Obama's going to have to raise taxes and he knows it

Having sat in such meetings in the early Clinton years, I suspect the conversation at the White House ran something like this. Yes, the president’s advisers told him, at some point taxes will need to rise broadly for the reasons described above. If we didn’t inherit this economic mess, we might be discussing it now as part of a plan to put Medicare and Social Security on a sounder footing. But tax cuts are needed for most Americans to combat the recession—and, by the way, that’s what you promised in the campaign. Saying the truth publicly—that taxes will need to rise once the recession is past—will let the GOP brand you as a tax-and-spend socialist. They’ll try to do that anyway based on the modest taxes for the top you’re proposing, but if you go this further step, their charge may well stick. Given how tough times are for most Americans today, floating the prospect of future tax increases would cost you too much support, and your ambitious agenda—hard to enact under any circumstances—would be imperiled. Better to finesse this tax thing for now…

This is a sensible strategy, to a point. But one piece of collateral damage is an intangible. By conspicuously fudging on debt and taxes, Obama undermines his reputation for intellectual honesty, one of his most attractive traits, and one which helped legitimize his claim to being a different kind of leader. In the end, Obama has made the judgment that, for now, some truths are just too hard to safely trust the public with.