Despite a "Judicious Study of Discernible Reality" tax cuts for the rich are political winners

A Judicious Study Of Discernible Reality

by digby

I'm hearing how the Republicans are making trouble for themselves by keeping the Bush tax cuts on the front burner for two more years because they are unpopular. It's true that they are unpopular, but in this age of PoMo politics, I'm not sure that matters. I think this dynamic may be the deciding factor (on a host of issues) for a while:

During the 2008 campaign Barack Obama skillfully crafted a popular position on renewing the big Bush-era tax cuts. Obama pledged to keep the lower tax rates for families earning less than $250,000 per year—the vast majority of American taxpayers—while letting the top tax rate revert to its 2000 level.

With the tax cuts set to expire at the end of this year President Obama has stuck to that position, despite a concerted effort by conservatives to insist that none of the tax cuts should be allowed to expire in the midst of a recession. What is more, he has managed to keep at least a slim majority of Americans on his side. A YouGov/Polimetrix survey fielded last week found that 42% of the public support the president’s position—a 4-point increase from 2008. Another 11% go even further, wanting to let all the tax cuts expire. Only 28%—slightly fewer than in 2008—favor retaining all the tax cuts, including those for the richest taxpayers.

Despite this sustained public support for the president’s position, Democratic leaders in Congress were unwilling to bring the issue to a vote before adjourning last month. Several moderate members of the Democratic caucus had already come out against letting the tax cuts for top-earners expire, and many more were said to be reluctant to cast votes on the issue in the run-up to the election. In light of the popular support for the president’s position, was that a political miscalculation?

Probably not....the sizable minority of people who want the tax cuts for affluent taxpayers renewed seem to attach much more weight to this issue than the slim majority who want them to expire. In a statistical analysis taking separate account of prospective voters’ broader partisan attachments, those who support President Obama’s position on the tax cuts are only 6% more likely than those who are unsure about the issue to say they will vote for a Democratic House candidate. Even those who want to let all the tax cuts expire are only 9% more likely to vote Democratic. By comparison, those who want to keep the tax cuts for affluent taxpayers in place are 22% more likely to say they will vote for a Republican House candidate.

An even more lopsided difference appears in the impact of tax cut preferences on presidential approval. People who support President Obama’s position on this issue are only slightly more approving of his overall performance than those who are unsure, while those who want to renew all the tax cuts are moved about five times as far toward disapproving. Among political independents, a whopping 76% of those who want continued tax cuts for the rich say they strongly disapprove of the president’s performance; only 27% of those who support his proposal for selective extension of the tax cuts are equally disenchanted.

I don't know if the exit polls are capable of drilling down this way, but the basic numbers came out like this:

Bush-Era Tax Cuts should be extended for...
All Americans: 39%
Familes Under $250,000: 37%
No one: 15%
Undecided: 9%

If the pre-election intensity numbers are the same, and I would guess they are, it suggests that the people who want the tax cuts extended really want the tax cuts extended while others feel less strongly.

Now that doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to expire. It's the right thing to do politically and it's the right thing to do in terms of policy. But as this paper concludes:

[T]he president and his allies in Congress could still push to implement the proposal in a lame duck session. If they do, it will be a principled choice rather than a politically expedient one. For expedient politicians, an energized minority trumps a tepid majority every time.

I think that's probably true, especially in this media age where a minority can make themselves seem like a monolith (with the help of billionaires and a partisan media machine.) It's one of the biggest challenges those who favor sound policy face. The deafening squeaky wheel changes reality simply by drowning everything else out.

I'm pretty sure that's what that anonymous Republican source meant when he said this:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.''

I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off.

''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. '' We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'