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Print view: Gene Robinson flipped on the middle-class cuts, maintaining his standing on cable
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NONE PHONIER! Gene Robinson flipped on the middle-class cuts, maintaining his standing on cable: // link // print // previous // next //

Friday night is for messin’ with Texas: Last Friday night, Rachel Maddow pleased liberals again, extending her fact-challenged culture war against the red state of Texas.

A few Fridays ago, the lady offered a fact-challenged piece about the state’s deeply vile boxing commission. (Yes, you read that correctly. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/19/10.) This week, it was a vile decision by the state’s film commission which called down the wrath of the gods.

To watch Maddow’s full presentation, we’ll suggest that you simply click here. Warning: Rather typically, this report starts with an irrelevant recollection of something the wondrous broadcaster did when she was 19 years old. Second warning: We found this report to be rather fact-challenged when we fact-checked it over the weekend

That said, Maddow’s report does mess with Texas, if it’s culture war you like. This leads us to our final warning:

Culture war divides the masses. As we move toward plutocracy, fact-challenged, ginned-up culture war just helps the oligarchs win.

Maddow makes $2 million per year. To her, is this bull-crap just fun?

NONE PHONIER (permalink): In Monday’s Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria didn’t seem pleased with the proposed tax deal. Beyond that, he offered an account of the plan which struck us as strikingly odd.

Zakaria thinks the plan is a dud—but how much does he think the plan costs? We found this capsule account rather odd, on both the facts and the logic:

ZAKARIA (12/13/10): The best one can say about President Obama's compromise plan with Congress is that it will do some short-term good—at long-term cost. The only parts of the plan likely to have a significant effect in stimulating the economy are the extensions of unemployment insurance, cuts in payroll taxes and, perhaps, tax credits for businesses...To get these measures, worth about $250 billion, Obama agreed to an extension of the Bush tax cuts that will cost around $750 billion, and eventually much more since the tax cuts are now more likely to become permanent. It makes the original stimulus plan of 2009 look stunningly efficient.

Say what? That account of the plan struck us as quite odd. But then, this is a world in which information has become optional. Logic seems optional too.

Ignore Zakaria’s opening comment, which strikes us as basically fatuous. (The best one can say about this plan is that it will do short-term good—at long-term cost? Duh. As everyone knows, this plan has been proposed as a type of stimulus. By definition, this involves running short-term deficits, to be paid for later. That’s the whole idea.)

That opening comment struck us as fatuous. But we were puzzled when Zakaria described the dollar amounts involved in this plan. Reading this column, a person would think that the plan involves a trillion dollars in costs—$250 billion for the stuff which may work, plus an additional $750 billion for extending the Bush tax cuts. But as far as we know, absolutely no one else prices those tax cut extensions that way. Since Saturday, the Post has been using a vastly different figure in its reporting—$858 billion—as the total cost of the package. (For one example from last Saturday, just click here.) But then, this is the official figure from the Joint Tax Committee of the Congress. Everyone is using that figure—until you reach the Post op-ed page, where the price tag shoots up.

Does the Washington Post still have editors? In its news reporting, readers are told that this proposed plan costs a total of $858 billion. Inside, on the op-ed page, they get to read something quite different.

One other point: Did Obama “agree to an extension of the Bush tax cuts” in order to get those other measures—the ones which cost $250 billion? Zakaria’s logic seems AWOL here too. As everyone knows, Obama has always proposed extending the bulk of the Bush tax cuts—the cuts on income below $250,000. When he “agreed” to extend those cuts, he was “agreeing” to a measure he had always proposed! But so what? In Zakaria’s puzzling column, Obama “agreed to” $750 billion in tax cuts—all so he could get $250 billion of other measures. Zakaria’s numbers seem to be wrong. But then again, so does his logic.

Might we note one other problem with Zakaria’s logic? In the passage we’ve quoted, he says the plan’s cut in payroll taxes is “likely to have a significant effect in stimulating the economy.” By implication, he then says the plan’s cut in income taxes isn’t likely to have that effect. But does that really make sense? In 2011, many middle-class pay checks will be larger than they otherwise would have been due to each of these provisions. But according to Zakaria, one bump in those pay checks will stimulate the economy; the other bump in those same checks will not.

So it goes when famous columnists torture logic and fact to pimp their view of a major proposal. In this case, fact and logic are being tortured by someone who opposes the plan. But then, the same sorts of torture seemed to occur when Gene Robinson wrote a column last Friday in which he endorsed the proposed budget deal.

How tormented was Robinson’s “support” for the plan? His column appeared beneath this headline: Democrats have no choice but to accept an irresponsible tax deal.

Say what? If the plan is “irresponsible,” why would anyone have to accept it? As far as we know, Robinson didn’t write that headline, but it captured the chaos in his piece, in which Robinson showed us, once again, that the biggest politicians in Washington are often the world-famous pundits.

Robinson’s piece appeared last Friday. He went to great lengths to say how much he hates the proposed tax plan, which is “lousy” and “quite awful.” Did Zakaria copy off Robinson’s paper? As he started, Robinson explained why he hates the plan—and he seemed to prefigure major elements of Zakaria’s later column:

ROBINSON (12/10/10): Approve the lousy deal.

It pains me to write those words, because the agreement President Obama negotiated with Republicans on tax cuts is really quite awful. I know that some progressives have come to see the package as a cleverly disguised "second stimulus," but they're just rationalizing. The fact is that nobody would start from scratch and design an economic boost offering so little bang for so many bucks.

For a two-year cost of nearly $1 trillion, we get a bit more than $300 billion worth of measures that are truly stimulative: a cut in the payroll tax, a provision allowing businesses to write off capital investment and an extension of unemployment benefits. We'll spend the rest—I should say borrow the rest, then spend it—to continue existing tax breaks that obviously are not roaring engines of job growth.

The deal invests basically nothing in the nation's future. We need to be channeling money into education and clean energy, where it can help the United States remain competitive against China and other economic rivals—not into the well-stuffed bank accounts of the rich.

As Zakaria would do three days later, Robinson put the cost of the plan at “nearly $1 trillion.” (In fairness to Robinson, the official estimate hadn’t yet been released. This explanation isn’t available to Zakaria.) But as Robinson explained what was wrong with the plan, he made the very same complaints Zakaria would make three days later. He said the cuts in payroll taxes will provide stimulus—but he implied that the cuts in income taxes will not. He complained about all the borrowing; he said the money could be invested in much more productive ways. But he then went on to endorse the plan; congressional Democrats should “hold their noses” and “approve the thing,” he said, since they can’t expect to get a better deal from Republicans.

You may agree with that assessment; you may agree that this plan is better than what will result if it gets voted down. But Robinson went out of his way to say how awful he thinks the plan is. In this passage, he wrings his hands about all that deficit spending:

ROBINSON: Looking at the agreement, you'd never imagine the federal government was running a deficit. Before the deal was sealed, Democrats argued that it was unconscionable to continue a huge tax break for the rich when the nation is so deeply in debt. Republicans argued that it was irresponsible to keep extending unemployment benefits without paying for them by cutting something else. The solution? Do both. I guess this makes the package unconscionable and irresponsible, but never mind. Oh, and let's extend the middle-class tax cuts, too.

It's as if a shiny, expensive, prettily wrapped present has been placed under the Christmas tree. The political question is whether anyone will dare to snatch it away.

The plan is “unconscionable and irresponsible,” Robinson says. Rather plainly, he seems to include the cost of those middle-class tax cuts (which won’t provide any stimulus) when he renders this judgment.

How fake, how phony, are your big famous pundits? In this passage, Robinson wrings his hands at all that deficit spending. He seems to sneer at the idea of extending the tax cuts; rather plainly, this seems include “the middle-class tax cuts, too.” That same night, Robinson went on Countdown and said it had been “physically painful” to write a column endorsing this rotten plan. In this way, he maintained his good standing as a True Cable Liberal—but he got to maintain his support of Obama at the same time.

What is so phony about this column? As recently as November 12, Robinson was rather aggressively supporting extension of those middle-class tax cuts! Saying they were “desperately needed,” he ridiculed Democrats for not standing firm on their “preferred course of action:”

ROBINSON (11/12/10): [O]n Thursday I awoke to read the Huffington Post's interview with White House senior adviser David Axelrod, in which he appeared to signal that Obama—with great reluctance—might have to accept an extension of George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans after all. Otherwise, Republicans would continue to block the Democrats' preferred course of action, which is to extend the full tax cuts only for those making less than $250,000 a year.

Axelrod later denied that the White House is giving in. I hope that's the case, but his words didn't exactly convey flinty resolve.

Let's examine this issue a little more closely. Making the tax cuts permanent for the wealthy would increase the deficit by $700 billion over the next decade. Which party claims to be urgently, desperately concerned about the deficit? The Republicans, of course. So which party is prepared to bust the budget, if that's what it takes, to serve the interests of the rich? The GOP. And which party, to get its way, refuses to approve desperately needed tax relief for the bruised and battered middle class? Once again, the Republicans.

Now, which party holds the presidency and, until January, ample majorities in both houses of Congress? That would be the Democrats. Which party can point to public opinion polls indicating that Americans support its position that the Bush tax cuts should be extended only for the middle class? That, too, would be the Democrats. And finally, which party somehow appears to be looking for a way to lose this argument and capitulate? Incredibly, the Democrats.

In that column, it was abundantly clear that Robinson supported extending the middle-class cuts. He said the cuts were “desperately needed.” Americans supported extending those tax cuts, he said; given that level of public support, it was “incredible” to think that the White House might capitulate to the GOP and extend the upper-end cuts too. Rather plainly, Robinson thought the Democrats should stick to their “preferred course of action, which is to extend the full tax cuts only for those making less than $250,000 a year.”

Let’s review. As recently as November 12, Robinson aggressively supported extending the middle-class tax cuts. One month later, without explanation, he executed a massive flip. Those cuts no longer seemed to be “desperately needed;” they were now part of the problem with this irresponsible plan. They would provide no stimulus, Robinson said—and they would run up the deficit. To all appearances, those middle-class tax cuts now help make this plan lousy.

Why did Robinson flip his position? Just a guess: This flip-flop let him bellow with rage at how bad the budget deal is, as all professional liberals must do in the current climate. In dollar terms, the middle-class tax cuts are the largest component of the proposed budget deal. If Robinson still favored those cuts, along with the other components he favors, it would be hard to see why he would think the overall deal was so bad. But around the “cluster liberal” world, you’re no one if you aren’t outraged by this “quite awful” deal. So without explanation, Robinson flipped on the middle-class cuts, which were “desperately needed” just one month ago. This gave him a way to voice his outrage about the plan, even as he kept faith with Obama by endorsing the lousy proposal.

He loved the cuts one month ago. By last Friday, he seemed to hate them. Is anyone phonier in D.C. than reigning cable gods?