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Dave Weigel writes: “You could seriously argue that if Democrats approve extensions of all the Bush tax cuts, it would be as big a cave-in than George H.W. Bush’s cave-in on the 1990 budget.” You could seriously argue that, but I’m afraid this argument misses something serious.
Yes, liberals would be as angry that Obama broke his pledge to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year as conservatives were that Poppy George Bush broke his pledge not to raise taxes. But here’s the rub: A lot of people also got angry at Bush because he raised their taxes. And still more people whose taxes didn’t actually go up under the 1990 budget plan nevertheless belonged to the Taxes Are Too Damn High Party and blamed Bush for them being too high.
People are not going to get similarly angry if Obama doesn’t raise their taxes. (With the possible exceptions of George Soros, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates Sr.) The only people who will be angry are ideological liberals. That’s a political problem for the president, no doubt, but not in the same way that raising people’s taxes would be. Moreover, while Obama was certainly adamant that he wanted to return to Clinton-era tax rates, there wasn’t anything quite like a “read my lips” moment. Obama engaged in mixed messaging about how he was actually going to let most people pay less taxes than they did under Ronald Reagan.
If any of the tax cuts expire, the people whose taxes go up aren’t going to like it very much. Even if taxes only go up on the people making more than $250,000 a year, these angry voters will be joined by others who believe their taxes are too high and will blame Obama for for high taxes in general.
Add to this people who would very much like to be employed by the upper-bracket earners whose taxes just went up and those who oppose tax increases on principle, and I’m willing to bet you are going to find a bigger group of angry people than those who believe in tax increases for the wealthy as a matter of principle — even if you can find a poll here and there that says most people are “fine with” the top tax rate going up, in much the same way they once told pollsters they were “fine with” a liberal health care plan. Swing voters are fine with all kinds of stuff in the abstract. It tends to work out differently in practice.
UPDATE: Don’t take my word for it. Ask Walter Mondale how the debate between promise-keeping and tax-increasing worked out.
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