On Friday night's NewsHour on PBS, liberal commentator Mark Shields felt the need to offer a “correction” to less-liberal commentator David Brooks when he said President Obama “wanted to raise your taxes” if you make over $250,000. He didn't want to “raise taxes,” said Shields, but just “return it to where it was” under Clinton. They're now "artificially reduced" for the rich. Brooks shot back “I was just reporting the facts.”
Shields also trotted out the line that we haven't had any “shared sacrifice” (also code for tax hikes) in the new century, as if no one has federal taxes deducted from their paycheck. Brooks agreed on this point, that “serious” people should let go of their tax shelters so they can share sacrifice like soldiers. Brooks began the squabble by saying liberals don't quite trust Obama right now:
DAVID BROOKS: I think that is why Nancy Pelosi has so much support in becoming the minority leader. And so that dynamic has become a very interesting dynamic of people, enforcement on the left, really.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see the same dynamic at work?
MARK SHIELDS: I do. Just one correction. President Obama doesn't want to raise the taxes on those over $250,000.
SHIELDS: He wants it to return to where it was under the prosperous years of Bill Clinton.
BROOKS: By raise, I meant going from 36 to 39. Whatever Mark wants to call that...That's fine.
SHIELDS: No, no, 35, 35.
LEHRER: The dynamic question.
SHIELDS: Well, but I think that is important, because that has been the argument, whether we are returning to what is the norm...
SHIELDS: ... or whether we are going to keep these artificially reduced rates for billionaires, that Donald Trump can continue to prosper.
DAVID BROOKS: I was just reporting the facts.
The "shared sacrifice" talk came in response to the Obama deficit commission's tough-medicine recommendations:
SHIELDS: There are two things about it I think that are crucial, Jim. First of all, people have been hiding about, saying we're going to settle -- balance this budget by hitting them, the, I don't know, rich people, taxes, or whatever, closing loopholes. Or we're going to hit by them taking away the benefits from these freeloaders. He has basically said, it's us, OK? And they have...
LEHRER: This isn't them. It's us.
SHIELDS: That's right. And they have laid out the plan. And if you want to argue with parts of it, OK, fine. But you better come up with where you are going to come -- get the money. And I think that's crucial. The other thing they have done is, they have asked for shared sacrifice. And, since Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter -- Jimmy Carter lost in 1980 running -- accused of running on a platform of cold showers and root canal work. Reagan came along and said, I'm going to double the defense budget, cut your taxes by a third, and balance the budget.
Boy, that sounded great. That was a real formula for success. Of course he didn't do it. But, ever since then, every president, with the minor exceptions of George Herbert Walker Bush in his term and Bill Clinton in his first term, have basically gone on ouchless, painless prosperity. There has been no shared sacrifice this century at all. And what they are saying is, are you up to it? Are you in the American tradition? Are you willing to do it?
BROOKS: I think that's the test.
LEHRER: That's it, huh?
BROOKS: I mean, you got Marines and soldiers in Afghanistan sacrificing for their country. And you're not willing to give up your mortgage interest deduction or see a little raise in your capital gains tax? I mean, that is the country -- that's the question the country really has to ask. And I would say it's up -- it's not -- the change isn't going to happen in Washington. There has to be a change in the country of voters saying, yes, I hate this, but I'm willing to do it, or else the politicians will go nowhere near it.
Brooks could have just as easily said you have soldiers abroad, and you won't sacrifice your public-broadcasting subsidies? Oops. That would be the end of his NewsHour tenure. What was amazing is that they all talked about how the public needs to have a "surge" of pro-tax-hike opinion, as if the Tea Party didn't demonstrate a surge for spending reduction, not tax hikes:
BROOKS: And so there has to be some surge in the country first of people saying, yes, we're serious about this.
LEHRER: But how can there be a surge without an election? It is not going to happen then before 2012.
BROOKS: No. Well, social movements arise. We had the Obama movement arose. The Tea Party movement arose. People got organized. Institutions formed.
LEHRER: So, it could happen?
BROOKS: And they changed the political dynamic. We would have to have a significant change in the political dynamic before politicians of either party will touch this.