Posts Tagged ‘Bush Tax Cuts’

House Democrats Cave, Pass Deal to Extend Bush Tax Cuts

Friday, December 17th, 2010

The Bush Tax Cuts passed the House by a margin of 277 to 148. I guess the public outcry over the biggest tax increase in history finally got through their reality bubble.

Also good news is the fact that Harry Reid pulled the pork-and-earmark laden omnibus budget bill off the floor, due, in large measure, to Tea Party pressure.

These are just two small steps toward restoring fiscal discipline and reigning in a gargantuan government, and Tea Partiers and other taxpayers are going to have to keep up the pressure to keep Washington from resorting to its old ways (and expect a lot of backsliding and heartbreak along the way). But both these victories prove one thing: elections matter. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The Magic of Self-Delusion (or Why Nancy Pelosi Would Rather Die Than Let You Keep Your Own Money)

Monday, December 13th, 2010

The deal Obama struck to extended all the Bush tax cuts is good for America, and also good for the Republican Party. When it was struck, however, the liberal howls of outrage made me think of one other outcome which, while not as good for the nation, would be even better for Republicans: If Nancy Pelosi blocked the deal, the Bush tax cuts (and long-term unemployment) temporarily lapse until the new Republican House takes over in January, at which point they pass a tax cut extension at least as strong as the Obama deal, and probably stronger. So in order to make the point how opposed Democrats are to letting rich people (or “rich” people) keep their own money, they’re willing to let the long-term unemployed stop getting checks for a month (and probably longer), delay economic recovery at least that long, let Republicans pick up an even bigger victory and take all the credit for the deal, make Obama look weaker and make the Democratic Party in general, and Pelosi’s House Democrats in particular, look even more petulant, shrill, and extreme.

That appears to be exactly what’s going to happen. It’s like some perfect storm of liberal fail.

The reasons why House Democrats are undertaking such counterproductive and self-destructive behavior probably requires the insights of a psychiatrist more than a political scientist. In the 2010 elections, voters rejected the liberal agenda about as thoroughly as any domestic political agenda has been rejected in our lifetimes. After two years of trying to push the most liberal agenda since LBJ’s “Great Society” expansion of the welfare state in the 1960s, Democrats suffered massive losses, most dramatically in the House, for a switch of 63 seats. For a graphic depiction of how thoroughly liberalism has been rejected, take a look at this Real Clear Politics map of incoming House seats:

Not only are liberals unwilling to consider why their agenda was rejected by voters, they’re unwilling to even consider that their agenda was rejected. Rather than face up to that unpleasant fact, the nutroots have embraced a far more psychologically satisfying (if political suicidal) explanation for their tidal wave of defeats: Democrats lost the 2010 Election because they just weren’t liberal enough:

I’m sure I could come up with 10-15 other examples. It’s like that episode of The Critic where Jay Sherman remembers being rejected by a woman he was trying to pick up: “Eww, I don’t like that memory at all! Let’s look at it again through the magic of self-delusion!” All those congressmen lost because they just weren’t as awesomely liberal as I am! High five! Inside the liberal reality bubble, the Democratic Party’s biggest mistake was getting Blue Dog Democrats to run in marginal districts in the first place, and if they had just run people with positions closer to Nancy Pelosi or Alan Grayson in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, they would have done better.

Of course, outside the liberal reality bubble, this idea is a laughably naive exercise in vainglorious wish fulfillment. It’s also easily disproven. Take a look at the contrasting fates of Tom Perriello and Jason Altmire.

Perriello was the golden boy Democratic freshman Representative from Virginia who was not only the darling of liberals, but also loftily declared that he would rather vote for ObamaCare and be defeated than vote against it and be re-elected. Democrats pulled out all the stops to save his seat, sending him $1.6 million over a 10-day period and having Obama appear personally on his behalf. If the nutroots theory that liberals just needed a candidate worth fighting for to lure them to the polls to assure victory were correct, Perriello should have been a shoe-in. He lost.

Altmire, by contrast, was one of those loathsome “Blue Dog Democrats” that so many liberals feel are merely Republicans in disguise. He voted against ObamaCare. If liberal theories were correct, disheartened liberals should have assured his defeat. He won in a year that fellow Blue Dogs who voted for ObamaCare were being slaughtered.

So the current Pelosi-lead liberal temper tantrum is impossible to explain given the objective political needs of the Democratic Party. However, it’s all too easy to explain given the psychological needs of liberals.

For years liberals have believed that majority status (like The New York Times and black voters) was their unquestioned birthright. Never mind that between 1968 and 2004, a Democratic Presidential candidate had topped 50% of the popular vote exactly once (the post-Watergate Jimmy Carter, who managed to garner a whopping 50.08% of the popular vote in 1976). For them, Republican victories were aberrations from the supposed norm. They truly believed that America was a “center-left” nation, despite polls consistently showing twice as many Americans identified themselves as conservatives rather than liberals. They believed people like John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira who assured them Democrats were the natural majority party, and would take over their natural role as lords of the earth any day now.

And then the 2006 and 2008 election seemed to confirm the theory. Yes! This was it! This was their moment! Finally all of their dreams would come true! Obama was one of them, and with the House and Senate firmly in Democratic control, he would completely replace all the intolerable policies of his predecessor, “that idiot Bush.” He would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, close down Guantanamo Bay, legalize gay marriage, use Keynesian economics to fix the economy, and nationalize health care. The liberal moment had arrived at last. It was so close they could taste it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the liberal nirvana. What the rest of us call “real life,” and what liberals attributed to an ever-expanding cast of villains (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Rasmussen Reports) they lumped together as “the right-wing noise machine” inexplicably rose up to thwart their righteous will. The economy stayed broke, and if the Stimulus did anything it made it worse. The Tea Party happened. Cap-and-Trade went down in flames. Obama figured out that Bush’s anti-terror policies weren’t bad at all now that he was the one who had to deal with the problems. Democrats managed to pull the Zombie ObamaCare over the finish-line despite widespread opposition, but it was a far cry from the glorious platonic idea of a fully nationalized, single-payer system that existed in their mind’s eye (and nowhere else). Then the voters, the same voters liberals believed in their heart of hearts was naturally liberal, rejected them. They were like a football team a mere quarter away from winning the Superbowl, only to have the opposing team rack up three touchdowns on them in the last five minutes. How can this be happening? What did I do to deserve this?

When a party gets walloped in an election, usually it takes time to reflect on why voters might have rejected its message, and what parts of that message (and the party) need to be changed. If you’ve seen All That Jazz (and if you haven’t, you should; it’s a great movie), then you’re probably familiar with the Kubler-Ross grief cycle: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Obama has moved on to at least the third stage, but House Democrats and the nutroots can’t get past the first two.

Conservatives have many interests that might supersede politics: Family, jobs, religion. But for many liberals, the political is personal. As far as they’re concerned, there’s Good (represented by Big Government run by liberals and doing the things liberals want it to do), and there’s Evil (big business (unless its unionized), rich people (unless they went to the right schools), Fox News, etc.). They believe the same things all their Facebook friends and newspapers and TV shows and NPR agree with! It’s inconceivable to them that people of good will might disagree with them.

After all, they’re Good! The other side is Evil! That’s why they write books with names like What’s Wrong With Kansas? rather than Why Can’t We Convince Kansas To Embrace Higher Taxes and Bigger Government? They’ve spent the last 20-years believing that voters are liberals, so it’s impossible that voters rejected liberalism itself. That would be tantamount to voters saying they rejected them personally. That’s unpossible! After all, they’re awesome! No, this could only have been happened because the voters have been tricked. Liberalism didn’t lose, liberalism was stabbed in the back. Hence the hunt for traitors and scapegoats that snatched away their prize at the last moment.

To actually listen to what voters were telling them would mean abandoning the worldview that they’ve clung to so fervently for so long. Thus every bit of cognitive dissonance only makes them cling more fervently to the belief that voters haven’t, didn’t, couldn’t reject liberalism itself. After all, they’re awesome, aren’t they? Aren’t they? Voters sent them a message good and hard, but they have to deny it, because their denial is all they have left. Liberalism can never fail, because whenever it appears to, then ipso facto it wasn’t really liberalism that was failing, just like Communist apologists claim that all those failed Communist states weren’t really Communist, because communism never fails inside the platonic fantasyland of their Marxist imaginations.

And into this seething cauldron of anger and denial comes Obama, blithely announcing the deal to extend the Bush Tax Cuts. After all, Obama still has to govern the nation for the next two years. Clearly the economy is isn’t responding to Obamanomics, so something else needs to be done. And if the Bush Tax Cuts expire, Obama knows that Democrats are the ones that will get the blame for the biggest tax hike in history. So he cut the best deal he thought he could, knowing he would have even less leverage after the Republican House took over in January.

In essence, Obama was saying that voters had indeed rejected liberalism. He was ruining their denial! Here was their traitor at last: Obama the secret Republican.

So the House, under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, decided to stand and fight on the only issue that seems to unite their base: Their hatred of the wealthy, and their love of other people’s money. The idea that money might belong to the people that actually earned it, rather than the federal government, fills them with rage. Here was their line in the sand: We have to screw the rich, even if it means screwing the poor and the middle class in the process! Even if it makes them more unpopular. Even if the Republicans will just pass a deal even less to their liking in January. So they have to oppose extending the Bush tax cuts, even though it will make the rest of the nation think they’re even more petty, vindictive, and out-of-touch than they already did. When it comes to preserving their wounded egos, rationality goes out the window. If it comes down to voters rejecting liberalism, or liberals rejecting reality, then to hell with reality. It’s no longer about policy, it’s about pride.

And pride goeth before a fall.

The Sound of a Million Liberal Teeth Gnashing

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

The best thing about the deal Obama cut with Republicans to extend the Bush Tax Cuts for two years is the uncertainty it removed from the market and the fact that it will let millions of taxpayers continue to keep more of their own money.

The second best thing about the deal is the full-flavored, zesty schadenfreude from the howls of outraged anguish and betrayal coming from the nutroots over Obama’s unthinkable perfidy. The reactions were so extreme you’d think he’d just agreed to hand over part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler. (Think I’m exaggerating? Look below and you’ll see that more than one very prominent liberal suggested that very analogy.)

So here’s a Whitman’s sampler of outraged reactions from the left. The problem wasn’t finding them, it was determining which ones to include. There are only so many hours in the day…

  • Here’s a very unreconstructed liberal who starts out his lament in classic style: “While the corporate oligarchy tightens it’s grip over power…” Man, I guess that “corporate oligarchy” bit never goes out of fashion on the hard left.
  • This Counterpunch commentator suggests that Obama is only doing the bidding of his true constituency, Wall Street, in order to fulfill his ultimate goal: privatizing Social Security. Evidently Obama is just a puppet for Steve Forbes. Who knew?
  • This poster on agrees: Now that Obama has caved, “Wall Street executives and Congressional Republicans will demand Social Security be slashed.” Yeah, I can still remember how all those Republican House candidates were demanding that Social Security be slashed.
  • asks Obama to stand tough, not realizing he’s already down the street in a saloon, toasting his new friends.
  • Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel says that Obama is shirking his “clear and imperative historic mandate.” It’s like the 2010 general election never happened for these people.
  • Some liberals are even suggesting that Obama has sunk so far he’s become that most evil and unclean of creatures: a Republican.
  • More than one, in fact: “The Democrats, elected and rank-and-file, for our own good, must come to terms with the notion that a Republican is in the White House, and that Democrats are the opposition party.”
  • The head Kossack himself pulls a Quarter-Godwin by comparing Obama to Neville Chamberlain. (It also offers another glimpse into that parallel reality liberals inhabit, where “Republicans were so worried that the government-run program would be so efficient, effective, and affordable that it would drive the private insurers out of business.” Yeah, Republicans are so well known for fearing that giant government programs will be too efficient.)
  • Oliver Willis deploys the same meme “I see President Obama has returned from his meetings with the GOP leadership and has come back waving and bragging of the agreement that cedes the Sudentenland to the Republican party on taxes.”
  • Any more liberals hopping on the Obama-as-Neville Chamberlain bandwagon? Why yes! The ever-dependable Keith Olbermann: “I will confess I won’t fight if anyone wants to draw a comparison between what you’ve done with our domestic policies of our day to what Neville Chamberlain did with the domestic policies of his.” Ah, Keith. Don’t ever change.
  • Finally, over in the most fevered swamps of Democratic Underground, one poster brings up the only measured and reasonable response to the situation: Armed socialist revolution! “There are 300 million of us and only 200,000 rich people in the US. Unite with your fellow workers. Tear down the walls of their mansions and haul them off to jail.”

Here Comes the Triangulation (or, Why You Can Tell Obama is Running for Reelection)

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

There’s been much speculation as of late that Obama isn’t having much fun, that the midterms took all the wind out of his sails, and that he didn’t have the stomach to abandon his liberal supporters and embrace triangulation the way Bill Clinton did after Democrats got slaughtered in the 1994 midterm. Hence, all signs were pointing to the fact that Obama had resigned himself to being a one-term President and wasn’t going to run for re-election.

Today I think we have pretty firm evidence that theory was wrong.

The fact that Obama caved in on extending all the Bush tax cuts isn’t so surprising in and of itself. Just about every economist to the right of Paul Krugman agrees that raising taxes during a normal recession is a bad idea, much less the extended Great Recession/Job Loss Recovery we’re currently stuck in, and sentiment had been trending in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts even before the midterms sent scores of Democratic officeholders scurrying for moving boxes. The question wasn’t so much whether they would be extended, but how much Obama would get in return for them.

The answer seems to be surprisingly little. Most expected Republicans to agree to extending unemployment benefits, and most of the rest of the agreement (like payroll tax cuts) are more than acceptable to Republicans. Further underscoring how well Republicans did are the negative reactions on either side of the aisle. Republican critics were saying things like “I’m not initially thrilled about it” while liberals reactions were things like “outrage” and (for socialist Bernie Sanders) threatening to filibuster.

More interesting still is the Obama White House’s explanation for the switch: Instead of blaming Republicans, they blamed congressional Democrats for being hopeless wimps. “We wanted a fight, the House didn’t throw a punch.”

I wonder if today Nancy Pelosi is walking around in a state of shock, thinking “This is the thanks I get for dragging ObamaCare over the finish line? A knife in my back with Obama’s name on it?”

Obama seemed slow to perceive the growing mood against him (certainly much slower than Clinton, who declared “The era of big government is over” the day after the 1994 midterms (I was wrong; see below); say what you want about Clinton, but he had a an exceptionally keen nose for ferreting out parades to stand in front of), but he seems to have finally woken up. The way the Obama went about this, cutting a deal with Republicans and then blaming House Democrats, looks exactly like the triangulation strategy Dick Morris mapped out for Clinton.

As for Morris himself, he wasn’t shy about saying Obama got taken to the cleaners:

To characterize this as a deal is like that famous deal that Emperor Hirohito struck with MacArthur on the Battleship Missouri. This is a surrender. This is absolutely Obama caving in. And the Republicans had to extend unemployment benefits anyway because you’re not going to give the tax cut and at the same time cut off unemployment benefits.

But this shows that Obama will blink. And it’s the first of the trifecta of confrontations. This one — the next will be state bankruptcies when we’re called on to bail out and then the enchilada which will be defunding Obamacare, a balanced budget plan and blocking the EPA from cap and trade.

I remain unconvinced that Obama will abandon his signature federal takeover of health care, but the rest seem entirely possible. Especially if he thinks its necessary to get reelected. He seems to fear a challenge from his party’s right flank (cough cough Hillary) more than his left. He probably believes (correctly) that no challenger to his left will be able to pry away enough black voters to prevent him from being renominated. Which means that he’s already positioning himself as a re-invented moderate for the 2012 general election.

Can Obama run convincingly as a moderate after two years (or, to be technical about it, just shy of 23 months) of governing as a liberal? Maybe. Remember, he did it successfully in 2008. Also, he can make a fairly credible case that he has governed as a moderate when it comes to foreign policy (Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay are classic examples of how Obama’s campaign promises became null and void when he actually had deal with real world problems in the White House rather than on the campaign trail), the occasional warm handshake with Commie dictators notwithstanding.

Can he take liberal votes for granted in the 2012 general election? Hell yes. Where else are they going to go? In fact, if Sarah Palin is the Republican nominee, Obama could probably personally execute a Gitmo detainee on the White House lawn every day at high noon and liberals would still vote for him.

Finally, can he win reelection as a moderate? I wouldn’t count him out. Politics is a “what have you done for me lately” business, and it’s quite likely that the economy will doing well enough in two years for him to (justified or not) take credit for it. He may be crummy at governing, but Obama is an excellent campaigner. Even as a challenger he showed a taste for pomp and circumstance; can you imagine how much it will be cranked up when he runs as the sitting President?

Remember, lots of pundits wrote Clinton off after the 1994 election. It’s taken him a while, but Obama finally seems to be using the same playbook. Whether he can still make it work for him (absent a Ross Perot) remains to be seen.

Addendum: I misremembered when Clinton said that. It wasn’t the day after the midterms, it was his State of the Union Address the following January. He did move to the center some shortly after the election (see this transcript from his November 9, 1994 press conference for details), but I screwed up the date, which partially invalidates the point I was making in that paragraph. Mea Culpa.