Monday, December 06, 2010


David Leonhardt of The New York Times tries to explain where we are on the Bush tax cuts -- and gets it wrong:

There are really two separate questions here. The first is whether a showdown over ending the tax cuts, which would cause everyone's taxes to rise, would politically hurt the Democrats or the Republicans, independent of the economic effect. That is, if the two parties fought to a stalemate and everybody's taxes went up on Jan. 1, would voters blame Democrats for dawdling on the issue over the last two years and then finally getting tough only after the Republicans had won a big election victory? Or would voters blame Republicans for refusing to pass a tax cut unless it included an extension of the cuts for the affluent?

Leonhardt askes, "would voters blame Democrats for dawdling on the issue over the last two years and then finally getting tough only after the Republicans had won a big election victory?" I'll answer that: no.

Here's why. Most voters simply don't know that that's what's happened. They're not following this the way we are. They haven't thought about the Bush tax cuts in years, if they were ever more than dimly aware of them. But they'll sure as hell know if they're taxes go up, because the Republican noise machine will never stop talking about it. (And I mean never, the way Republicans have never stopped talking about how evil the health care bill is.)

Which is I respectfully disagree with Aimai's tax cut brinkmanship idea. Democrats can't mess around with this, because all most voters know is that a Democratic president is in charge and taxes could go up -- and Republicans will make certain that they know which party allowed the tax cuts to lapse, or tried to (and, in 2011, which rode to the rescue and restored the cuts, if it comes to that). Republicans can do that because they have a better message operation and because much of the public, even the low-information segment of it, knows the GOP stereotype of Democrats: they're people who engage in taxation and government spending as a compulsion, the way alcoholics drink. That's a far more ingrained idea than "Republicans love millionaires" (and, after the last two years in particular, it's hard to persuade these voters that Democrats love millionaires any less).

The message of Aimai's plan is "Democrats want to keep tax cuts for the middle class, but Republicans insist on holding that approach, and a lot of other important public business, hostage to a huge tax cut extension for rich people, so we Democrats held their hostage-taking hostage, and then ..." See? Already you're getting to a very complex message -- what Al Franken calls "See next bumper sticker." Republicans' message is two words: lower taxes.

That's why this battle had to be fought before the midterms -- possibly well before the midterms (I think possibly in 2009, before the massive dissipation of Democrats' political capital by the health care fight) -- or not at all.

Contrarily, I don't think this likely loss is the end of the Obama presidency, as so many lefties are arguing right now. Those who arguing that this was a central pledge of the Obama presidential campaign are assuming most voters even remember the campaign pledges in that kind of detail. Trust me -- the average voter doesn't remember them that way. That was a pledge that, again, those of us who pay a lot of attention noticed, and those who don't let escape from their memories. If Obama allows their taxes to rise, most voters will notice; if he doesn't allow the taxes of the rich to rise, most voters will just shrug.

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