R.I.P. Tax Revolt?

R.I.P. TAX REVOLT?....It's been increasingly chic in liberal circles over the past year or so to declare the death of the tax revolt. Born in California in 1978, raised to adulthood by Ronald Reagan, given a second wind by George Bush, and now, finally, ready to retire from public life. For example, here was Mark Schmitt early last year:

The truth is that we are heading down a path toward fiscal crisis that will inevitably require a major increase in revenues. In case that sounds like a euphemism, I'll say it plainly: Taxes must go up. If Democrats try to avoid that fact, they'll become mired in trench warfare with Republicans over small-bore increases that will cost them political support and won't really address the problem. But if Democrats seize the opportunity to define a new era of the politics of taxes, as Republicans did 30 years ago, they can shape the debate in a way that may actually help them to achieve some of their most-cherished policy goals.

So how's that going? At the time I remember thinking that Mark's piece was fairly persuasive, but the 2008 campaign sure doesn't seem to bear it out. Barack Obama, the progressive candidate, has certainly not campaigned on tax increases. In fact, he has loudly and consistently based his campaign almost entirely on a promise to cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He could probably fund the national debt for the price of the ads touting his tax cutting credentials. Amidst all that, the only teensy weensy concession he's made to higher taxes is an increase — all the way to 1990s levels! — for the highest earning 5%.

This is, of course, about as moderate a tax policy as you could possibly hope for. But even so, he's only barely gotten away with it. The response from the McCain campaign to that teensy weensy increase has been to go completely ballistic, accusing Obama of everything from socialism to Marxism to wanting to firebomb Joe the Plumber's cozy little Ohio cottage. In the end, it looks like this barrage of inanity won't work, but conservatives are sticking to it and they really do seem to be getting at least some traction with it. If Obama had nodded even slightly further in the direction of tax hikes, there's a good chance McCain would be making serious inroads on him right about now.

There's not much question that, eventually, taxes are going to have to go up. George Bush has ensured that. But it looks like we've been a little premature in declaring the end of the tax revolt. Apparently it still has few last gasps left in it.

Economy Watch - 10.30.2008

ECONOMY WATCH....I guess it's now official that the economy sucks:

The U.S. economy shrank by .3 percent in the third quarter, government data released this morning shows, confirming an economic slowdown that was already showing itself through steady job losss and declining consumer sales.

....The drop in personal consumption was a particular drag on growth. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, and it dropped at a 3.1 percent annualized rate between July and September — the biggest quarterly decline in more than 20 years.

....It was in large part a jump in government spending — at the federal, state and local levels, with a more than 18 percent annualized increase in defense spending — that held off an even steeper decline. Overall government spending added 1.15 percent to GDP.

With his usual impeccable timing and sense for the public mood, John McCain naturally took this moment to....stop talking about the economy and instead try to suddenly "steer the presidential-campaign conversation to national security." Nice work, Senator.

As for the economy itself, I think everyone now agrees that we're in a recession. But did it start in the third quarter, or did it start last December? It almost feels like we need a new word here. High schools now call their advanced algebra classes "precalculus," and the first half of this year feels like it was a "prerecession." There really didn't seem much doubt about where we were headed, but technically we weren't quite there. Now we are.

The Obama Infomercial

THE OBAMA INFOMERCIAL....The Nielsen people just emailed to tell me that Barack Obama's infomercial last night was viewed by 21.7% of all households watching TV. That compares to 38.3% for the final Obama-McCain debate.

Is that good? Bad? I'm not sure, really. But with the kind of money the Obama campaign has, I guess it doesn't matter much.

What did everyone think of it? I thought it was (duh) really well done and did a good job of presenting Obama as both a serious candidate and a normal human being. On the other hand, the tales of woe struck me as a little heavy handed. I think it might have been better if it had been a little less gloomy.

Just want to add a note to Elizabeth's thoughts on the Obama infomercial. A reader at TPM observes, "Obama can go on TV for 30 minutes and not mention John McCain even once. No way would the reverse be true." He or she is obviously correct: the McCain campaign has spent most of its time these past few weeks making a negative case for Barack Obama, instead of a positive case for itself. Everyone knows that's a product of Barack Obama's unique background and associations (has a previous presidential candidate ever had a relationship, no matter how insignificant, with an unrepentant terrorist?). It's also a product of the Republican Party's bankrupt credibility and discredited ideas. No one believes Republicans have policy proposals that will help the middle class, and no one would trust them to implement them properly if they did. The only thing left is to go after the other guy.

But I want to make one other point. John McCain has a much harder time making a positive case for himself than most candidates because he simply has zero warmth factor. I don't believe I've ever seen tape of him sitting down at a middle class family's kitchen table. I can't imagine him holding a child or posing with a monkey backpack. Outside of the POW factor, which may not have the currency we all imagine, there's little he has to sell. Certainly not enough to fill a 30-minute infomercial.

Every few weeks, I do a Bloggingheads.tv diavlog with Jim Pinkerton, one of my favorite conservatives. Months ago, Pinkerton, who was a top aide for the first President Bush and who was a senior adviser to Mike Huckabee's presidential effort, predicted that Barack Obama would be (or could be) destroyed by a campaign that highlighted his ties to Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. In a diavlog we conducted on Wednesday, Pinkerton said that John McCain didn't do all that was necessary for such a crusade to work, but he also noted his admiration for Obama (though not his policy ideas). It seemed to me that Pinkerton was close to endorsing Obama. So as our conversation was finishing, I asked whom he was voting for. You can see the exchange that ensued at the end of this clip:

Note that Pinkerton declined repeated opportunities to say that he will vote for McCain.

Profane Quote of the Day

In an article about Mark Salter, a man who has served John McCain in some capacity for 19 years and is considered his strongest loyalist, the Washington Post notes that Salter almost quit the McCain campaign in the dark days of summer 2007, but didn't because of a strong talking-to from the candidate himself.

"Listen," McCain finally said. "I'm dead man walking. I know it. I'm dead man walking. I'm going to lose this campaign [for the nomination]. . . . But I'm going to get up and work hard every day until it's over. Every day. That's what I'm going to do. So tell me something: Why are you acting like such a [wimp]?"

Hmmm, what do you think [wimp] replaces in that sentence?

A World Series We Can Believe In?

A WORLD SERIES WE CAN BELIEVE IN?....A friend points out that the last time the Phillies won the Series was October 1980, ushering in the election of Ronald Reagan and a long era of conservative ascendency. Tonight the Phillies won again. Another sign of a new era in politics? Maybe!

Infobama-mercial Changing Hearts and Minds?

There were no celebrities in tonight's 30-minute Obama short, but there were cameos by political somebodies, governors (Bill Richardson: "He can heal this country."), senators (Claire McCaskill), and vignettes featuring real people in key states and regions: the South, New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri, covering key demographics: the elderly, white, black, and Hispanic families (though no Asian family was profiled). Overall, it was a montage to remember, one full of specific promises made in a wood-paneled room that looked a little like the Oval Office 2.0.

The key question, of course, is how many people will be moved to vote for Obama after watching him for 30 minutes, watching him detail the specifics of his commitments to health care and education, seeing pictures of his mother, learning that he calls his daughters every night, and hearing him admit he "won't be a perfect president." Some might be swayed (certainly the Harry Potter demographic has reason to believe) but while change may be on the march, it's unclear how many minds this $5 million endeavor actually changed.

My opinion at least. What did you think?

Why Wright Happens

How come white folks can consort with racists but blacks can't? Not that I'm conceding that Rev. Wright is a racist. But let's stick to the point.

Jonathan Stein's post gives me the perfect opportunity to kvetch about something that's been driving me crazy about the attacks on Obama via Wright.

Stein's right that vicious ads like this one will give a great many cover to vote against Obama. But here's the thing: What about the racists and loonies who helped raise most of us? My father was bitter beyond belief about white racism, even though he had white friends and volunteered to fight in WWII. I can separate his horrific life experiences (Jim Crow sharecropper) out from my own (post-Civil Rights Movement) world view, as do most other Americans. When the elders got together and ranted and raved about the white man, I didn't go upstairs, write a formal denunciation, and secede from my family. I considered the source and was grateful to have been born later. How dare you demand that we have no complaints? Church, and to a lesser and more troubling extent, certain forms of rap 'music', are places we go for catharsis. And catharsis ain't usually a pretty sight.

Jason Whitlock, whom I blogged about earlier, summarized this notion perfectly:

Getting What We Paid For With Sarah Palin

I just read one of the most refreshing, clear-eyed appraisals of Sarah Palin—and, more importantly, a breeze-clearingly fresh analysis of just how depraved the GOP has become—over at HuffPo.

Jason Whitlock, a self-proclaimed apolitical sports writer, found himself bemused by the Palin Veep selection, so he gorged himself figuring out who she was. The more he found out, the more suspicious he was about her selection and subsequent success among "certain" segments. Then, as only a Negro with what we call 'mother wit' can, he nailed it: Heifer's getting over on no-money-down easy credit, shored up by the same corrupt old insiders who gave us our current depression (tho some GOPers are taking up arms):