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Purity Has Its Place

Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress - Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Pool/EPA

President Obama surprised some and disappointed others with the tax deal he cut. Ideological purists are up in arms, saying he capitulated yet again. Pragmatists are impressed that he hoodwinked Republicans. One could argue that both perspectives are true.

The bigger problem that Obama faces is partly of his own creation and partly that of those who worked to get him elected. Expectations around him, his style and his performance are far greater than for the typical politician. Really, does one expect the same from Calvert, Campbell or Rohrabacher as Obama? Does one expect the same from Sanchez, Boxer or Feinstein as Obama? Of course not and when he fails to meet that higher expectation the disappointment is likewise greater.

This tax deal is for many, troubling, to say the least. It has widely been reported that extending the Bush tax cuts for ten years would cost some $700 billion with the largest segment of that being cuts for the highest 2% of earners.  Reportedly the Obama compromise proposal will actually cost more, coming in at $910 billion. And look at where that money goes.


So, if we take out the tax cuts for the rich (both income and estate) and corporate breaks, we’re left with $755 – almost all of which goes to middle and low income earners.

Look at this deal by another perspective.


Now, I do have a problem with cutting income tax on the very high earners. The argument goes that these are the people who create jobs. Case in point: I can’t find the citation, but I recall reading that Rush Limbaugh will earn some $53 million this year and that if the Bush tax cuts expire, his liability would increase by some $2 million. So the salient question is this. If the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy are extended, how many new jobs will Rush create with that $2 million he doesn’t have to pay in tax? Somehow, I think we both know the answer. So in the current economic crisis, why does he need that tax break?

There are economists, conservative ones, who say this compromise deal is a good one. Mark Zandy is reported to have said this deal will increase the GDP in 2011 to 4%. Obama says the GDP has to be at 3.5% just to stay even with job creation. We’re presently at slightly above 2%. Some also say that this would bring unemployment down to about 8.5% in a year. If accurate and true, this would bode well for Obama and the Democrats come election time.

Ideological purity does legitimately have its place. Same with pragmatism. And compromise. And compromise can be for good or ill – it is not by definition evil. Is this compromise a bridge too far? Or considering the circumstances, is it appropriate? I’ve heard the purists and the pragmatists and I understand, I think, both arguments. I have very high expectations for this president and I’m not sure this meets them. But you know, we weren’t in the room when the deal was struck so we don’t know if he also got agreement on START, DREAM and DADT as silent parts of it. It’s possible and such a deal would likely include letting the kabuki theatre play out to save face. Or not.

Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann don’t like the deal. Senators Bernie Sanders and Jim DeMint are committed to filibustering it (These two developments have led some to suggest that Obama really IS capable of bringing people together). House Democrats have just now opposed it.

For me, it’s a struggle. There’s much about this deal I resent and disagree with. And at the same time I recall a phrase from driving school: “Here lies the body of J. Edward Day, who died defending his right of way.”

Charts lifted from The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein.