The Case For Obama

December 7, 2010 10:09 a.m.

TPM Reader GH:

Enough! Yes, the Dems haven’t handled the tax-cut debate very well, starting with their decision to accept the frame of “partially extending the Bush tax cuts”, as opposed to declaring that the Bush tax cuts had failed, and Obama would be proposing his own plan. And not holding the vote before the election made them look weak.

But can we please dispense with the canard that all the tax cuts are being extended due to Democratic cowardice and/or disarray? There is one simple reason we are where we are: Because there was zero chance that any Republican senators would vote for any plan that raised anyone’s taxes. Not at a threshold of $250,000. Not at a threshold of $1 million. And if Dems had upped it to $1 billion, they still wouldn’t have gotten any GOP votes. And without those votes, it wasn’t going to get through the Senate.

I suppose the logic is that if push came to shove, the Republican position would be exposed as unpopular, and they would be forced to cave. But this is laughable. Republicans have held that unpopular position for years, and have never seen fit to run from it. They are absolutely convinced that the public views tax cuts as favorably as they do.

Moreover, the past year has offered ample evidence to any GOP officeholders that they have far more to fear from their base in a primary than from voters in a general election. The base dumped a solidly conservative senator for so much as a sideways glance at a health-care reform proposal that went nowhere. Do you really think they would stand for one who not only voted to raise taxes, but provided the crucial swing votes allowing Democrats to do so?

I suspect much of this lefty rage stems from the fact that most of us never really thought Obama wanted to keep any of the tax cuts. We assumed that was just a political hedge, that mainstream Dems couldn’t be considered viable if they adopted Howard Dean’s 2004 position of letting them all expire. Therefore, when the GOP dared Obama to let them all expire, he should have called their bluff and walked away. And I sincerely hope that, if the economy has improved by 2012, that’s exactly what he does. But he clearly decided that, at this moment, he couldn’t risk the hit to the economy of across-the-board tax increases (not to mention losing out on the other stimulative measures he got out of the deal).

Was that the right call? Time will tell. But keep in mind that if the economy doesn’t improve, both Obama and the Dems will go down in flames, and Republicans will pass a permanent extension quicker than you can say “President Palin”.

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