Taxes and other tempests
September 13, 2010By Dick Polman
Four items this morning, on various tempestuous matters:
Did John Boehner, the House Speaker in waiting and Ohio's tannest citizen, really say yesterday that, as the chamber's Republican leader, he's now willing to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire on schedule at year's end? That he'd bow if necessary to President Obama's insistence that the rich lose their Bush cuts? That he'd be fine if the cuts were extended only for beleaguered middle and lower class Americans?
Indeed Boehner did say all this, on CBS News: "If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for them." And this: "If the only option I have is to vote for those at 250 and below ($250,000 annual income or below), of course I'm going to do that."
So wasn't that a major concession to Obama? Actually, no. It was just shrewd political gamesmanship.
Boehner was merely trying to defuse one of Obama's midterm campaign issues; he figures that the GOP's status in the polls, seven weeks from election day, is strong enough to allow him to play this particular card.
The president spent much of last week trying to make Boehner the face of an implacable Republican opposition that, in his view, toadies to the rich even if it means holding "hostage" any extension of the Bush cuts for less affluent Americans. Boehner's statement yesterday was a chessboard move, designed to undercut Obama's rhetoric by demonstrating that he's willing to be flexible after all. It was also designed to take some steam out of a Democratic party TV ad, slated for airing tomorrow, which paints Boehner as a staunch defender of tax cuts for the rich.
Boehner loses nothing right now by portraying himself as reasonable, at least rhetorically - because he can sit back and watch the Democratic divisiveness on this very issue. Roughly half a dozen Democratic senators favor the extension of tax cuts for the rich, and they could wind up foiling Obama anyway. If that were to happen, Boehner could say, in effect, "Well, at least I was on record with my willingness to be flexible."
So Boehner didn't offer his Sunday "concession" from a position of weakness. Quite the opposite.
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the proposed Cordoba House community center in lower Manhattan, played his own strongest card yesterday during an interview on ABC News. Rather than invoke the First Amendment's freedom-of-worship guarantees, he took a far less abstract approach, stressing the issue of national security.
If he surrenders to all the hysteria, and abandons the proposed site several blocks from Ground Zero, that decision would play directly into the hands of the terrorists who claim that America is at war with Islam. He said that "if we make the wrong move, it will only expand and strengthen the voice of radicals and extremists...(it) will help the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment. This will put our people, our troops, our embassies, our citizens, under attack in the Muslim world, and we (will) have expanded and given and fueled terrorism."
Note his wording - "our" troops. America's troops are his troops, too.
It's also worth checking out Rauf's guest column last Tuesday in The New York Times, if only for the factoids that trump the ongoing hysteria. For instance: "There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and men and women of other faiths." And this: "The center will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks." And this: "Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians, and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims."
Yeah, the polls continue to show that a majority of Americans oppose the community center's planned locale; a new Quinnipiac survey finds a landslide majority, 63 percent. But the whole point of the First Amendment is to protect the rights of unpopular minorities. And it's worth noting that, during the summer of '63, a landslide majority of Americans - again, 63 percent - told Gallup that they opposed a planned event that would feature tens of thousands of black people marching in the streets. This turned out to be the March on Washington, starring Martin Luther King.
Fortunately, progress is not a popularity contest.
Speaking of polls, there's a doozy in Delaware today, 24 hours before the Senate Republican primary. According to Public Policy Polling, upstart tea-party darling Christine O'Donnell has surged into the lead among likely primary voters, topping GOP establishment candidate Mike Castle, 47-44 percent.
Backed by $300,000 in ad money from the California-based Tea Party Express astroturf group, and aided by the fact that the Delaware primary is open only to registered Republicans (thus depriving longtime congressman Castle of his usual moderate voters), O'Donnell may now have a decent shot at winning, a scenario that would trigger celebrations among Delaware Democrats.
I itemized O'Donnell's manifest flaws in this space last Wednesday. So here's the big question for today. If she does win the senatorial nomination, how can the Republican establishment possibly embrace her for the stretch run to November - given the fact that it has already publicly denounced her as "hypocritical" and "delusional" and "reckless"?
Conventional wisdom has already decreed that the GOP will capture at least one congressional chamber in November. There is a possible counter-scenario in which the Democrats would retain control despite heavy losses, but I'm not convinced. Or so I explained, in a Sunday newspaper column.