Michael Kazin: The Democrats’ Big Tax Problem

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Michael Kazin is co-editor of Dissent and a professor of history at Georgetown University. He is completing a history of the American left to be published in 2011 by Knopf.]

I never imagined I would suspect Jonathan Chait of political naïveté. But his recent post, “How To Fight the Tax Cut Wars,” leaves me no choice. Chait gleefully maintains that Democrats “hold the whip hand” in the upcoming battle in Congress over whether to retain the Bush tax cuts that provided a windfall for the richest Americans. If the Dems try to extend the cuts only for taxpayers with incomes under $250,000, Chait argues, the GOP will seem like lackeys of the rich for filibustering the bill. And if no bill passes, the nation would revert to the more equitable rates of the 1990s. Either way, writes Chait, “This debate puts Republicans in a position where they can’t win.”

Unfortunately, Chait’s reasoning is more clever than convincing. In his focus on short-term strategy, he ignores the burdens of ideology and history that weigh heavily on any politicians who seek to institute a more democratic federal tax system....

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