The Public Is as Uninformed as Palin on Obama's Tax Cuts

Public opinion on any given issue is far from constant, and is often shallow and ill-informed.

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In her Facebook response, conveniently titled “The Credibility Gap,” to President Obama’s State of the Union address in January, Sarah “The Lightbulb” Palin wrote: “He claims that he cut taxes, but I must have missed that.”

As anyone whose business it is to know such things should have known, the stimulus package consisted of roughly 35 percent in various tax cuts and rebates for families and small businesses.

There were substantive conservative objections to this aspect of the stimulus: mainly that it boiled down to one-time, ineffectual Keynesian tweaks, rather than the kind of structural tax reforms that monetarists and supply-siders favor.

But that’s not the point of this post.

With Palin, the question always lingers: Is she really that dumb? As Saul Bellow wrote of a female character in Dangling Man: “I wondered whether it was possible ... that she should be blameless; whether her thoughts were as smooth and contentless as counters or blank dominoes; whether she was half guile and half innocence; or whether there worked through her a malice she herself knew nothing about.”

It turns out that the public is as ignorant as Sarah Palin. According to a front page story in today’s New York Times:

In a troubling sign for Democrats as they head into the midterm elections, their signature tax cut of the past two years, which decreased income taxes by up to $400 a year for individuals and $800 for married couples, has gone largely unnoticed.

In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, less than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know.

A couple of takeaways. First, and most obviously, is what even the most optimistic Democrats know in their bones right now: There is simply nothing they can do to turn around this election. Events are firmly in the saddle.

Second is that both parties should realize, after the last two years, that public opinion on any given issue is far from constant, and is often shallow and ill-informed. Especially in hard times and amid the cavernous cluelessness of cable news, it can be shaped--through honest persuasion as well as deception and propaganda.

I wonder: Who, in 2012, is going to stop riding the tiger but rather attempt to tame it?