Some conservatives are arguing that if most Americans have to pay higher taxes, they will start being anti-spending. This was more or less the fiscal strategy that Republicans followed from the ’30s through the ’70s. It was not a notable success during that period, which was not coincidentally a long era in which Republicans were the minority party. (Some of our readers may recall that Newt Gingrich called Bob Dole the “tax collector for the welfare state” for clinging to that strategy after the party had changed direction.) When we have gone over the cliff and Obama calls for reinstating the middle-class tax rates of the last decade, the make-them-pay conservatives will presumably counsel Republicans to say: No tax cuts for you, not until we have spending under control. After decades of touting the Kennedy tax cuts, conservatives can start quoting Barry Goldwater in opposition to them.
(The difference this time, it might be argued, is that Republicans have a chance to blame middle-class tax increases on the Democrats. If they have that chance, though, the only way to take it is to sound as little as possible like those conservative commentators who are cheering for middle-class tax increases. And of course a blame-the-Democrats strategy would be hard to reconcile with opposition in 2013 to middle-class tax cuts.)