Editors Note: Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. You would think that after the election of a lifetime, I’d have something to say about it. Alas, immediately after the election I had hand surgery, leaving my editorial voice silent. Though still in a cast for the next five weeks, I’m again able to type without pain.
Eugene Robinson’s column yesterday alludes to what many pundits have discussed this past week: the GOP’s need for some new ideas. The party is on message that this election was not an endorsement of a new left direction. We are, as they say in unison, a “center-right” country. Isn’t it interesting that when the GOP wins an election by a fraction of one percent, it is a mandate for change, but when Democrats win one by 6 points, no realignment is warranted?
I don’t begrudge the GOP’s right to spin. In fact, I admire their tenacity and shamelessness. In the week since their world was turned upside down, the right, not surprisingly, has attacked President-elect Obama’s ideas. But when asked for a better idea, they resort to the tried and true “cut taxes.”
Well, we tried that at the beginning of President Bush’s first term, and it didn’t turn out so well, did it? And even the most ardent supporters of John McCain would be excused for thinking that that’s an old idea that doesn’t exactly position the GOP as being a creative group. In fact, in light of lower taxes being perceived as an idea that doesn’t work for the middle class, the GOP risks being viewed as simply selfish and greedy.
I agree that the election, as it was conducted by the Obama campaign, cannot be viewed as a desire to return to the liberal ideas of the Great Society. But despite Obama’s call for a middle class tax cut, I get the feeling that an extra thousand bucks in their pocket was not the reason they pulled the lever for the first black president. The electorate is not stupid. A thousand dollars is always welcomed, but it won’t put the retirement fund on autopilot. It won’t pay for a four-year college degree. And it won’t cover much of a health disaster.
Instead, voters decided that tax cuts aren’t the big answer for the big questions. In fact, there is no indisputable research that tax cuts spur the economy. You can find studies on both sides of the issue, and each side can find anecdotes for their arguments. But the proof is elusive.
With the results at hand, we can excuse Americans for thinking that tax cuts are a stale idea. Again, nice to have, but not a panacea. I’ve often wondered why Democrats haven’t offered this meme:
The Republicans cut your taxes $500 and then raise your gasoline prices $700 a year. They cut your taxes $1,000 and then raise your health premiums $1500 a year. They cut your taxes $1400 and then raise the cost of tuition $3,000 a year.
Maybe the electorate is catching up with the shell game. In a recent survey by the AP, “People want the tax cuts promised during the presidential campaign, but they may be willing to wait while President-elect Obama takes on the larger issue of fixing the economy.” Instead, more than twice as many people want to fix the economy and create more jobs. The GOP will tell you tax cuts do just that, but the public isn’t buying it.
How much taxes we’re paying is not as important as getting the bang for the tax bucks we spend. That’s the real issue. If paying another $500 in taxes saves us $2,000 in expenses, then we’d be crazy not to take that deal. Our challenge is not to cut taxes to the bone, but rather to make government work efficiently.
There is little question people want government to help them. That’s the message of this election. How we do that is open to debate, a debate to which the GOP must contribute new ideas if it is to remain viable. “Cut taxes,” isn’t new and isn’t getting traction.