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In 1988, when he accepted the Republican presidential nomination, George Bush said that the Democratic-controlled Congress ``will push me to raise taxes, and I'll say ... to them, 'Read my lips: No new taxes.' '

Now, by abandoning the promise that became the battle cry of his campaign and the watchword of his presidency, Bush has sown dismay among his supporters and robbed his party of what Republican strategists call their strongest single issue - the one that best differentiates the GOP from the Democrats.Paradoxically, many political strategists in both parties agree that - in the long run - breaking the most explicit promise Bush has made to the American electorate could benefit him politically.

So long as any tax increase that may eventually emerge from budget negotiations is viewed as dealing with the deficit and helping provide a healthier economy, even Democratic strategists see little or no permanent damage to Bush.

Indeed, if opening the door to new taxes does give a boost to the flagging economy, Bush could reap positive rewards from the move.

A prominent Washington lobbyist and former senior official of the Nixon and Ford administrations, who declined to be identified, said, ``This hurts Bush's credibility in the short run, but his target is long-range and re-election in 1992. The deficit and a possible recession are the biggest threats to his re-election.'

And, despite the dramatic nature of his shift, Bush has done no more than open the door to discussions with Congressional Democrats about tax increases. He did so safe in the knowledge that, in an election year, the Democrats will be no more eager than he is to impose higher taxes unless economic conditions appear to demand it.

In any event, with his own congressional leaders telling him that budget negotiations might collapse unless he relented, Bush had little choice but to scrap his read-my-lips pledge.

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