US – Politics – Bill Clinton Is Sorry, At Least Until The First of January – 7 June 2012

If anyone believes Bill Clinton’s story about how he “thought something had to be done on the ‘fiscal cliff’ before the election” though apparently “nothing has to be done until the first of the year”, I have a very nice bridge running from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights you may be interested in purchasing. Clinton’s explanation about why he came out in favour of extending, yet again, the Bush Tax Cuts, deserves our contempt.

Bill Clinton was the president of the United States for two terms. His wife is the Secretary of State. He is still very active in Democratic Party politics. The idea that he didn’t know a deficit reduction package was going to kick in on 1 January 2013, after the elections, is risible. Of course he knew. Also, if you parse this non-apology apology appropriately, what Clinton means when he says “nothing has to be done until the first of the year” is that after the elections, he will advocate extending the Bush Tax Cuts yet again. He is not sorry he raised the idea, he’s only sorry he’s been called to the woodshed by the Obama campaign for raising it now.

It’s odd that this story presents Bill Clinton as a “Barack Obama campaign surrogate” even though he is floating ideas for public consumption that the campaign opposes. Obama’s White House was emphatic in rejecting a call for an extension of the Bush Tax Cuts. Obama understands that progressive tax policy is starting to win people over to liberal, social democratic and left-wing political parties the world over. In France, François Hollande was elected on a platform thunderously demanding the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Even Anthony Giddens, the architect of the Third Way (that is, the architect of Clintonism), has made a pitch for social democratic parties to start moving towards increasing progressive taxation as a vital program for their political revitalisation. Obama gets that taking on the Bush Tax Cuts is a vote winner for the Democrats. Clinton is very much playing politics out of yesterday’s playbook on this one.

It is, of course, always possible that Obama could, as he has done before, trade a Bush Tax Cut extension for something else of importance to the economy. When he did his first such trade at the end of 2010, it made me very nervous, and led me to contemplate not voting for Obama in this upcoming election. I decided to stick with Obama because I think the things he’s won in his trades have been worth the deviation from ideological purity on this issue. It is possible something else he trades for would make another such deviation worth it. I don’t know. I wouldn’t rule it out. But note that Clinton’s suggestion is not to leave the Bush Tax Cuts on a negotiation table with the Republicans. Obama probably would be fine with that.

What Clinton is suggesting here is that the Bush Tax Cuts solve fiscal problems. They do not. They create those problems.

Clinton’s suggestion seems to play on Laffer Curve orthodoxy (if you cut taxes, it will make the rich richer, and then lower taxes will be able to provide higher revenue). Why else would he float the idea that the Bush Tax Cuts are anything but a budget killer? The problem with Laffer that is that you also create greater need for the services of government, because redistribution upwards from the poor and lower-middle class means more reliance on government will be necessary. Clinton seems to be, thus, interested more in “how do we fund government programs” rather than “how do we make America more equal, so people don’t need government programs”.

I can’t think of a vision more at odds with President Obama’s. Obama is running on making the US a more equal society.

But then, I’m not really surprised, given the source. This is not a friend either of Obama or of equality. Remember, this is the same Bill Clinton who remarked about Obama to Edward Kennedy just before the 2008 election that “a few years ago, this guy would be getting us coffee”, and who commented, when Obama won the South Carolina primary that “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88…Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here.” Clinton was willing to play the race card to defeat Obama in the primaries to help his wife. He is not in any sense a “Barack Obama campaign surrogate”. He is someone Barack Obama has invited into his “team of rivals”, following the old maxim of “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”.

Oh, am I being too harsh? Well, let me just say this: I’m very sorry…at least until the first of the year.

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