WaPo's Greg Sargent notes that Obama isn't really "triangulating"—he isn't "arguing that the left is wrong on policy substance, as Bill Clinton did." Right. That's the problem!
Or, rather, two problems. 1) Since Obama's not in the center because he believes in being in the center, but because he has had to compromise, he's congenitally vulnerable to the charge of wimpiness, at least from Democrats. "He agrees with us," they can think—"but did he get all he could? Did John Kyl take him to the cleaners?" What under triangulation is a policy dispute becomes a manhood issue. 2) Meanwhile, because Obama never tells the left it's wrong on policy, the larger public doesn't get a very clear idea of where he'd want to take the country, given the chance. He's managed to piss off the base without necessarily winning over the middle. Many mainstream voters come to suspect, not without reason, that he's a left-winger at heart, constrained only by reality—especially political reality. They must be very happy they added some new constraints on November 2.
Triangulation is better than what Obama is doing. But the lightbulb has to want to triangulate. ...
Backfill: I seem to have written a crappier version of Peggy Noonan's most recent column:
If you suggest, as the president did, that the seemingly moderate plan you agreed to is awful and you'll try to rescind it in two years, you won't leave the center thinking, "He's our guy!" You'll leave them thinking, "Note to self: Remove Obama in two years."
Make Way for Means-Testing: Democrats are waking up to the possibility that the partial payroll tax "holiday" included in the tax deal could weaken the Social Security system by undermining the idea that it's a contributory program, like life insurance, in which you pay money (va the payroll tax) to a "trust fund" while you are working and get it back when you retire. Ryan Grim of HuffPo:
Reducing a person's responsibility to contribute to Social Security also deprives the program of the political and moral capital that has kept the program in tact despite fierce opposition from a determined investor class. [Nancy] Altman [of the advocacy group Social Security Works] notes that such responsibility was put into place by FDR for just that purpose. "We put those pay roll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program. Those taxes aren't a matter of economics, they're straight politics," FDR told a Treasury official in 1941.
OK. But shouldn't Democrats have thought of this back when they started campaigning to remove the "cap" on the payroll taxes paid by high earners? If the system really is contributory, after all, higher-paid people would stop paying into it at some point, once they had covered their benefits. ...
In truth, the payroll tax holiday doesn't remove two crucial contributory aspects of Social Security. 1) You don't get it if you haven't worked. And 2) within limits, you get more benefits if you earn more money and therefore pay in more in payroll taxes.
But the new tax "holiday" does undermine the fiction that the system simply pays you back the money you put in. It turns out that, under the payroll "holiday," taxpayers will pay you your full benefits even if you don't make a full contribution. You aren't getting "your" money back at all. Breaking that fictional link once and for all is a prerequisite for the biggest money-saving move the goverment could make: "means-testing," paying affluent recipients lower benefits—or even zero benefits.
So yes, the payroll-tax holiday undermines Social Security. But it's a feature, not a bug. And you don't have to want to privatize the system to think that. ... 12:18 a.m.
Republicans should not make a big deal over the inheritance tax extension. A $5 million exemption protects 40,000 of the 44,000 estates that will come up for tax next year. The other 4,000 are not worth the fight.
Now they tell us. ... Of course, if the exemption is lowered to $3.5 million (as House Democrats are demanding) more than 4,000 will be affected. But you don't go to Dick Morris for numbers. You go to Morris for id. ...
P.S.: I'm not sure that Democrats who want to preserve the estate tax shouldn't secretly like the new Republican position of 35 percent after a $5 million exemption. That's low enough that it might actually stick—Republicans would have a hard time ginning up "double taxation" outrage at a 35 percent rate. A relatively high exemption would also minimize the need to engage in elaborate estate-planning transactions to avoid the tax. All those lawyers and accountants and life-insurance salesmen constitute a waste of social energy that extends way beyond a few thousand families and is surely the tax's greatest cost. ... 12:31 a.m.
Gore Curse Update: On November 10, the Daily Beast said that, of the eight undecided close House races, the GOP was "likely to get 6 seats." I sneered, citing a "pattern" in which Democrats win all the nailbiters. So how many of the seats did the GOPs win? Four, including just two of the last six. Not such a strong pattern, though ... 1:15 a.m.