In the New Republic, the Brookings Institution’s William Galston zeroes in on the fuzzy math. “Unless Obama is prepared to tolerate huge deficits indefinitely,” he writes, “or to emulate arch-conservatives and curb the budget deficit with spending cuts only, he will have to break his unsustainable tax pledge at some point. The only question is when.”
More remarkable still, Mr. Galston was jumping off from an article in National Review by Reihan Salam, who made the same point about the mathematical impossibilities of Mr. Obama’s present tax pledge. Mr. Salam, a policy adviser at the pro-market think tank Economics 21, observes that the revenues Mr. Obama needs to pay for his agenda fall in the rung just below the super-rich—that is, Americans earning between $100,000 and $200,000. The political problem is that this is a block that went Republican by 56% to 43% in 2010.
“The President’s political advisers are keenly aware of the fact that Democrats need to improve their performance with these voters or face defeat in 2012,” Mr. Salam writes. “This helps explain the profound irrationality of the Obama administration’s approach to key public-policy questions.” By irrationality, he means what Mr. Galston means: the split between what the president needs to do economically to fund his programs and what he did politically to get himself elected.
Inside the Beltway, one of the most hallowed chestnuts is that so polarized have our politics become, we can no longer agree on basic facts. Mr. Galston and Mr. Salam and their respective allies disprove that. Both agree on the revenue problem, though their policy conclusions veer off in sharply opposite ways.
Both would probably also agree that in the last two elections, the American people have zeroed in on one part of the message without perhaps accepting the full consequences of their position. In 2008, Americans went resoundingly for Mr. Obama, who promised that no one but the super-rich would have to worry about paying more for anything. Then in 2010, a tea party backlash helped elect Republicans who promised to reduce the size and reach of government.
So here’s the question for 2012: If we the people don’t want the higher taxes that are needed to support not only ObamaCare but a growing federal government, are we willing to support the real cuts that go along with that choice? And if we decide we don’t want these programs touched, will we accept the higher taxes that go along with keeping them, including for people making a lot less than $250,000?