A tax on both your houses

Extending tax cuts for the rich is a bad idea, as the US struggles with a structural deficit and high unemployment.

    Obama needs to hit back at critics and stand by his campaign promises, author says [GALLO/GETTY]

    There is an old American saying that you "should not look a gift horse in the mouth," meaning you shouldn’t criticise or feel personal pangs of doubt about somewhat serendipitous, positive developments that make your life or job easier.

    President Obama, on the other hand, seems to think it best to not only glare at the gift horse, but nunchuk it into the fetal position and give it a noogie.

    I could be speaking about any number of issues that have come up over the past two years here — almost all of which have seen the President initially enjoy solid to overwhelming support in terms of US popular opinion, only to be obstructed by Republicans, so that Obama could then seek the most effective way to completely prostrate himself before a GOP leadership team that just won’t accept yes for an answer from him.

    Yet, for our purposes here, let us stick to the straightforward case of an issue which not only defines what the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for, but is also is popular with a majority of voters and has the benefit of also being sound policy.

    Namely, whether or not Bristol Palin’s mom and Chloe Kardashian need an extended tax break more than everyday Americans.

    For a quick primer, former President George W. Bush passed an irresponsible $1.35 trillion tax cut in 2001—with the help of virtually his whole party and the usual spineless Blue-Dog Democrat contingent—because he had inherited a fiscal surplus due to the diligence of his predecessor, President Bill Clinton. And to Republican Presidents, a surplus is like birth control or peace, something to be dispensed with immediately.

    Fast forward nine years through endless financial shenanigans and Halliburton’s ripping our troops off with $45 for cases of coca cola, and suddenly the minute George W. Bush returns to Texas, conservatives fret that deficits will lead to the end of Western Civilization even faster than chain-watching episodes of Will & Grace. Except when it comes to tax cuts for the richest of the rich (mostly) white people. That is $700bn well spent, of course.
    Yet, for a President and a Democratic Congress that doesn’t turn over until next year, ending George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cut holiday for those who have been on a permanent financial vacation since the Reagan years, is simple common sense.

    It is supported by 51 per cent of those queried in a CNN poll, while if CBS public opinion surveys are more your cup of tea, you will find a robust 56 per cent in favour of that position (and the number opposed is considerably smaller because an additional percentage—18 per cent in the CNN survey—think all the tax cuts should expire for all levels of income).

    Once you factor in America's large structural deficits and the serious need for infrastructure investment, the decision gets even easier, unless you think it would make sense to emulate policies that have made Somalia such a popular tourist destination. Ending tax cuts for the really rich also happens to have the benefit of being a pledge that President Obama campaigned on in 2008.

    So, what would the downside be? Well, people who already don’t like and wouldn’t consider voting for Obama won’t like and won’t consider voting for Obama. Many Republicans will be angry, which, outside of those special moments when John Boehner cries orange tears of electoral glory, is pretty much their default position.

    And, of course, a few bubble-wrapped pundits will have their daydreams of bipartisan harmony not fully realised. But then again, these are guys who would have advised President Lincoln to use tax credits to ease the country off involuntary labour by 1950.

    The upside, however, would also be a lot grander than just good policy and short-term politics. A fight with the GOP over taxes might just remind some Democrats what it is like to stand up on principle and fight for your beliefs. It might help them recall that most on the Right are paper tigers, eminently more Rocky and Bullwinkle than Rocky Balboa.

    Caving on this is much bigger than just giving up on one campaign promise and being held hostage on one particular issue to government by tea bag.

    It will once again send the signal that President Obama has learned nothing from his first two years in office. That he still doesn’t get that capitulation is not negotiation. And that he doesn’t yet understand that sometimes a fight is worth having, if the alternative is allowing injustice to prevail.

    To quote the great martial artist Bruce Lee "A fight is not won by one punch or kick. Either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard".

    As the Secret Service is not tasked with battling Republicans on fiscal policy, this one then is up to the Commander-in-Chief. A few fancy speeches, much like a "punch or a kick", isn’t going to convince eternally colic conservatives, who think they’ll get 72 bushmaster machine guns in Heaven for throwing their bodies in front of his agenda.

    Only a sustained effort at good policy, even better politicking, and an all out campaign to communicate what the White House stands for can bring us back from the brink. So if the President of the United States does indeed possess the requisite toughness to stand up and win this fight, now would be the time to avert his gaze from mouth of the gift horse.

    Cliff Schecter is the President of Libertas, LLC, a progressive public relations firm, the author of the 2008 bestseller The Real McCain, and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

    Follow Cliff Schecter On Twitter: @Cliffschecter

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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