The hunt for Norquist's scalp is a key part of the larger partisan project to make the Republicans do a George H.W. Bush and renege on their heretofore firm stand on taxes. Bush never recovered.
Why are the Republicans playing along? Because it is assumed that Obama has the upper hand. Unless Republicans acquiesce and get the best deal they can right now, tax rates will rise across the board on Jan. 1, and the GOP will be left without any bargaining chips.
But what about Obama? If we all cliff dive, he gets to preside over yet another recession. It will wreck his second term. Sure Republicans will get blamed. But Obama is never running again. He cares about his legacy. You think he wants a second term with a double-dip recession, 9 percent unemployment and a totally gridlocked Congress? Republicans have to stop playing as if they have no cards.
Obama is claiming an electoral mandate to raise taxes on the top 2 percent. Perhaps, but remember those incessant campaign ads promising a return to the economic nirvana of the Clinton years? Well, George W. Bush cut rates across the board, not just for the top 2 percent. Going back to the Clinton rates means middle-class tax hikes that yield four times the revenue that you get from just the rich.
So give Obama the full Clinton. Let him live with that. And with what also lies on the other side of the cliff: 28 million Americans newly subject to the ruinous alternative minimum tax.
Republicans must stop acting like supplicants. If Obama so loves those Clinton rates, Republicans should say: Then go over the cliff and have them all.
And add: But if you want a Grand Bargain, then deal. If we give way on taxes, we want, in return, serious discretionary cuts, clearly spelled-out entitlement cuts and real tax reform.
Otherwise, strap on your parachute, Mr. President. We'll ride down together.
, The Washington Post Writers Group