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WHO LOST TAXES! Why can’t Obama propose the Clinton tax rates? Because our side lost that debate: // link // print // previous // next //

The three Ezras: That horrible column by Ezra Klein deserves a second perusal (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/13/11). It’s important that we not wash away its offense—the offense which formed its basic structure.

What did Ezra Klein say in that column? Ezra Klein said this:

What Ezra Klein said in that column:
Paul Ryan has committed a major fraud against the public. But I like him personally, and I appreciate his policy-oriented approach to politics.

Liberals who called him dishonest last year were doing the inevitable. In the past week, it has been “fashionable” to criticize his new plan.

By the way: You’ll note that Klein never actually said that Ryan has committed a major fraud against the American people. That’s the obvious judgment we ourselves reached after reading Klein’s account of what he found in Ryan’s plan.

Why did Ezra Klein say those strange things? In a column which would describe a vast fraud, why did he start by stressing the fact that he likes the person conducting the fraud—that he appreciates his approach to politics? In a column which would describe a vast fraud, why did Klein reinforce the flattering, novelized portrait which, by law, is so often attached to Major Republican figures?

To answer that question, consider the three (possible) Ezras. Presumably, some combination of the three advanced those extremely strange statements:

The first Ezra is a conniving careerist. He wants to be seen as a Serious Person within Establishment press corps culture.

The second Ezra simply hopes to land an interview with Ryan. He figures that saying such foolish things might help him win that prize.

The third Ezra is just a bit young—a bit under-developed emotionally. He doesn’t yet have the internal censors which would have told a sensible person how weird it was to vouch for Ryan that way.

Which of the three possible Ezras produced that ridiculous framework? We have no idea. But we do know this: A few weeks ago, Klein wrote a ridiculous, uninformed, fawning piece about Michelle Rhee’s old org, The New Teacher Project—and damning those infernal teachers unions. As with Ryan, so with Rhee: She is widely portrayed within the upper-end press corps as a Serious, Courageous Person. (This is especially true at the Washington Post and NBC News, Klein’s two current employers.) And sure enough! As with Ryan, so with Rhee: Klein signed up for the assignment of driving this framework along. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/11.

What the heck makes Ezra run? We have no idea. But liberals have tolerated this garbage for decades. We are a very easy people—easy to vanquish, that is.

Ezra ought to go sit in the corner. People who write that way about public frauds fit into Establishment Washington well. But they themselves are committing a fraud against progressive interests.

Why don’t we so-called progressives complain when this sort of thing happens—and happens, and happens, and happens? Why don’t progressives scream like hell when liberals advance these well-scripted claims?

Special report: Mark Twain’s ineffectual mob!

INTERLUDE—WHO LOST TAXES (permalink): Was Walter Mondale courageous?

In 1984, the fiery candidate ingested a snootful. He then spoke the truth to the people.

“Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I,” Mondale said, accepting nomination at the Democratic convention. “He won't tell you. I just did.”

Sure enough! The re-elected Reagan went on to raise taxes, just as Mondale said. But did telling the truth on that vast public stage make Walter Mondale courageous? In this morning’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof briefly alludes to that famous moment:

KRISTOF (4/14/11): Ever since Walter Mondale publicly committed hara-kiri in 1984 by telling voters that he would raise their taxes, politicians have run from fiscal reality. As baby boomers age and require Social Security and Medicare, escapism will no longer suffice. We need to have a frank national discussion of painful steps ahead, and since I’m not a politician, let me be perfectly clear: raise my taxes!

Sensibly enough, Kristof wants higher taxes—but he remembers what happened to Mondale in that year’s election. Back in June 2010, we noted what happened to Walter Mondale within the mainstream press (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/14/10). Down through the years, Mondale has often been mocked by big pundits for having told the truth to the people! On the occasion of our post, the Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section had included Mondale’s accurate statement in a list of “spectacularly ill-advised, tone-deaf, insulting or untrue remark[s].” Mondale’s truthful statement was lumped in with Marion Barry’s “Bitch set me up”—with Bill Clinton’s claim that he did not “have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

Walter Mondale’s accurate statement was listed with George Allen’s “macaca” moment, with Don Imus’ thoughtful remarks about those “nappy-headed hos.”

(The list was inspired by Helen Thomas’ statement that people in Israel—or perhaps in the settlements—should just go home to Poland. Today, as then, we can find no link to this unsigned, high-profile feature.)

Alas! In July 1984, Mondale made his accurate statement at the start of a highly novelized era—an era in which a string of major Republican figures would be lionized, in mainstream press novels, for their courage, their boldness, their honesty. (Starting with Clinton, Major Dems were big liars, feckless flip-floppers.) Paul Ryan is just the latest example; he has been widely praised for the courage it took to offer a kooky-con budget plan which seems to be based on some ludicrous numbers. This morning, Kristof calls for a return to the Clinton tax rates, saying “that single step would solve three-quarters of the deficit for the next five years or so.”

Quite sensibly, Kristof calls for higher taxes. But he understands the way this idea tends to play in our American politics.

In the wake of Obama’s speech, this raises a question: Who lost taxes? What makes it so hard for Democrats to call for higher taxes, even when it’s fairly obvious that higher taxes are needed? If a simple return to the Clinton tax rates would solve so much of our deficit problem, why can’t Obama simply propose it? And oh yes: Why haven’t you seen this possibility promoted by a string of Big Major Pundits? (It has been promoted on blogs.)

Who lost taxes? For ourselves, we’re not sure that an instant return to the Clinton tax rates would be the greatest idea. We’re not even sure that this would be part of a “best possible” long-range plan. But why would it be so hard to return to rates which obtained just a few years ago? Why haven’t you seen this idea more widely debated?

Partial answer: Here, as in so many areas, we liberals have lost the national debate. To use the words of the firebrand Drum: Liberal leaders have done “a crappy job” advancing the progressive views in this area.

Good God, but our “intellectual leaders” have been inept through the years! Is there any area where they have succeeded in keeping hope—and sound understanding—alive? Yesterday, in the course of his speech, Obama did a darn good job advancing a progressive view of society. He advanced a picture which helps explain and justify the possible need for higher taxes:

OBAMA (4/13/11): The America I know is generous and compassionate. It's a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other, for the country we want and the future that we share.

We're a nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the G.I. Bill and we saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare.

We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.

That's who we are. This is the America that I know.

Later, Obama extended this progressive vision, in which our nation is a community and we are an actual people. It’s a vision in which the word “we” is extended to all the people. “I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other,” he said (our emphasis). Later, he went to the heart of this vision: “We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community.”

Question: Do we really “share a community” with a bunch of “our fellow citizens?” As citizens, do we “share a future” with 300 million others, many of whom we don’t know? The answer to that isn’t obvious. There is also an atomized vision of our society—a vision in which each person, each family, each local community must simply fend for itself. And by the way: The instincts which produce that vision are bred deep in the American bone. Starting even before the Mayflower, this country has a pioneer tradition, in which various folk struck out on their own, taking their personal chances.

Conservatives have pushed very hard in the last thirty years to advance that atomized vision. Nor is it obvious that their vision ain’t basically “right.” But as conservatives have pushed and clawed to advance that vision, we liberals have slumbered, snoozed, snored and failed. When have you seen major liberal intellectual leaders approaching the American people with the vision that we actually are a people? (When have you seen major liberal intellectual leaders approach the people at all?) Don’t we spend a great deal more time telling various parts of the public that they’re racist, stupid, very bad people? Doesn’t this undermine the notion that we’re a community? That we’re all in the same big national tribe? That we’re all part of each other?

Tomorrow, we’ll turn to Mark Twain’s ineffectual mob, recalling the way the liberal world has managed to lose so many debates. And by the way: Who lost taxes? In 2007, Candidate Obama took the pledge, just as Candidate George H. W. Bush did in 1988. “No new taxes,” Obama said, except on income above a quarter million dollars.

We don’t blame Obama for having taken the pledge—but it showed that we’d lost one more debate. Today, the New York Times editorial board advances a truly clueless idea: In his speech, Obama should have “remind[ed] those in the middle class that their income taxes remain low and will need to go up.”

Please. If Obama had proposed such a thing, you would hear cries of “Read my lips” for the next two years. Barack Obama took the pledge, like the Republican Bush before him. This represented the fact that we liberals had lost one more debate.

(Note: December 2012 would be the perfect time for Obama to break that pledge by letting the Bush tax rates expire, thus restoring the Clinton rates.)

Someone did “a crappy job” in letting us lose that latest debate, the debate about the role of taxes. Tomorrow, we’ll visit an ineffectual mob which came from the mind of Mark Twain.

We’ve often thought of that mob in the past few years—often, when our side is talking.

When Mondale spoke truth to people: Mondale told the truth about taxes. But at the pre-addled New York Times, that was not the big story.

In 1999, Gay Jervey quoted former Times honcho Bill Kovach about that very same night. The ex-Timesman recalled Maureen Dowd’s keen eye on that historic occasion:

JERVEY (6/99): Even as a young reporter Dowd had an eye for telling detail and nuance... “We were on deadline,” Kovach explains. “Mondale and Ferraro had just been nominated... As the candidates stood on the platform, Maureen jumped up and grabbed me and said, ‘Look! Look! There is the story. Mondale doesn’t know whether to hug his wife or Ferraro. He doesn’t know what to do.’ She saw that signaled a new era, with women playing a whole new role in politics and men not quite knowing what to do.” That keen observation...crystallized for Kovach just how clairvoyant a reporter she was.

Kovach never sued Jervey for what she wrote. (Her profile of Dowd appeared in Brill’s Content.) On that basis, we’ll have to assume that Kovach actually said those things.

Who lost taxes? At the beginning, Maureen Dowd was there. Mondale wasn’t courageous.