I mentioned that I wanted to hold off commenting on the tax legislation deal agreed to by Obama and the GOP until after it passed. Well, it passed and Obama’s going to sign it into law later today. So here are my thoughts.
1. If I were a Congressperson, I wouldn’t have voted for it, because I think it’s stupid not to raise the tax rate on the highest-income folks in the US. We need the tax revenue, and they can afford it — and by “they” I do mean “we,” since I’m one of them, which is one reason I’m rather less than impressed by the piteous mewling of my fellow well-off, and the well-off’s hand-wringing financial underlings who apparently think that the response of the highest-income among us to a relatively painless increase in their top marginal rates will be to “go Galt” or whatever.
Seriously, the obsequious toadying at the feet of the well-off, and the commensurate implication that making the well-off chip in more than the least they have had to since The Great Depression amounts to class war, just appalls me. A little class war would be vastly preferable to the poor- and the middle-class grovel-fest we have now. When the revolution finally comes and I’m up against the wall, I will not be wailing how they don’t understand, my money helped lift all the boats in the rising tide; I’ll probably be asking them what took them so goddamned long.
(Mind you, I suspect a small rise in the marginal rates of the wealthiest of Americans would help to prevent the upcoming American Proletariat Revolution better than the current plan, which appears to be to rely on Glenn Beck to tell old white people to buy gold coins and bury them in the backyard. But clearly I’m a socialist, so what do I know.)
As I mentioned earlier, what a tax deal like this means to me is that the US political class has finally admitted to itself that money isn’t real and, additionally, that there’s no real risk in the US continuing to run up its deficit, because at this point all our creditor nations would find themselves magnificently screwed if we went down, taking their economies with us. Bear in mind this belief doesn’t have to be true in order for our political class to act as if it is. But on the other hand, from inside the US at least, the world really does seem to be handling the US like a bunch of relatives silently tolerating an obnoxious drunk uncle because they all put too much money into his ponzi scheme, and they’re just hoping he can find some way to get them their money back before the whole thing goes kerplooey. So maybe it’s not a bad strategy after all.
But it sure makes me nervous and I wish it would stop. I’m not entirely opposed to being part of a generation that says, fine, we’ll clean up the mess — Generation X has long assumed it’s going to get screwed anyway, so why not take it on our terms, and so on — but we’re not at the point where such a thing is feasible. Instead we’re still at the point where the US political party that likes to pretend it’s the fiscally responsible one still apparently proceeds from the insane premise that if they just cut taxes enough, the vast majority of Americans will happily accept a government that does nothing other than point guns at some people and puts other people in prison. Sorry, guys. People actually like their Social Security and Medicare and roads and relatively safe food, etc. You should probably find a way to fund it. Raising marginal tax rates on the wealthiest Americans might be the way to go.
But, apparently, not for the next two years at least.
2. Independent of the basic stupidity of not actually attempting to raise revenue, and purely on the political calculus side of things, Obama did what Obama does — looked at the landscape, found the solution that best suited his needs and then got people to agree to it and passed it into law. He let the GOP keep its precious tax cut for the richest 2% of Americans and in return got extended unemployment benefits and additional stimulus funding. Somewhere in there he may have also wrangled GOP support for the DADT repeal and/or START ratification; we’ll find out soon.
But even without those two things, a) he got a lot done that he wanted to get done b) before Congress got much more difficult for him to deal with, c) gave up relatively little, politically speaking, to do it and d) made himself look reasonable (and reasonably “bipartisan”) doing it. Add that to the pile of things he managed to get done over the last two years, which is by any measure a large and remarkable pile, despite unified, energetic political opposition and political allies with the organizational skills of the Keystone Cops. Someone tell me again how this president is naive/fumbly/doesn’t get things done.
And before you go on about me just jerking off Obama again, allow me to reiterate: I don’t like this tax deal. This isn’t about “my side” winning a political football game. It’s about noting how a politician actually does what he’s supposed to do — get as much of what he wants to get done accomplished while giving up as little political capital as possible, and looking reasonably good while doing it. I’m not pleased with the outcome here, but I can appreciate the process of how the deal got done.