A model of consistency

A MODEL OF CONSISTENCY…. President Obama talked with NPR’s Steve Inskeep this morning, and the host passed along a question from a listener. The audience member told Inskeep, “Please ask him how keeping the tax rate for the richest the same as it has been for a decade creates one single job.” The president replied:

“It doesn’t, which is why I was opposed to it — and I’m still opposed to it.

“The issue here is not whether I think that the tax cuts for the wealthy are a good or smart thing to do. I’ve said repeatedly that I think they’re not a smart thing to do, particularly because we’ve got to borrow money, essentially, to pay for them.

“The problem is, is that this is the single issue that the Republicans are willing to scotch the entire deal for. And in that circumstances — in that circumstance, we’ve got, basically, a very simple choice: Either I allow 2 million people who are currently getting unemployment insurance not to get it, either I allow the recovery that we’re on to be endangered, or we make a compromise now.”

I’ve seen some suggestions in recent days that the president is somehow “flip-flopping” or abandoning the position he held before. One can consider the tax deal a disaster or a worthwhile agreement, but in either case, Obama’s position really hasn’t changed.

Dave Weigel put together an interesting item the other day, noting Obama’s rhetoric on taxes during the presidential campaign. He highlighted four examples: a CNN interview in June 2007, a primary debate in April 2008, a campaign speech in May 2008, and a general election debate in October 2008.

In each case, the position was the same: then-candidate Obama intended to keep Bush-era rates in place for families making up to $250,000. For those who make more, they’d still get a cut on their first quarter-million in income, but would return to Clinton-era top rates.

But that’s still his position. The president gave a speech in September, as the midterm election season started to heat up in earnest, and he talked up his approach to tax policy. There was no difference from the line he took back in June 2007.

There was no reversal and no “preemptive concession.” If Congress had sent him the tax-cut compromise he designed, he’d have signed it in a heartbeat.

So why strike the deal? Because congressional Democrats balked at voting before the midterms; the party lost its leverage; the president got stuck in a box with limited options; and he negotiated the best deal he could against shameless adversaries while looking out for the middle class and the unemployed. The result is an agreement that credible liberal economists believe will have a positive impact on the economy.

Love, hate, or tolerate the agreement, this isn’t a “flip-flop.”