Kevin Drum* and Ezra Klein have been chatting about how Republicans negotiate. They seem to agree that it’s remarkable how Republicans have made raising taxes (on anyone whatsoever) in the service of a budget/debt ceiling deal seem unthinkable and extreme.
It is remarkable to watch how Republicans have taken tax increases, which have long been present in deficit-reduction deals and generally considered the equivalent of spending cuts, and turned them into something vastly more extreme and unthinkable. How unthinkable? Here’s a little game. Take almost any of the Republican leadership’s comments yesterday and substitute the words “bombing the moon” for the mention of taxes. See if the comments don’t just work, but in fact work a little better.
“We’ve known from the beginning that bombing the moon would be a poison pill to any debt-reduction proposal,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. See? Or: “President Obama needs to decide between his goal of bombing the moon, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit,” said McConnell and Sen. on Kyl in a joint statement. Or: “First of all, bombing the moon is going to destroy jobs,” said Speaker John Boehner. “Second, bombing the moon cannot pass the US House of Representatives — it’s not just a bad idea, it doesn’t have the votes and it can’t happen. And third, the American people don’t want us to bomb the moon.” …
But, see, I don’t think Republicans have made tax increases (at least on the rich, and possibly even on the middle class, if mild and targeted) seem extreme to most people. Ezra cites poll numbers that make this abundantly clear. And I think the walkouts on budget talks by Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl, taken in isolation, make Republicans look intransigent, in a way that generally polls very, very badly. In isolation, it’s a bad political move. Voters, especially swing voters, regularly tell pollsters they want the parties to compromise and negotiate like grown-ups, not act like stubborn children.
The problem is, those same voters also think that if Democrats can’t somehow persuade Republicans to negotiate like grown-ups, then they’re equally at fault. So it’s a wash. And Republicans know it’s a wash. So there’s no downside for them in acting like stubborn children.
Now, if the mainstream media would even occasionally float the theory that perhaps, just perhaps, the Republican Party is sometimes a tad extreme and irrational, maybe the truth of what’s going on here would have a chance of sinking in with average voters. But it’s taboo to say that. (It is not, by contrast, taboo in the mass-audience right-wing media to say that Democrats are insane socialists/fascists/compulsive spenders/plotters of the overthrow of America as we know it. Far from it — it’s mandatory, and it’s said on a daily basis.)
So, as far as swing voters know, these negotiations are just like playground interactions between two children, one of whom is perhaps a bit less willing to share than the other, but both of whom are basically good kids. They don’t see the bullying for what it is, and they value it as no worse than the sulking the other kid does when (as always) he doesn’t get his way.
*Whoops, my mistake — it was Andy Kroll, not Kevin Drum.