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Despite all the noise about Roy Blunt’s nasty little subliminal “Robin-Carnahan supports 9/11 terrorists” message, the really big news for progressives yesterday was a tweet from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Tony Messenger:

News from @robincarnahan: the dedmocrat [sic] says she supports extending ALL the Bush tax cuts. “now is not the time to raise taxes, she says.

As unexpected as a slap in the face from your friendly neighborhood grocery clerk. In both cases there can be only one response: Why?

Duanne Graham, in his excellent blog, The Erstwhile Conservative, suggests that because progressives really hate Roy Blunt, Carnahan thinks she’s got us between a rock and a hard place and can afford to diss us in order to go after the knee-jerk center. Graham speculates that she thinks that she has more to gain by courting folks who are more easily bamboozled by the “biggest tax increase ever” fiction disseminated by Republicans fighting tooth and nail to keep the good times rolling for their wealthy constituency.

Maybe Graham’s right, or maybe Carnahan really has had a change of heart and is acting from conviction. Personally, I’d rather believe that she’s trying to be strategic rather than that she’s stupid; and Graham’s contentions about her “triangulating” ploy seem at least somewhat credible when we consider that, as the The Hill  reports, this is a rather sudden change in her position:

In a February radio interview, Carnahan had said she favored extending tax cuts for the middle-class but not for the wealthiest Americans. She said then that the nation couldn’t afford it.

Carnahan said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press that her position has evolved because of an additional six months of difficult economic times, which she blamed on policies backed by Blunt.

Excuse me! Am I hearing correctly? Carnahan wants to fix a recession caused by policies backed by Blunt and his BushCo gang by continuing those same policies?  If we couldn’t afford these tax cuts then, how can we afford them now? Please, Ms. Carnahan, I would just love to know what you’re thinking – or, alternatively, what you’ve been smoking.

I have also heard stories that Carnahan might parse this support for the upper bracket tax cuts a little more narrowly, claiming that she believes that if they expire, it might hurt small businesses whose success conventional wisdom deems essential to recovery. This line is also, incidentally, the exact position that is currently being pushed by Senate Republicans.

Will increasing the top bracket from 35% to 39.5% actually discourage small businesses from expanding and hiring? Writing for The Christian Science Monitor, Howard Gleckman demonstrates that the increase will actually affect only affect a very small number of business that have a positive business income of over $700,000 – and that whether or not it will slow their job creation is moot. Surely Carnahan knows this? *

Even if one truly believes that letting the top bracket cuts expire would harm small businesses, there are alternative, less costly approaches. As Alan E. Binder, Professor of economics at Princeton University and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board remarks:

Some tax-cut enthusiasts — showing signs of latent Keynesianism — have pointed out that all tax increases reduce spending, which is not what we want now. They’re right. That’s why any higher taxes should be paired with policies that more than replace the lost spending. Examples abound. We could raise unemployment benefits, as was recently done. Or boost food stamps. Or help hard-pressed state and local governments forestall layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters. Dollar for dollar, these and other options would more than offset the spending lost by letting the tax cuts expire.

Isn’t this the type of economic policy we progressives think that Democrats like Carnahan ought to stand up for? Of course, it’s difficult to explain in sound-bites, so she might loose the center to the tax-and-spend slogans that Blunt tosses around with  such abandon.

There is, though, another side to the coin. There’s been lots of talk recently about the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans, and watching our candidates parrot intellectually weak, Republican talking points will do little to bridge it.

* URL added.