves” to “Mrs. Cohen from Hadera,” he has a special talent for taking complex issues, understanding them and then simplifying them in two-three words so that everyone understands and remembers.
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He used this talent well in a campaign address he made to a young audience in a pub in 2012. Lapid spoke about Netanyahu and Steinitz’s lack of responsibility in doubling the deficit to 4 percent and said “they must act responsibly and fulfill the deficit goals, even in an election year.” To make things clear he gave the best explanation I ever heard. “A deficit is a loan my generation takes from your generation, without having the faintest clue as to how to give it back,” he said.
In other words, you’re being played. You’re being cheated. You’re being deceived. And you, the young people, will stay here to pay the price of our, the adults’, irresponsibility.
Further down the road, after his extraordinary achievement in the election, Lapid was appointed finance minister and Mickey Levy became his deputy. In May 2013 MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) submitted a proposal to exempt from VAT people who are buying their first apartment. Levy, briefed by Lapid, explained on the Knesset podium why this is an especially bad proposal.
“It is improper to encourage youngsters to buy new apartments, they’d do better to buy old ones, where there’s no VAT anyway. The VAT exemption won’t benefit the consumer but the contractor. The law would cost 1.4 billion shekels [$383.5 million] a year, and that’s extremely problematic.” These are but some of the harsh things Levy – as briefed by Lapid – said in slamming the bill. Naturally the proposal was struck down and the issue was forgotten.
In those far off days Lapid did things right. He cut the budget by 14 billion shekels and raised taxes by 17 billion to get the economy out of the crisis Steinitz had left him. He also slashed allowances to the ultra-Orthodox and encouraged them to go to work. But when his disappointed voters attacked him, claiming “you promised us a rose garden and we got thorns and thistles,” he panicked, forgot what he’d said about the deficit and VAT and tried to curry favor with them, assuming this would make them love him back.
This is why he declared that he was sorry for the cuts he made in the budget and for the tax raises. This is why he started giving out hundreds of millions for various purposes, accompanying each allocation with press releases. This is why he refuses to raise taxes now, but is pushing the zero-VAT plan without fearing a large, dangerous deficit – the exact opposite of what he said in that pub.
It’s too bad. Lapid has potential. But he mistakenly thinks that being Santa Claus is the way to the prime minister’s office. He doesn’t understand that the public is much cleverer than he assumes. The public believes that zero VAT is a bad plan and that a big deficit leads to a big crisis. After all, we’ve been there, done that only two years ago.
The public understands that a big deficit means imposing taxes, an economic slowdown and unemployment in the most brutal and unjust way – with the middle and lower classes bearing the brunt. The public even understands that a “good” finance minister is a harsh finance minister. It understands that a finance minister must be an iron-fisted treasurer who guards the state coffers, as well as a great reformer. Otherwise he is simply a failure.
The public understands – and that’s the main thing – that a real leader makes the difficult, unpopular moves, rather than the easy ones. He is not dragged after the herd, but shows it the way. Only one who stands against the populist wave can get the public to see him as a leader worthy to stand at the helm. How did Lapid B forget so quickly what Lapid A told the youngsters in the pub?