You have to be seriously geeky to get excited when the Internal Revenue Service releases a new batch of statistics. Well, I’m a big geek; like quite a few other people who work on policy issues, I was eagerly awaiting the I.R.S.’s tax tables for 2013, which were released last week.
And what these tables show is that elections really do have consequences.
You might think that this is obvious. But on the left, in particular, there are some people who, disappointed by the limits of what President Obama has accomplished, minimize the differences between the parties. Whoever the next president is, they assert — or at least, whoever it is if it’s not Bernie Sanders — things will remain pretty much the same, with the wealthy continuing to dominate the scene. And it’s true that if you were expecting Mr. Obama to preside over a complete transformation of America’s political and economic scene, what he’s actually achieved can seem like a big letdown.
But the truth is that Mr. Obama’s election in 2008 and re-election in 2012 had some real, quantifiable consequences. Which brings me to those I.R.S. tables.
For one of the important consequences of the 2012 election was that Mr. Obama was able to go through with a significant rise in taxes on high incomes. Partly this was achieved by allowing the upper end of the Bush tax cuts to expire; there were also new taxes on high incomes passed along with the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.
If Mitt Romney had won, we can be sure that Republicans would have found a way to prevent these tax hikes. And we can now see what happened because he didn’t. According to the new tables, the average income tax rate for 99 percent of Americans barely changed from 2012 to 2013, but the tax rate for the top 1 percent rose by more than four percentage points. The tax rise was even bigger for very high incomes: 6.5 percentage points for the top 0.01 percent.
These numbers aren’t enough to give us a full picture of taxes at the top, which requires taking account of other taxes, especially taxes on corporate profits that indirectly affect the income of stockholders. But the available numbers are consistent with Congressional Budget Office projections of the effects of the 2013 tax increases — projections which said that the effective federal tax rate on the 1 percent would rise roughly back to its pre-Reagan level. No, really: for top incomes, Mr. Obama has effectively rolled back not just the Bush tax cuts but Ronald Reagan’s as well.
The point, of course, was not to punish the rich but to raise money for progressive priorities, and while the 2013 tax hike wasn’t gigantic, it was significant. Those higher rates on the 1 percent correspond to about $70 billion a year in revenue. This happens to be in the same ballpark as both food stamps and budget office estimates of this year’s net outlays on Obamacare. So we’re not talking about something trivial.
Speaking of Obamacare, that’s another thing Republicans would surely have killed if 2012 had gone the other way. Instead, the program went into effect at the beginning of 2014. And the effect on health care has been huge: according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of uninsured Americans fell 17 million between 2012 and the first half of 2015, with further declines most likely ahead.
So the 2012 election had major consequences. America would look very different today if it had gone the other way.
Now, to be fair, some widely predicted consequences of Mr. Obama’s re-election — predicted by his opponents — didn’t happen. Gasoline prices didn’t soar. Stocks didn’t plunge. The economy didn’t collapse — in fact, the U.S. economy has now added more than twice as many private-sector jobs under Mr. Obama as it did over the same period of the George W. Bush administration, and the unemployment rate is a full point lower than the rate Mr. Romney promised to achieve by the end of 2016.
In other words, the 2012 election didn’t just allow progressives to achieve some important goals. It also gave them an opportunity to show that achieving these goals is feasible. No, asking the rich to pay somewhat more in taxes while helping the less fortunate won’t destroy the economy.
So now we’re heading for another presidential election. And once again the stakes are high. Whoever the Republicans nominate will be committed to destroying Obamacare and slashing taxes on the wealthy — in fact, the current G.O.P. tax-cut plans make the Bush cuts look puny. Whoever the Democrats nominate will, first and foremost, be committed to defending the achievements of the past seven years.
The bottom line is that presidential elections matter, a lot, even if the people on the ballot aren’t as fiery as you might like. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist; Opinion Pages, The Conscience of a Liberal, The New York Times, January 4, 2015
Texas governor Greg Abbott had choice words for President Obama and his plan to use executive power to expand gun safety laws:
“Obama wants to impose more gun control. My response? COME & TAKE IT.”
Grover Norquist went farther, comparing Obama to Darth Vader. So what is the President planning to do, exactly, that makes him some combination of Persian Emperor and Sith Lord? Mostly, expand background checks and clarify a federal rule or two:
The Post said Obama would use executive authority in several areas, including expanding background-check requirements for buyers who purchase weapons from high-volume dealers…
Thousands of guns are sold yearly by dealers who fall between licensed dealers and occasional sellers who do not need a license. Clarification could define which sellers need to meet rules and do background checks. Alcorn said.
It’s worth remembering in this context that a full 88% of Americans support stronger background checks for gun purchases–including 79% of Republicans. This is not a contentious issue except to a very small percentage of Americans who consider owning unchecked and unregulated arsenals a sacred right (while insisting that access to healthcare is not.)
But this isn’t unusual. Seventy percent of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform, for example. That’s not particularly contentious, either, except to America’s most bigoted elements.
63% of Americans support raising taxes on the rich and on large corporations to reduce income inequality. Only 31% oppose, with the rest uncertain. Again, this isn’t a terribly problematic issue in a normal democracy where supermajorities rule the day.
Republicans, however, are increasingly trapping themselves into a strategy that doubles down on the angriest and least moral 20-30% of the population. They do have the advantage of knowing that demographic votes more reliably and consistently than the other 70-80% of the public. It’s true that many of these voters, especially the ones with the deadly arsenals, are incredibly passionate about their views and will not only vote but work hard to encourage others to vote their way as well.
But it’s also true that this particular demographic is declining in number. And in the long run a political party cannot succeed by continuing to court an ever slimmer set of out-of-touch voters, particularly in a high-turnout election.
Nothing in this analysis is new, of course. But it’s worth noting that this year is different in the degree to which the GOP has placed its bet on the rump 20-30%, the virulence with which it is doing so in its rhetoric, the obvious disadvantages it is working with in polling not just on the issues but also with candidate head-to-head matchups, and the rapid decline of the very voter base on which it is depending.
Yes, the GOP will probably do quite well in the House for the next few years. Yes, it will continue to control large numbers of mostly rural and Southern states.
But electoral gravity cannot be defied forever. Tipping points turn into breaking points. And it’s going to be very ugly when the worst fifth of America’s population realizes that it really isn’t the silent majority anymore, and just how few friends it has left.
By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 3, 2015
“A Pretty Good Year In A Pretty Bad Century”: A High Point In A Century Marred By The Disastrous Bush Presidency
Imagine the 21st century as a Broadway show. We’re not talking “Hamilton” material. Actually, it’s pretty much a flop. If it were a Broadway show, it would have closed by now.
A year-end 2015 album picture, taken in Paris, showing solemn world leaders gathered to march in mournful defiance of the Islamic state group’s November terrorist attack arrested my attention. There was Germany’s Angela Merkel. There was France’s Francois Hollande. And even Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. But not the American president, Barack Obama. And that seemed strange.
Whatever. But the picture wept. The Islamic State group was our own scary gift to the world, after all, wrapped up during our long war in Iraq; and the tag definitely has George W. Bush’s name on it. Obama has yet to fully face this unforeseen consequence of war, bound to shadow his last year in office. To his credit, he recognizes the futility of going to war once again.
So let’s skip the year in review and go straight to the century in review. It’s a good time to look back over our collective shoulder.
A full 15 years have ended in a pretty pass. At home, we are a nation more roiled by race and police brutality than ever since the 1960s civil rights movement, even with a black president. Income inequality is a plague on our houses. And we are seriously looking at an abrasive reality show host as our next Republican presidential nominee. I mean seriously, folks. Some pundits who urged us onto the Iraq War blithely assert Donald Trump will never win the primary. I don’t put my faith in those wise men. I foresee leading Democratic contender Hillary Clinton facing Trump in the general election.
We’ve seen roughly half and half in Republican and Democratic control this century. Eight years of George W. Bush as president – defined by Sept. 11 and a couple wars – followed by seven years of Barack Obama – defined by picking up the pieces and trying to make peace. A huge economic downturn was also passed along directly from Bush to Obama. The euphoria at Obama’s inauguration lasted about a day in the frigid winter air.
Obama surely deserved better than what he got, but presidents don’t pick their predecessors. Bush had staked all on avenging the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and invested in becoming a “war president.” A Special Forces lightning-like attack on Osama bin Laden, the mastermind, would have been the wiser course of action, as commander-in-chief Obama showed much later. For on 9/11, there was no army against us, just 19 hijackers: Fifteen men from Saudi Arabia, zero from Iraq.
Bush’s slothful insult toward a storied city felled by a hurricane – tipping Air Force One’s wings over New Orleans in 2005 – was the tipping point of his presidency. Suddenly, the dots of his incompetence connected and his approval rating, too, was felled and never got back up again.
Everything that came out of the Bush years – false premises for declaring war, looting antiquities, the Patriot Act, torture, Guantanamo, mass surveillance on citizens, thousands of military and civilian casualties – tarnishes what we are supposed to stand for. In the end, the Islamic State group is the last cosmic slice of “just desserts” for an absolutely meaningless war. Few who thanked soldiers for their service in airports could fully embrace or explain what it was for. Next time, people, get a draft. It’s much harder to go to war with a draft.
As the new century dawned, the omens were plainly ominous. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in late 2000 called into question whether a Supreme Court 5-4 decision is a fair election. It was hard to tell from the timid press coverage, but Gore clearly won the popular vote. Just think how different the last 15 years would have been if the outcome had gone the other way. The peace and prosperity of the Bill Clinton years seem like a dream.
Obama has done much repair work, especially on the economy and foreign policy. In fact, between the Iran deal and the recent Paris Agreement on global warming, the seventh has been his best year in office. In fact, 2015 has been the best year since this century began. But he’s not the best morale-booster. That’s just not his way.
In singing “Amazing Grace” solo at the funeral service of nine murdered black church parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, the president showed amazing grace that moved the nation. For that June day, he became consoler-in-chief. Whether he’ll reach out to the American people to conduct heartfelt dialogues on race in 2016, somehow I doubt it, unless another catalyst arises. An eloquent writer on race in his memoir, Obama seldom put it on the front burner in the White House. But with or without him, it’s a burning subject.
2016, here we come into the maelstrom, a divided country swept by cross-currents. With Clinton in the election cycle, gender may soon join race as a force awakening in the national conversation. Iowa and New Hampshire voters, as usual, will be treated like they know so much. Both are overwhelmingly white states with rural swaths. They do not speak for flash points of violence and pain: Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; nor Charleston, South Carolina.
But we can take heart: 2015 was a pretty good year in a pretty bad century, so far.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 29, 2015
“The Political Stupidity Of The GOP’s Political ‘Experts'”: Simply Out Of Touch With Political Reality
The GOP’s political specialists — its political operatives and consultants — aren’t very smart about politics.
GOP operatives seem to believe that what GOP voters really like about Donald Trump is his “style” and “populism.” If only other Republican candidates would imitate some aspects of Trump’s style, the consultants bleat, they could surf some of the Trump wave.
This is facile nonsense.
Political operatives and the media like to blast “Trumpism” as substance-free bluster. But the parts of Trumpism that have most resonated with GOP voters actually map onto a clear and fairly obvious political agenda: hostile to immigration, trade and globalization, foreign adventures, and an economic and political system that seems to be rigged by insiders against outsiders. Combine that with a big appetite for national greatness. Regardless of the merits of this agenda, it’s an agenda. Call it the radical center, as my colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty and the Washington Free Beacon‘s Matt Continetti have.
This is why Republican insiders’ attacks against Trump have been singularly ineffective. He’s not a true conservative! they shout. Yes, and Trump voters are, at least in part, rebelling against conservative orthodoxy. If you want to deflate Trump, you have to put forward actual proposals that will appeal to Trump voters in a package that doesn’t have Trump’s baggage. Emoting like a reality TV star while peddling a flat tax simply won’t do.
But the GOP political class’ political stupidity goes beyond Trump. Consider immigration. I’d have my own super PAC if I got a dollar for every time a GOP political operative told a journalist on background that the way for the GOP to be nationally competitive and win Latinos is to support comprehensive immigration reform. This is simply not true, as Real Clear Politics‘ Sean Trende has exhaustively and laboriously documented.
If it supported comprehensive immigration reform, the GOP would lose a chunk of the white vote, and anyhow, Latino voters are by and large driven by the same concerns as other voters, not just immigration. The GOP’s disadvantage among them has more to do with the income difference between Latino voters and median voters than with anything intrinsic to Latino voters.
Or consider another issue where GOP political operatives are simply out of touch with political reality: abortion. While most Republicans are socially conservative, most GOP political operatives tend to fall more on the libertarian side of the conservative spectrum and are often socially liberal. Their advice to most GOP politicians: Just shut up about abortion, lest you turn off women. Just do the minimum required to signal to pro-life voters that you’re on their side, and thereafter duck the issue.
This is wrongheaded, and almost certainly hurts the GOP nationally. Millions upon millions of women are more likely to call themselves “pro-life” than “pro-choice.” What’s more, the significant political gap within women is between single women and married women. Single women are very pro-choice, and very Democratic anyway. Many more married women are Republicans — and the rest are up for grabs. They may even be the single most important swing constituency. And many of them are pro-life, albeit squishy on the issue.
Republicans have a built-in political advantage against Democrats on abortion. They could use something like late-term abortion to drive a wedge between the Democratic nominee and key swing voters — especially suburban moms. For the GOP, it is a tragedy of politico groupthink that the party doesn’t use this strategy more.
Political operatives think voters are boobs. And sure, your average voter may not be a policy wonk, but that doesn’t mean she’s stupid. People can be quite canny, especially when you’re talking about their wallet. So no, Trumpism isn’t just about flash, and giving flash without substance in response won’t change it, because voters (yes, even Trump voters) do care about substance. Similarly, Latinos are not an interest group that cares only about issues related to their identity, but care instead about a broad spectrum of issues. And women, believe it or not, are not defined by their uteruses, and are just as capable as men of forming their own considered views on abortion, as with any other issue.
Voters want to feel like politicians understand them, yes, but they also want politicians to give them answers that will solve their problems, and they do have a capacity for evaluating these answers and formulating views about them, and that does influence how they vote.
And if the GOP got a better class of politicos, it might win more elections.
By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, December 7, 2015