William Saletan, over at Slate, has been making the argument that Dean's position on Bush's tax cut would hurt him as a candidate
). The argument goes as follows:
- Unlike some of his rivals, Dean proposes to repeal all of Bush's tax cuts, instead of just the ones for the wealthy.
- This is problematic because the tax cuts for the middle class were proposed by Congressional Democrats, even though Bush tries to take credit for them at every opportunity.
- Dean's counter-argument is that those middle-class tax cuts weren't that big anyways, and that increases in state taxes and cuts in services more than offset them.
- OK, says Saletan, but then why do you need them in the first place?
First off, I should say that I think there's a big win in Dean's position: it's simple. Given the poor reception accorded to Kerry's and Edwards's nuanced positions on the Iraq war, I think simplicity is good. It sells well to the public.
However, I also think Saletan is onto something. We all know that any repeal of the Bush tax cuts is going to be spun by the Wurlitzer as a tax hike. Positioning the tax cuts as a boon to the ultra-wealthy is an effective counter measure. I mean, who cares if Bill Gates can't afford his tenth Lexus? But it's a whole different ballgame when you're perceived as taking money away from hard-working middle class people, even though Dean is quite right to argue that state tax hikes have eaten up any gain that might be had.
More in the extended copy...
So it's a dilemma. If Dean wins the nomination, he'll get painted as a tax-and-spend liberal who wants to take hard-working families' dollars away from them. Even if Dean wanted to change his position on the tax cuts, he can't now without seeming to flip-flop.
I think there's a way around this, though. Why not simply give the middle-class tax cuts back to the states? Take the money saved and distribute it to all 50 state governments, pro-rated according to population. Let them spend it on whatever they want. If they want to spend it on a cut in state tax, that's fine. State taxes are more regressive than federal income taxes anyways. If they want to invest it in social services, that's fine as well.
In this way, Dean will gain favor with the state governors, Democratic and Republican alike, who can't be happy to have been forced into the role of "bad parent" by Bush's indulgence. Furthermore, it positions Dean as a champion of state sovereignty, a traditional conservative stronghold, thus undercutting some of Bush's support.