The Great Persuader....Part 2

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 2:54 PM EST

THE GREAT PERSUADER....PART 2....Yesterday I argued that although Barack Obama had campaigned on a platform of "change," he hadn't really campaigned on a platform of specifically progressive change — and because of this, he might have missed a chance to really move public opinion in a liberal direction. As an example, I suggested that the public face of his economic policy "was almost entirely based on tax cuts, a distinctly conservative notion."

Over at RBC, Andy Sabl demurs:

Obama, as most readers of this blog probably know, ran on repealing the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year, and using the revenue raised by doing that to give a tax cut to everyone earning less than $200,000....This is, quite simply, the core of left-liberalism: straight-up redistribution.

....Obama did a great job during the campaign of re-framing the Reaganite meme that spending is simply bad and tax cuts simply good — that spending "costs the taxpayers money" while tax cuts "let you keep more of your money." Repeatedly, especially in the debates, Obama used, and made stick, the language that tax cuts for the wealthy "cost" money that we as a country need for urgent purposes.

This is an interesting counterpoint, but one that's hard to resolve because it's difficult to know what message people were really reacting to. My guess is that most low-information voters were reacting solely to Obama's surface message, which was clear as day: "Tax cuts for me! Hooray!" Via email, Andy agrees, but says, "My point was not that the tax proposal sounded redistributive but that it was redistributive: if Obama were able to get it through Congress, that itself would be a huge progressive victory."

Maybe so. I need to noodle on this some more. For one thing, the empirical evidence is unclear: large majorities of voters thought both Obama and McCain would end up raising taxes regardless of what they said, so maybe most people just tuned this message out completely. What's more, although I originally thought the "share the wealth" attacks at the end were gaining a bit of traction, the tracking poll numbers over the final week suggest that, in fact, they had no effect at all.

So....I'm not sure. Taxes have been hated since the dawn of time, so that's a tough place to make a big progressive stand in the best of times. But it's a worthwhile conversation. For a long time Obama's fans have been saying that he's a guy who can sound more centrist than he is, which makes him a very electable candidate. And obviously that turned out to be true. Now we get to find out if it also gives him a platform to become a persuasive cheerleader for a public turn to progressivism. We'll see.

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