Thursday, December 09, 2010

Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad

In today's WSJ, Daniel Henniger opines that while the tax deal, and President Obama's reluctant agreement and petulant reaction to it, may not be much of a tonic for the economy, it could be downright poisonous to Obama's 2012 reelection prospects:

But if an angry, let-me-be-clear Barack Obama just looked into the cameras and said he's coming to get you in two years, what rational economic choice would you make? Spend the profit or gains 2011 might produce on new workers, or bury any new income in the backyard until the 2012 presidential clouds clear?

No matter how much economic bump Mr. Obama gets in 2011 from extending the Bush-era tax rates, the 2012 election will be fought over a deep national anxiety that he rightly identifies but misinterprets.

The 1936 Democrats argue that America can't be strong again until what they identify as "2% of taxpayers" are dragged from their homes and punished. It's a stirring tale that is irrelevant to the immediate needs of a United States that has to compete in a global economy of intense and volatile competition.

In such a high-stakes world, Barack Obama's obsession with having it out over the tax tables is a vulnerability. His opponent in 2012 should run straight at it.

This deal has a LOT that's wrong with it and there are a number of principled and legitimate reasons for conservatives to oppose it. However, unlike some on the Left who secretly hope or even publicly cheer for a economic downturn when a Republican is in the Oval Office, I want the economy to grow no matter who will benefit politically from it. The pulse of the current recovery is faint and the last thing we need right now is an IMMEDIATE tax increase to slow it even further. Yes, a two year extension is not enough and won't bring a jolt of new life into the economy as a permanent extension would. But it's a hell of a lot better than the alternative which would be tax increases going into effect a mere three weeks from now.

Besides, as Henninger notes, if President Obama wants to reopen the debate on taxes just before the 2012 elections, he's going to fighting on a field where Republicans hold the high ground. If one of the major issues of the 2012 presidential campaign is taxes, Republicans will be ecstatic. Giving some ground in the battle today would be a small price to pay if it helps lead to the real victory then.