Why The GOP Is Like Bear Bryant

December 1, 2010 4:45 a.m.

David Leonhardt offers this assessment of the political perils supposedly facing Democrats on the Bush tax cuts:

If [Democrats] cannot come up with a plan that can win 60 votes in the Senate, which means at least two Republican votes, Republicans can filibuster any bill. All of the tax cuts would then expire on Dec. 31. When the new Republican House majority arrives in January, it will be able to make its first order of business a retroactive tax cut — forcing President Obama and Senate Democrats to choose between a purely Republican plan and an across-the-board tax increase. …

Much of the recent commentary about the tax cuts has skipped over this political reality. It’s instead focused on how tough the Democrats should be and whether they should insist on the expiration of all the Bush tax cuts on income above $250,000 a year. But that’s no longer one of their options. Unless they believe they will benefit more than Republicans from a standoff in which taxes go up, which is hard to believe with a Democrat in the White House, their only choice now is among various versions of retreat.

This has an internal logic to it, but it rests on a series of premises that I would argue still go back to the core issue of the Democrats not being tough enough — and I don’t mean tough in simply a hardheaded, muscular way but in a savvy, persistent, opportunistic sense.

Let me put it this way: If the roles we’re reversed and Democrats were on the opposite side of the issue, wouldn’t the analysis be that Democrats were running a huge political risk by blocking middle class tax cuts and getting blamed for raising everyone’s taxes? Admit it. You know that would be the analysis.

It reminds me of the line attributed to the old football coach Bum Phillips, speaking about the legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant: “He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.” Translated: He could beat you with his players then turn around and beat you with your players.

Leonhardt’s analysis is not really about the macropolitical choices for Democrats. It’s about his perception, probably the right one, that Democrats won’t be able to beat the Republicans at this game. It’s not the game isn’t winnable. It’s that the Democrats aren’t good enough to win it. All the proof you need of that is that the game would look very winnable if you swapped the teams.

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