The Republicans have long hewed to their delusional belief that “the American people” will not accept any tax hikes, and who best to reiterate this fatuous canard than our favorite out-of-the-mainstream Sunday show mainstay, John McCain?Holding forth without a clue on CNN, McCain insisted on Sunday morning that “the American people” want the Republicans to stick to their ideological principles and refuse to accept any kind of tax hike in a deficit-reduction deal with the Obama White House. Here’s how he put it:”The principle of not raising taxes is something that we campaigned on last November, and the results of the election was the American people don’t want their taxes raised and they wanted us to cut spending….They don’t want compromise.”McCain was basically echoing the line advanced by House Speaker John Boehner, who said on June 24 (one day after Republicans walked out on the deficit-reduction talks): “Tax hikes are off the table….The American people don’t want us to raise taxes.”But let’s unpack that deceptive Republican wordplay. Nobody with a pulse actually wants to have their taxes raised. But in the realm of factual reality, the truth – as evidenced by nearly two dozen polls since last winter – is that most Americans, as a matter of prudent policy, recognize the necessity of raising some taxes. Because that’s the only way we can seriously slash the deficit. Because that’s the only way we can substantively protect entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Which is why 66 percent of swing-voting independents told the bipartisan NBC-Wall Street Journal poll (back in April, during an earlier budget crisis) that they wanted Republicans to compromise on taxes.It’s always a big hoot to hear people like McCain and Boehner invoke “the American people,” as if the results of the ’10 congressional elections were the final word on the national mood. Let us remember, first of all, that the vast majority of Americans stayed home last November, as always occurs in midterm elections; and that those who did vote were disproportionately whiter, older, and more ideologically conservative than the general electorate. Indeed, the polls repeatedly show that the tax-allergic Republican talking heads are seriously out of touch with the general electorate. As Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow and polling expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, recently told the fact-checking website PolitiFact, “Generally, combinations of tax hikes and spending cuts are most popular. It seems fair to most people.”Elsewhere, a former government aide named Bruce Bartlett concluded last week that “contrary to Republican dogma, polls show that the American people strongly support higher taxes to reduce the deficit” – and, to prove his point, he itemized 19 polls in 2011 alone. These include: A Washington Post-ABC poll which reported in June that 61 percent of Americans believe higher taxes are necessary to help reduce the deficit; a Pew poll which found in June that 66 percent of Americans favor raising taxes on those who make more than $250,000 a year; a Quinnipiac poll which found in May that 69 percent favor higher taxes for those making more than $250,000; an April Gallup poll in which 76 percent believed that higher taxes should play a role in cutting the deficit; an April McClatchy-Marist poll in which 63 percent of swing-voting independents supported higher taxes for those making more than $250,000; a March NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, where 81 percent favored a surtax on millionaires to help cut the deficit…and so on.By the way, Bruce Bartlett, the guy who amassed this devastating list, is a conservative who once worked as a senior policy analyst for Ronald Reagan, as a deputy assistant Treasury secretary for George H. W. Bush, and as a congressional staffer for three Republican lawmakers (including Ron Paul). In fact, if he had expanded his list into 2010, he undoubtedly would have spied my favorite stat: Back in December, 55 percent of Americans favored tax hikes on millionaires, according to a poll sponsored by American Crossroads GPS – the Republican activist group launched last year by Karl Rove.But it’s really no mystery why McCain, Boehner, and their compadres keep reciting their falsehoods. They have apparently convinced themselves, at least for public consumption, that “the American people” are synonymous with the tea-party extremists who continue to hold them hostage, at the expense of common sense.Is my tea-party characterization unfair? Nope, not according to center-right columnist David Brooks, who pointed out this morning that “the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative. The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no….The members of this movement have no moral decency.”The Republicans, as we know, are insisting that nobody’s taxes be raised in a deficit-reduction deal, in exchange for their support to raise the national debt ceiling. But Brooks rightly warned: “If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern. And they will be right.”Speaking of “not fit to govern,” John McCain broadly hinted Sunday that maybe Republicans might in theory be willing to maybe consider some kind of “revenue raisers” as part of a broad deal to solve the debt crisis and prevent America from defaulting. Whereupon the CNN host asked, “Could you share what sort of revenue raisers might be OK with you?”McCain’s response: “No.”I wonder whether he truly believes that “the American people” applaud such Republican fanaticism.
Can Obama win re-election during hard times? My Sunday newspaper column, here.