I don’t suppose I should be surprised by the operatic dismay of liberal Democrats at the agreement Obama has reached with congressional Republicans. But is it really good politics for the party to keep telling the electorate that raising taxes on the rich is the one thing, in the end, it stands for? That nothing else comes close in the party’s list of priorities? Because this is the message that comes across.
Obama was right to strike this agreement. The concession on taxes is minimal, because a much larger tax reform is coming soon, one way or another, and that will be the time to press for an appropriately progressive formula for raising significantly more revenue. Meanwhile extending unemployment benefits and delivering some additional short-term stimulus through the payroll tax cut are matters that really cannot wait.
He did the right thing. But he did it in an unconvincing way. It has been obvious for weeks if not months that this was the kind of deal that would eventually be struck. He could have shaped it more to his liking (and mine) if he had taken the initiative in moving the $250,000 threshold for higher income taxes to $1m early on, and then gone out and sold it. (The party line about “millionaires and billionaires” simply does not square with that $250,000: the policy and the marketing were completely out of sync.) He let the debate drag on too long. He refused to get in front of it. He let the outcome be forced upon him. And in his televised statement–although what he said all made sense, to me at least–his tone was timid and defensive, I thought. He looked weary.