Don't fall into the Buffett Rule trap

One conversation which cropped up last night centered on a distressing trend I’m seeing among conservatives, and one which was front and center on Hot Air’s pages yesterday from Allahpundit. There appears to be a growing tendency in Republican circles to blow off the results of the recent Gallup poll which showed that a very solid majority of voters favor the Buffett Rule by a nearly two to one margin. It’s true that the political will doesn’t exist to pass this into law right now, but that’s not the point at all. Even Obama doesn’t want this thing to pass. (More on that in a minute.)

The point(s) AP was trying to make seem to focus on two themes. First, there is the Jay Cost approach, which essentially says, “Yeah, but don’t worry. That’s not what swing voters really care about so it won’t matter.” He thinks Obama has a “lousy reelect strategy” so there’s no sense talking about it. This, to me, sounds like a combination of massively wishful thinking and whistling past the graveyard.

The second piece of “evidence” about voters’ feelings on the subject comes in the form of an online YouGov poll which showed that most regular folks wouldn’t want large lottery winnings taxed at a high rate. Leaving aside for the moment the sterling bona fides of “YouGov” as a national polling organization, that strange story actually has a fairly obvious – and completely opposite – lesson buried in it. If you ask lower and middle class workers about their views on lottery winnings vs. the ultra-wealthy, you’re going to get two very different sets of answers. Why?

Because against all logic, people who play the lottery still like to think there’s a chance that they might win. Or, failing that, that some friend of theirs might win. Or at least some other poor schlub out there who needs a lucky break. But if you ask them what the chances are that they’re going to be running a company like Bain Capital next year they’ll say zero. They actually think their odds of hitting the Lotto jackpot are better than becoming a Wall Street Fat Cat. And if they do hit the lottery, they don’t want all of their money taken away.

But back to Cost’s assertion, I think the GOP ignores this at their own peril. People are talking about it. The media is talking about it. Endlessly. The President is up on his bully pulpit hammering on it. The Vice President is working it like a rented mule. And they’re not going to stop.

This isn’t because they think it’s going to pass or because they believe it will fix anything. Even DNC cheerleader Greg Sargent – a guy so far out on the left wing that he could have Castro taking a second look at free market capitalism – is openly admitting that the bill wouldn’t raise enough money to amount to a rounding error on the national budget and that it’s as likely to pass as John Edwards is to make another run at the White House. But that was never the point. As I noted above, even Barack Obama doesn’t want this thing to pass. If it did, the bill would fall into history like the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Supporters would get a quick thrill up their legs and then it would be forgotten.

But if the GOP defeats the Buffett Rule, then Obama can keep talking about it straight through November. The Republicans wanted to make sure that people who earn as much as Mitt Romney pay a lower tax rate than you do! And…


It’s a powerful message, and one which resonates with far too many people, as Gallup has repeatedly shown. Say what you will about the President’s performance in office, but the guy has a crack political team and he knows how to campaign. He’s holding on to a winning hand on this one and he knows it. And this tendency to pretend this isn’t going to be a campaign issue in the fall (particularly when he’s running against Mr. “How Many of Ann’s Cadillac Convertibles Can I Fit In My Car Elevator”) is disturbing. In terms of electoral strategies, it just looks like Obama is playing three dimensional chess and we’re playing tiddlywinks here.

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