According To Plan
I am usually fairly skeptical of the idea that the Democrats are always screwing up and losing debates because they are consciously conspiring with the Republicans to reach certain goals. I know it seems that it's impossible for them to be quite as inept as they are, but human nature is complicated enough that I rarely think it's that simple, although in the case of certain politicians like Lieberman and Nelson, their combination of ego and ideology certainly lends itself to the argument.
However, today Ezra Klein writes a good piece about how the Democrats have badly blown the tax cut debate for political and perhaps psychological reasons and I find myself leaning toward the Occam's razor view of this rather than attributing it to fear or ineptitude or some other human frailty: I think it's fairly clear that they want to extend the tax cuts for millionaires.
I think most of them truly believe that raising taxes on millionaires will be bad for the economy and bad for politicians who vote for them. They are wrong about the economy, but it's an article of faith among the ruling class that raising taxes on millionaires is bad in every way, all the time, and even those with a Kenynesian bent can see this particular tax hike as being counter-productive if they choose to.
They always believe that tax hikes are ruinous to their careers no matter what (and the tsunami of cash that was unleashed against them during the last cycle just emphasized that point.)
I'm not defending them. But there has to be a good reason the Democrats failed to extend the tax rates for the middle class separately the minute they took office and it isn't because the date just crept up on them. Nobody's that dumb. If they had been serious about doing what Obama ran on they could have gotten it done as an economic imperative in the early heady months. And the Republicans would have had no choice but to vote for extending the middle class tax cuts a year and a half ago when the millionaire tax cut would have still been in place. The only reasonable explanation for not doing it is that the Dems never really wanted to decouple them in the first place.
Update: I should add that they'll probably "get" an unemployment extension as part of the kabuki deal, so that's good. Of course, they could have won on that one separately as well ...