The Tax History Conservatives Want Us to Forget

Grover Norquist is regularly billed as one of the leading intellectual lights of the conservative movement – and I think you will agree that the arguments he made in a debate with me over taxes this morning on CNBC highlight not merely the shocking intellectual bankruptcy of the movement he leads, but just how out of touch Republicans in Washington really are.

The debate revolved around President-elect Obama’s potential plans to put off raising taxes on the very wealthy. Norquist begins the debate with the claim – I kid you not – that "the economy is in the present state because when the Democrats took the House and Senate in 2006 you knew those tax increases were going to come in 2010." He insisted that, "The stock market began to collapse as soon as you recognize that those old tax rates were coming back." Yes, because under "those old tax rates" – ie. Clinton-era tax rates – the economy was so much worse than it is today.

As you’ll see, the CNBC reporters start laughing at Norquist, having trouble taking him seriously. And I must say, I really wasn’t sure he was being serious – but, of course, he was. I went on to make the point that I’ve often made in the past – the point that conservatives simply want everyone to forget: Namely, that President Clinton faced down a recession in 1993 by raising taxes on the wealthy in order to finance an economic stimulus package, and the economy subsequently boomed.

That simple, undeniable bit of history undermines the entire structure of conservatives claim that raising taxes on the super-rich will hurt the economy. And as you’ll see from Norquist’s response, they simply cannot deal with that truth. Indeed, Norquist actually goes all the way back to the 1920s as his example that raising taxes on the wealthy impedes economic growth – somehow ignoring the history from 15 years ago. He then goes on to claim with a straight face that Franklin Roosevelt created the Great Depression (this, along with the "center-right nation" propaganda, seems to be the right’s new talking point).

The question now is whether the Obama administration buys into Norquist’s fact-free nonsense, or whether it musters the same courage President Clinton mustered in prudently raising taxes on the super-rich to responsibly finance an economic stimulus package. Sure, temporary deficits are acceptable right now – there’s no arguing that. But doing what’s necessary to minimize those deficits is also important.

In terms of policy, if, as Congressional Quarterly reports, Obama wants to enforce budget discipline on a necessarily large economic stimulus package, it will require generating additional revenue from the wealthy. In terms of raw politics, if Clinton’s 43 percent of the vote gave him enough political capital to come into office during an economic downturn and do that, I’d say Obama and his 53 percent gives him enough political capital to do the same today. And I would argue that if Obama backs off his promise to raise taxes on the wealthy, he will effectively validate the false conservative frame that claims tax increases on the wealthy endangers an economy.

While I certainly agree with the CNBC reporter that the 2008 is different than the 1990s, it isn’t different when it comes to taxes – we have very recent history that proves raising taxes on the wealthy in order to raise revenues for economic stimulus, if done prudently, helps an economy recover. That is the argument that nobody during this debate was able to undermine – and it is the argument conservatives fear most, because they know it is accurate.

The Uprising: Taking the NAFTA Fight to Fox – and to McCain

This is an ongoing series from the national tour for THE UPRISING. You can order The Uprising at or through your local independent bookstore.

CHICAGO – Trade policy – and specifically, opposition to our current trade policy – is one of the most volatile issues in the uprising that I describe in my book. Across the political spectrum, opposition to pacts like NAFTA and China PNTR is strong, and getting stronger. You see this from the anti-globalization protests on the Left, and Minuteman protests (which I disagree with) on the Right. Underneath it all is a feeling that our international economic policies are designed to enrich the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

This was the topic of my latest newspaper column, which looks at how Barack Obama has a huge opportunity to use trade against John McCain – if he decides to shun the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party and adopt a more populist posture on kitchen table economic issues. I discussed this assertion on Fox Business yesterday from Chicago. Watch it here.

Progressives have a strong case to make on NAFTA and trade policy in general – a case that can help us win this election. We’ve learned time and time again that when there is a strong progressive pressure system demanding Democrats take majority positions on key issues like trade and the war, we not only get closer to concrete change, but we also win elections.

I’m heading to Ohio tomorrow for a series of events with Progress Ohio (full schedule here), and I expect NAFTA and trade policy in general to be a major topic of conversation, especially considering THE UPRISING’s chapter on Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown – one of the country’s greatest fair trade leaders.

And while we’re on the topic of Brown, he’s involved in some very good news as it relates to the presidential election and trade.


The Uprising: Are We Not Allowed to Talk About McCain’s Iraq Position?

This is an ongoing FDL series from the national tour for THE UPRISING. You can order The Uprising at or through your local independent bookstore.

MINNEAPOLIS – During this whirlwind book tour, I’ve had trouble keeping up with the minute-to-minute trajectory of television’s political debate. However, I didn’t know that it is now considered out of bounds to talk about John McCain’s support for staying in Iraq for 100 years. Watch this clip of me debating GOP hack Terry Holt on Fox News late last week to see what I’m talking about:

You’ll notice that Fox News anchor Megan Kelly interrupts me when I mention that McCain has said he is OK with having America stay in Iraq for 100 years. She says that’s taken "out of context" and that I’m spinning, while Holt chuckles. Have I missed something here? Are we now no long allowed to talk about McCain’s statements on Iraq?

Here’s the video of McCain saying he doesn’t mind if American troops are in Iraq for 100 years. Here’s CNN’s report of McCain defending that statement. Here’s the video of McCain doubling down, saying that in fact he’s OK with America being in Iraq for 10,000 years.

Yet, somehow, mentioning this is billed as unfair by the media, and laughed at by Republican strategists.

Admittedly, this is an interchange on Fox News, which leans Right in its coverage. But still – it seems absurd for any media to bat down a relevant discussion about McCain’s incredibly extreme position on the most important national security issue we face.

Let me be clear: I appreciate Fox asking me on to discuss politics and my book – I really do. For all of us trying to get out a progressive message, we need to take the media opportunities as they come – especially when much of the traditional "liberal" media blatantly ignores progressive voices in favor of promoting the same old Serious Voices from Washington. (more…)

The Uprising: Debating Grover Norquist, America’s Leading Fake Populist

This is an ongoing FDL series from the national tour for THE UPRISING. You can order The Uprising at or through your local independent bookstore.

2581824136_fec1f79696_m.jpgSEATTLE – This week on my national book tour, I had the opportunity to debate conservative leader Grover Norquist on KUOW – Seattle’s NPR affiliate. The topic of the debate was my new book, THE UPRISING, and specifically the rise of populism in American politics. You can listen to the debate here – it begins about half way into the interview.

Norquist, one of the architects of the original conservative uprising of the 1980s and 1990s, is a good indicator of where the conservative movement is today. As you can hear, the Right is angry with the Bush administration for not being more conservative on a whole host of issues – and you can sense from Norquist how ideologically bankrupt conservatives really are today.

For a generation or so, the Right has dynamically adapted its reactionary ideas to sound like a populist, anti-Establishment, for-the-little-guy agenda. But thanks to all the crises we now face from those ideas – an energy crisis, stagnant wages, national security catastrophes, a global warming emergency – it has become much easier for progressives to unmask the Right as what I called Norquist: Fake populists.

The concept of fake populism is an important one as we move into the superheated general election campaign. Just as Norquist tries in the debate to package environmental degradation, oil industry handouts and tax cuts for billionaires as policies designed to help us regular folks, so will John McCain try to present more NAFTA-style trade deals and more war in Iraq as populism. And the more we label it for what it is – fake populism – the more we will show the country the difference between a true majority agenda and the Beltway elitism of the Right. (more…)

Why Today’s Populist Uprising Could Be Great for Progressives

sirota-chart.jpg[Editor’s note: Please welcome David Sirota to Firedoglake. He’ll be posting irregularly over the next several weeks as part of an ongoing blog series from the national book tour of The Uprising. I’ll be posting these at OpenLeft and Firedoglake for the next few weeks as the tour continues. You can order The Uprising at or through your local independent bookstore. — dn]

WASHINGTON, D.C. – What you see here is a slide from the audiovisual presentation about THE UPRISING that I unveiled yesterday at a Campaign for America’s Future event in Washington, D.C. It is a graph showing Gallup’s survey that documents Americans confidence in different institutions – and, as my new newspaper column today shows, it is an image that should give us hope that today’s populist uprising is, in fact, a progressive opportunity…if we seize it.

In my presentation (which you can come see at many of the events I am doing all over the country in the next month), I make the case that today’s political topography resembles that of the late 1970s – just like back then, we are facing a Mideast crisis, a financial crisis, a potential inflationary crisis and an energy crisis (incidentally, the Washington Post’s front-page this week actually noted some of the similarities).

As you can see from the Gallup polling graph above, Americans had little confidence in Congress in the late 1970s – and that helped the Right use an anti-government message to take the uprising of that age channel it into the full-fledged conservative movement that has now dominated our country for the last generation.

Today, Americans have lost further confidence in Congress, which would seem to bode well for conservatives and their anti-government ideology. Except other factors have also changed – namely, Americans’ confidence in Big Business and the financial system. While in the late 1970s Americans were relatively confident in those economic institutions, today we are not, meaning progressives critique of corporate power and economic inequality can compete against the Right’s anti-government rhetoric. (more…)