Tuesday, May 07, 2002
Jonathan Cohn thinks John Edwards should run for President on Walter Mondale's platform: running forthrightly for a repeal of tax cuts. This makes about as much sense as Nicholas Lemann who thinks Edwards should run as a trial lawyer. (Not that he has much choice about the latter.) What are these guys smoking?
Cohn is right, of course, that the Democrats look like fools for criticizing the tax cut and then refusing to repeal it. But what makes him think that calling for repeal would be any less foolish?
There's only one winning Democratic strategy on taxes: call for tax reform, not tax cut repeal. Argue that the problem with the Bush tax cut wasn't the rate cuts but the loopholes, and that what we need is a 1986-style reform that eliminates loopholes and puts the expected revenue generated toward . . . well, that's where the debate would be; the Democrats would call for new spending and debt reduction and the GOP would call for more rate cuts.
The reason the Democrats can't do this is that they'd be running against their own prior electoral strategy. Clinton was the master of the tax-cut-as-social-engineering, and the GOP has just piled on, to the point where the Bush tax cut was dominated by the bidding war among special interests in both parties. The GOP could do it theoretically, but they have little incentive to do so as long as they are winning the tax debate.
To move this kind of agenda forward, you'd need a candidate who wasn't afraid to vote for or against tax cuts and wasn't beholden to the GOP's congressional leadership, the Bush Presidency or the Democratic interest groups. Ideal would be a Republican who voted against the Bush cut and for the 1986 tax reform. Who could that be?