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Print view: What explains Obama's approach? When it comes to federal taxation, we have no liberal politics
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HERE’S WHY! What explains Obama’s approach? When it comes to federal taxation, we have no liberal politics: // link // print // previous // next //

O’Reilly and Digby [heart] Hart: This Monday, a big know-nothing belly-acher stood up and gave Obama what-for about the state of the economy. Her name is Velma Hart.

On Tuesday, Hart appeared on Hardball and made one thing clear—she didn’t have the first f*cking idea what she was talking about. She didn’t have any idea what Obama could do to improve the economy; nor did she say a single word about the relentless Republican intransigence in this policy area.

But so what? In a typical reaction, Chris Matthews praised Hart for her “hot dogs-and-beans” rhetorical brilliance. By last night, Bill O’Reilly was heaping praise on Hart. She had stood up to Obama!

Pathetically, Digby was also finding ways to speak well of Hart’s performance. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! It’s fairly obvious why Digby felt the need to do this. But in her post, Digby even waxed sympathetic about this part of Hart’s self-pitying speech to Obama:

HART (9/20/10): Quite frankly, I’m exhausted. Exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.

Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! After less than two years, Velma Hart is deeply disappointed! (Later, Hart told ABC News that she’s upset about the state of her 401K.) But Digby was even prepared to sympathize with this passage from Hardball, the show where Hart made it clear that she has no clue what she’s talking about:

HART (9/21/10): I'm worried. I know I shouldn't be, somehow I know I shouldn't be. I should have confidence in our leaders to get us through these trying times, but I'm getting a little anxious. And quite frankly, the other thing that I'm concerned about is that other people are getting anxious and anxious people do desperate things and I'd like to avoid that.

Boo hoo hoo. Can we talk?

We have no idea what Hart’s politics might be. Professionally, she holds a rather upper-end position; she is National Finance Director/CFO of AMVETS, a major national organization. (It’s amazing that a Finance Director would seem so clueless about the economy.) She says her husband is employed too; her two kids attend private schools. We don’t know if Hart is a liberal, or if she even votes for Democrats. For all we know, she may be a Republican—which is perfectly acceptable, of course.

She has said that she voted for Obama. Of course, she also embarrassed Obama by telling him that she has no credit card. The next day, she called that a “joke.”

We would assume that Hart is a good, decent person in her daily dealings. Most people are.

But one thing is quite clear about Hart; whatever her politics may be, she would make a great pseudo-liberal. Obama entered the White House twenty months ago, facing the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. And now, just twenty months later, Hart says she is “exhausted” and “deeply disappointed.” She’s tired of defending Obama; she’s “disappointed” in his failure to wave a magic wand and make the meltdown disappear. (Hart is so exhausted and so disappointed, she’s ready to stand up and embarrass Obama in public.) And please note—Hart discussed the economy, nothing else, when she explained why she’s so disappointed. She didn’t complain about any other policy areas, where Obama may have failed to act on campaign promises. Twenty months into Obama’s first term, this pampered voter is ready to trash him in public because he hasn’t been able to make the biggest economic mess in seventy years go away.

She hasn’t been able to get a new car, she told Matthews. Digby is sympathetic.

We would assume that Hart’s a good person—but she’s a classic know-nothing belly-acher. She was very eager to embarrass Obama—and she didn’t have a word to say about Republican conduct. Just a guess: Why does Digby sympathize so, even as she batters other voters around? Could it be a function of Digby’s tortured pseudo-racial politics? Could it be because Hart is black?

We don’t know how to answer that question, but Digby goes on to offer this ridiculous defense of Hart’s belly-aching performance. Truly, this is just sad:

DIGBY (9/21/10): And that brings me to the exhaustion part of [Hart’s] statement yesterday. Those of you who went through the 90s will recognize this phenomenon. It's when the right's ferocious attacks are so vicious and relentless that they eventually wear down average, common sense people with normal lives to lead—and even scare them a little.

In Clinton's case it was defending him from the non-stop personal attacks that was so wearying. It took a brave soul with a taste for political combat to keep fighting in the face of that onslaught. It was called Clinton Fatigue, the sense that even people who were sympathetic to the president's political plight and understood that his enemies were rabid and insane, just wanted it to end. Many analysts think it was the reason why Gore had such a hard time even though the economy was roaring—normally the country would have not wanted to rock that boat. It was the prospect of four or eight more years of wingnuts shrieking and howling that made at least few people say "whatever... give it to them ... anything to shut them up."

In Obama's case it's this moribund economy vs the outsized expectations that form the substance of the Democratic base's complaint. And there's good reason for people to be disappointed and worried. But the exhaustion at defending him, at least some of it, comes from the same place as that Clinton Fatigue. The right's non-stop attacks eventually just wear people down, sap them of their enthusiasm, make them question their own judgment, especially in the face of a negative and less than hopeful future. You have to be pretty committed to want to wallow in this toxic mud every day and most people have better things to do with their time.

I'm not saying that if the GOP wasn't relentlessly attacking Obama that this woman would feel good about him. He hasn't been very successful at addressing her concerns and there are plenty of liberals who are critical of him as well. But even if he were able to allay her concerns about the economy and the future of the country, the exhaustion that comes from battling back these lunatics is what really takes its toll.

What a pile of crap. Even as she notes Hart’s (ludicrously) “outsized expectations,” Digby scrambles and clambers about, looking for ways to defend her.

Digby is determined to make Hart’s belly-aching come out sounding right. For that reason, she compares Hart to the fearless crusaders who stood up for Clinton in real time, although nothing Hart has actually said takes us in that direction. As she does so, she even offers a crap-on-a-stick, Cokie Roberts-inspired account of “why Gore had such a hard time.” Truly, that passage is just pathetic. It is pure, 100 percent, press corps cant. Cokie couldn’t bull-shit you better.

Velma Hart is likely a very nice person. But she’s also a classic pampered pseudo-liberal, if she’s a liberal at all. After twenty months, she has had enough; she can’t wait to run off into the woods and take another long nap. These reactions help explain how Clinton got impeached—how George W. Bush reached the White House. (Because of all that Clinton Fatigue!) But so what? Digby rushes and flails about, saying she understands—nothing more.

Hart was willing to embarrass Obama about the economy, without saying a word about the GOP. And Digby, boo-hoo-hooing, clambers over desks and chairs to defend her clueless approach. But then, O’Reilly loved Velma Hart too. So did hapless Matthews.

Special report: In lieu of liberal politics!

PART 3—DUH/HERE’S WHY (permalink): On Monday morning, E. J. Dionne just couldn’t figure it out. “It's remarkable how timidity leads Democrats to fight this year's campaign on Republican terms,” the Sage of Safe Harbor declared (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/21/10). “Nowhere is this more obvious than on taxes, where the entire debate revolves around what to do about the cuts enacted under George W. Bush.”

E. J. couldn’t figure it out: Why is Obama proposing the extension of Bush’s tax cuts? Why not propose extending his own? In what follows, E. J. Dionne was declaring himself the biggest fake in the whole world:

DIONNE (9/20/10): But notice that this entire battle is being framed around Bush's proposals. The parts of the Obama stimulus program that never get discussed—one reason it may be so unpopular—are its many tax reductions.

John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress and White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, noted the Obama tax cuts also expire at the end of this year: “I don't understand why we're only talking about extending George W. Bush's tax cuts, which are heavily skewed to help the wealthiest Americans, yet no one's discussing President Obama's cuts, which are exclusively focused on middle-class families.”

I don't understand it, either. The stimulus included not only the broad Making Work Pay tax cut that gave most families an $800 refundable tax credit but also the child tax credit and the earned-income tax credit, which were especially helpful to lower-income families.

If the child tax credit isn't extended, 7.6 million children who get the benefit through their families would lose it entirely, and the credit would be reduced for an additional 10.5 million children. The biggest losses, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, would be among families earning $12,850 to $16,333, many of which include a parent working full time for minimum wage. Also set to expire are expansions of the earned-income tax credit that have helped working families that include 14.9 million children.

Tell me again: Why is it more important to preserve millionaires' tax cuts than to continue helping these far more vulnerable Americans? Why are Republican leaders who argue that failing to extend all of the Bush tax cuts would constitute a tax increase not saying exactly the same thing about the Obama tax cuts? Is it blind ideology, an exceptional solicitude for people with very high incomes or the fact that Obama's cuts were packaged into the dreaded stimulus?

Surely, Dionne isn’t really that dumb. Surely, this nonsense reflects his desire to avoid stating the obvious: We now live in a nation which has no liberal politics.

Why hasn’t Obama proposed extending his own tax cuts? We can’t necessarily tell you, of course. But for a first approach to this problem, consider a question Ezra Klein raised on his blog this week (just click here).

Ezra presented the chart seen below—a chart recording the number of people who think their federal income tax is too high. Why did the number hold steady under Reagan? he asked. Why did it drop under Bush?

We will ask a different question, then we’ll provide a fairly obvious answer: Why did the number hold steady under Reagan? Why did it jump under Clinton?


Why did the number hold steady under Reagan? Why did it then jump under Clinton? One possible answer seems fairly obvious: By 1993, the American age of disinformation had already reached full flower. In fact, Clinton’s hike in the federal income tax rate affected only the top one or two percent of households. But Rush Limbaugh had been screeching and yelling—then screeching some more—about “the biggest tax increase in American history.”

In August, as the plan neared approval, Joe Montague reported the public’s clueless state in USA Today. Middle-class families would barely be nicked by Clinton’s proposed tax hikes, he reported. But “Joe Sixpack” thought different:

MONTAGUE (8/4/93): The budget deal, which must be approved by the House and Senate, would extract $241.2 billion from taxpayers over five years. But 81% of that—about $195 billion—would be paid by families making more than $200,000 a year. Most middle-class families hardly would be nicked. They’ll pay the lion’s share of a 4.3-cents increase in the federal gasoline tax. But the increase would cost the average family less than $5 a month.

Joe Sixpack apparently hasn’t gotten the word. Polls show most taxpayers expect to pay higher income taxes as a result of any budget deal.

That same day, Richard Benedetto discussed the same topic, also on USA Today’s front page. “A key problem for Clinton,” he wrote. “Despite claims the wealthy pay most new taxes, 68% believe the middle-class is hit most.”

(Note the way this ranking scribe hid behind a key word: “claims.”)

Back to the chart Klein posted: Why did that number jump under Clinton? Why did so many additional people suddenly think they were paying too much federal income tax? The age of disinformation had started—the age of “conservative” disinformation. The screeching and yelling continued through Clinton’s first term; so did the massive dissembling, along with the massive cowardice of the mainstream press corps. Result? By May 1997, the Age of Disinformed Lunacy had settled down upon us. You can see the fruit of that disordered age in that remarkable tape from Politically Incorrect, in which two conservatives screech for Clinton’s impeachment—eight months before anybody had heard of Miss Lewinsky. (To watch that remarkable tape, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/22/10.)

An age of disinformation had arrived, producing an age of political lunacy. This was also the age in which any semblance of liberal politics died in this tormented land. Why would Obama work from Bush’s tax framework, not from his own? Has E. J. Dionne been alive on this planet? Does Dionne have any knowledge of the politics of taxation?

Duh. Long before Limbaugh, aggressive, well-funded plutocrat “think tanks” began to develop highly potent messaging on the subject of taxes. As this happened, Potemkin “liberals” like Dionne diddled themselves, ate at nice restaurants, took long naps and played. By now, any president lives in a world which is dominated by the talking-points churned by these skillful spin tanks.

How do American voters understand taxes? Let us count the ways:

How Americans understand taxes:

For decades, voters have been told that they are overtaxed. They’re overtaxed because of those “tax and spend” liberals, who don’t care about debt and deficits.

Why are voters being overtaxed? Because of the liberals and the federal bureaucrats, who enjoy spending other folks’ money!

During the Reagan and Clinton years, voters were often told where their overtaxed money was going. Their taxes were being spent on Reagan’s “welfare queens.”

(Such overtly racial language has largely disappeared from the upper-end discourse. But in the past year, a substitute was offered, as conservatives began to complain about the large percentage of people who pay no taxes—by which they meant, no federal income taxes.)

Where is all that money going? Increasingly, voters have been told that the over-spending has gone into something called “earmarks,” another bête noire which is endlessly flogged to create a powerful image of tax dollars being sent down a drain.

Why are liberals and federal bureaucrats willing to spend so much money? Because they don’t sit around the kitchen table and prepare their budget, the way your family does.

What kinds of social attitudes lay behind this over-taxation? For decades, voters have heard that liberals like to levy taxes because they want to “punish success.” They are engaged in “class warfare,” a class war aimed at “the rich.” In the past year, voters have increasingly been told that these liberals are actually “socialists.”

Then there’s all the attendant crap which makes tax policy seem very easy:

For decades, voters have been told that if we would lower the tax rate, we would get extra revenue. Just like under President Kennedy, they have endlessly heard.

For decades, voters have been told that the payroll taxes they have submitted have been looted—that Social Security is about to go “bankrupt” or “broke” because their money “has already been spent.”

For decades, voters have been told that the “estate tax” is really the “death tax,” and that this onerous tax represents a form of “double taxation.” All manner of bogus claims have been spread concerning the way this brutal tax wipes out family farms and modest family businesses.

In the past two decades, voters heard all manner of nonsense about the so-called “flat tax.” In truth, it’s hard to make any real sense of these claims, though the only effect of actual flat tax proposals has been to lower the tax rate on high-end earners. (In 1996, the flat tax proposed by Candidate Forbes would have lowered the marginal rate from 39.6 percent to 17. This was sold as a form of “tax simplification.”)

There! So it has gone, for many decades, as voters get disinformed about taxes. As this war of disinformation occurred, people like Dionne sat in mahoganied Washington suites. They failed to address, confront or challenge this massive campaign of deception.

On Monday, E. J. couldn’t understand why Obama was working from Bush’s tax framework, rather than from his own. Obviously, we can’t answer that question. But some possible answers are obvious:

In the quote Dionne presented, John Podesta said that Obama’s tax cuts “are exclusively focused on middle-class families.” That, of course, is baldly untrue; even Dionne was willing to note that some of Obama’s provisions “were especially helpful to lower-income families.” In fact, some of those provisions were especially helpful to poverty families, though Dionne was too dainty to say such a word. (Those provisions are helpful to “families earning $12,850 to $16,333, many of which include a parent working full time for minimum wage.”)

We can’t tell you why Obama hasn’t suggested extending these proposals—proposals which were buried (and thus largely hidden) inside his massive stimulus plan. But is it possible that Dionne doesn’t understand the politics of such proposals?

It’s easy to work from Bush’s framework because Bush is a man of the right. His frameworks about taxation are thus assumed to be basically sensible.

It would be hard to work from Obama’s framework; four decades of unanswered disinformation and dogma stand in the way of any proposal designed to help the poor. (Sorry—designed to help “middle-class families,” to use Podesta’s euphemism.) “Think tanks” of the right have churned disinformation; Potemkins like Dionne have politely stared into space as these dceceptions occurred. More broadly, the liberal world has utterly failed to create an opposing view of taxation—an opposing set of frameworks and understandings.

Everyone’s hit with the crap from the right. Very little is heard from the left.

Above, we’ve offered a quick review of the messaging which has come from the right. No countervailing web of messaging has ever emerged from the left. Your liberal journals have sat and diddled—and every Democratic president plays on this tilted field.

Your “liberal leaders” have sat and stared as this garbage rained down on voters’ heads. This Monday, Dionne pretended he just doesn’t get it; the next day, Richard Cohen sang a similar tune. Alas! Dionne and Cohen have been good boys, the kept boys of a high Washington class. Through the decades, as disinformation took hold, they have been well-paid Potemkins.

Look around! Gaze on the world their kind has created! Tomorrow, we’ll start to review the way the liberal side is forced to argue in the absence of a real liberal politics.

Tomorrow: How “liberals” argue in lieu of a liberal politics