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In Perspective: Jon Meacham on the tax-cut deal

So is it, in fact, 1994 all over again?  The atmospherics are familiar. Then as now, we have a Democratic president who’s been whacked in the midterms for alleged liberalism and appears to be tacking to the center to work with victorious Republicans. That Clinton-era analogy was much in the air this week in the wake of President Obama’s deal with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, for everyone, in order to get a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and middle class tax cuts.

But I think the more illuminating analogy lies in 1990, with George Herbert Walker Bush, not in ’94 with William Jefferson Clinton. In the summer of 1990, the federal deficits that had grown under Ronald Reagan were threatening the American economy. But Bush had made his refusal to raise taxes a centerpiece of his 1988 campaign: “Read my lips: no new taxes.”

That was then. Two years later, the president agreed to raise tax rates in exchange for so-called pay-as-you-go rules that required future  spending to be offset by compensating budget cuts.  It was the beginning of the fiscal discipline that helped create the prosperity of the 1990s.

But Bush, of course, was dead to the Republican true believers. And he knew it. He clearly grasped that breaking the no-new-taxes promise could cost him re-election. But he did what he thought was right anyway. Obama is facing similar troubles now with his liberal base, and has, I think, dealt with reality in the same constructive, if politically costly, spirit that animated George Bush. Obama compromised on the big tax cuts for unemployment extension, which was vital, and for lower rates for the middle-class, which are desirable in a recession. The left doesn’t like it, but the right didn’t like Bush’s decision 20 years ago — a decision vindicated by subsequent experience.

If you play this analogy out, Obama, like Bush, may well be a one-term president, whereas Clinton came back and won in 1996. There are worse things, however, than losing re-election yet being well-regarded in the light of history. President Obama may make that point next year when he awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor to George Herbert Walker Bush. It’ll be a moment to watch.



  • Reflecting Pool Discourse Blog

    In this instance, Jon has made a terribly obvious error in logic and reason, namely, he committed the fallacy of “False Analogy.”

    Jon cites the legendary George Bush Sr. “no new taxes” incident and compares this to the current Obama ‘Tax Cuts’ issue. But Jon inexplicably and unjustifiably, inverts the entire Bush scenario when he applies it to Obama, thereby causing the analogy to teach just the opposite ‘lesson’ that it would have taught if a proper, faithful straight-up analogy had been made.

    For Jon’s edification, in reality, “if you play this analogy out” (faithfully), it would read this way: “Bush broke a campaign promise which he had repeatedly made in the campaign, a campaign pledge that may well have gotten him elected. When he broke that pledge after election, he lost his bid for a second term and became a one-term president. Similarly, Obama repeatedly (ad nauseam) made a campaign pledge that he would be steadfast in ending the GW tax cuts for the very wealthy, a campaign pledge that may well have helped get him elected. Now if Jon had stuck faithfully to the analogy, he would have concluded the analogy with the plausible prediction that Obama will lose his bid for re-election in 2012 for having broken his promise (and many others), thus becoming yet another one-term president. Jon’s analogy inversion (molestation) hands Obama a positive consequence, as he seduces the speculation the Obama’s betrayal conduct may well be cited by Obama to his advantage. He molested the analogy. And the lesson here is how very hard it is for good news reporters and news analysts to maintain objectivity in their reporting and analysis.

  • Guest 5

    I am confused by the analogy as is the previous blogger.
    To be semantic in another way removing a Tax break is not a cut its a tax increase back to rates previously applicable for 2% of the population, the maintenace of same for the majority is “status quo”.
    The deal Obama has made is to me very smart in real perspective because:-
    a) He never promised Tax reductions he only promised to increase some peoples.
    b) The debt commission has created a straight Jacket that Republicans are going to have to really work hard to Ignore.
    c) The compromise is now clearly understood to have a significant portion of the debt cost down to thier wants and reasoning = cant say they did not agree, as then shutting down government and raising all Income taxes is down to them,if the tea partiers stick to principles they espoused strongly.
    d) I do not think anyone wasfooled by the republican claims of damage to small business. lets remember that small businress owners pay themselves and usually wife at least ( often other family members) a salary subject to Income tax but a deductible expense of the Business. This did not change Business taxes or corporate taxes on small business, But did close some Loopholes.Which the deficit and debt commission says is the best an first action to take to reduce budget deficits and debt levels.
    e) There is not enough spending in the so called discretionary areas to make republican spending cut pledges, they will increase defese spending not reduce it and other cost cuts will hit many people amdleadto more Job cuts in government employees =higher unemployment.
    Finally on health careplease note already insurance companies have requested huge increases and the influx of repeublican governors means they will largely go unchallenged. add to that and the new Death panels emerge = state governments withdrwing medicaid for transplants, and QED Doctors removing patients from the list to balance state budgets.
    These are the “perspectives ” happening now and real ones. They will become increasingly clear to middle class Americans ,Independents in very harsh ways.
    The American public has to realise someone ( all of us) has to pay for past profligacy.
    That means there is no solution without tax increase which republicans in charge of the House cannot avoid voting for, that plus the above means the pers[ective is for another repeublican dbacle in 2012, not for Obama.
    Guest 5