Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Owning the Tax Cuts

I fully agree with Ezra Klein: the question of how the Democrats choose to spin their actions on taxes isn't very important.  Campaign tactics in general only have the potential to move voters at the margins, and so any time we talk about specific tactics in spinning one specific policy choice...we're not talking about something that is going to affect who controls Congress next year, or probably even who controls a single seat. 

That said...well, they do quite properly run campaigns, and they're gonna say something about issues of public policy, and I thoroughly disagree with Klein's point (and agree with Greg Sargent) that the Democrats shouldn't lay claim to whatever tax cuts they pass this fall, rather than giving the credit to George W. Bush -- in fact, as I said earlier, if I were advising the Dems I'd tell them to talk about the Republican tax hikes that Democrats are about to save everyone from.  Is it fully, 100%, factual and accurate?  I think it's close enough for spin -- just as I think the line the GOP is using, that Democrats would be raising taxes if they allow the "Bush tax cuts" to expire, is close enough for spin on the other side.  Klein says:
[I]t won't stick because it's not true. Democrats are talking about extending the Bush tax cuts. They are not talking about expanding Obama's Make Work Pay tax cut, or putting something new in their place. Bush is getting the credit because it's actually his plan. Just because I'm the guy reheating a cold slice of Ray's Pizza on the third day doesn't mean it's now Ezra's Pizza.
But surely that metaphor doesn't quite work.  If my kid takes a book out of the library and then, when it's due, I drive by the bookstore and purchase the same book for myself (or, perhaps, same book but a snazzy new edition), then it's my purchase, my book.  It doesn't matter that I learned of it from someone else, that she had the idea of reading the book.  I'm the one who bought it.

Is that metaphor the "right" one?  I'd say both ideas capture pieces of the situation...yes, Bush and the Republicans authored this particular mix of tax cuts, but then again part of that authorship was the idea that they would expire this year -- it's their "plan" that programmed in tax hikes this year.  So Democrats have at least a plausible claim if they want credit for passing something now.  In other words, close enough for spin. 


  1. There is more at stake than mere spinning rights that have limited influence on one election.

    Spin rhetoric, when repeated often enough, can become a durable trope on which a party can free-ride for decades. Think of how not only taxes but deficits somehow remain a GOP issue, in spite of the GOP's deficit record for the past generation. As long as the trope is unchallenged the free ride will continue.

  2. Mitch McConnell actually voted, back in 2001, to raise our taxes in 2011, but I have yet to hear anyone ask him why he would do that to the poor beleaguered American taxpayer.


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