By now it seems pretty certain that President Obama and congressional Democrats will cave to Republicans and extend all the Bush tax cuts, even for billionaires. After all, as David Axelrod recently said, "We have to take the world as we find it." Compare that to the Bush aide who told Ron Suskind, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
But before the capitulation is made final, it's worth taking a moment to contemplate what might have been if the administration had decided not to accept the world as they found it, but instead created their own reality. What if instead of accepting that there would be a debate on whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, they had fashioned a new debate on the Obama tax cuts?
It wouldn't have been that hard. The first step would have been to say, "The tax cuts George W. Bush and Republicans passed in 2001 were designed to last 10 years. They're over. Now we have to decide where to go from here. That's why we're offering a new tax plan." Then they could have offered a new plan, one not based on the Bush plan. Let's say it would have raised taxes for those with incomes over $1 million, given those between $250,000 and $1 million a small break (let's say 1 percentage point), and given everyone below that a larger break. If they had made it clear and understandable but different than "extending the Bush tax cuts," then we'd now be spending our time debating the merits of the Obama tax cuts, not debating whether or not to extend the Bush tax cuts. It could easily have been designed to highlight even more the Republicans' advocacy for the wealthy.
And of course, it could have been done during the campaign. The point is, it was one of those moments where, had they been willing to create a new reality, they could have won on both the politics and the substance. But instead, they accepted the world as they found it -- and lost.
-- Paul Waldman