Elections have consequences — like tax increases on the wealthy?

Shellshocked by the election results, a number of Republican officials are doing the unthinkable, by seeming to move, albeit rhetorically and ever so slightly, to the center. They’re insulting their fellow citizens a little less and throwing around terms like care and compassion. As Michael Tomasky has noted:

Bobby Jindal kicked this off by saying in response to Romney, “We need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American dream.” Marco Rubio weighed in with the reassuring news flash that, in fact, he does not think there are “millions and millions of people in this country that don’t want to work.” Fellow Floridian Rick Scott—bless him, the Rick Scott who ripped off Medicare before he became governor and has tried to block Democrats from voting since occupying the office—says Republicans have to say that “we want to take care of every citizen of our state.” Scott Walker, Haley Barbour, Michael Steele, Susanna Martinez, and others have made similar remarks.

Some of those leaders have gone a bit further and suggested they might even be willing to put their money where their mouth is, by supporting tax increases on the wealthy. For example, here’s the governor purple-trending-blue state of Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell:

When asked if his party would now have to open to taxes on the highest earners, McDonnell said, “The people have spoken, I think we’re going to have to be [flexible] now. Elections do have consequences. The president campaigned on that.”

A number of Republicans in the House of Representatives also seem open to a tax increase. The Hill reports that Grover Norquist is losing influence, and fewer Republicans are signing on to his anti-tax pledge:

About a dozen newly elected House Republicans refused to sign the anti-tax pledge during their campaigns, and another handful of returning Republicans have disavowed their allegiance to the written commitment.

Even some of the biggest corporate jackasses like JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein have come out in favor of taxes for the wealthy, and, in Dimon’s case, in support of increasing the capital gains rate to 20%, which President Obama has proposed.

On the one hand, I think this is awesome. The election results seem to have put the fear of God into some of these people, and they know they have to compromise, or face the wrath of the people. On the other hand, I worry. Many of these same people are saying that would be open to higher taxes on the wealthy, but only if Democrats agree to significant spending cuts. For example, here’s former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour:

“‘If there’s enough savings, if there’s enough entitlement reform, if there’s enough certainty about tax reform in the next few years, I would,’ Barbour said when asked whether his party should consider softening its opposition to letting the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest expire.”

There are way too many ifs there for me to feel comfortable. I agree with Digby, who recently wrote, “I’m actually in favor of gridlock a good part of the time as I see our centrist political establishment doing the bidding of our plutocratic overlords.” Me too! The wingnuts were the only reason we narrowly averted a social safety net-shredding Grand Bargain last time. With the power of the right now significantly diminished, we may end up with an “entitlement” “reform” that will devastate elderly, disabled, and low-income Americans for decades to come.

Of course, another strong possibility is that the right is only temporarily amenable to compromise, and that within a few weeks or months they will come out swinging, more relentless and determined than ever to implement their extremist political agenda. That is, after all, what happened in 2008. The election briefly knocked the right off guard, and Republican leaders pledged to cooperate with the President. That lasted maybe a month, and before you knew it the Tea Party was up and running, charting a course of reactionary obstructionism and nearly torpedoing health care reform.

Ultimately, I believe we need to be extremely wary of these folks. They are zealots and hardcore ideologues who will do just about anything to enact their vision of what America should be. I actually admire their confidence, tenaciousness and unflappability, and I think those of us on the left could certainly use more of it. But should we really expect them to stop obstructing and begin productively cooperating with progressives? Hardly. I keep thinking of the ending of The Producers, when Zero Mostel tearfully addresses the court, promising: “And may I humbly add, your Honor, that we’ve learned our lesson and that we’ll never do it again.”

The very next scene is of Mostel and Gene Wilder in prison and working the exact same scam they just got convicted for.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee