Dave Weigel has a really nice piece about the Democrats’ cunning plan to trap Republicans into cutting payroll taxes. As Dave says, it wasn’t so long ago that lifting the payroll tax cap was a standard part of any Democrats’ stump speech. In fact, people like Jim Clyburn still mention it today, and Bernie Sanders just introduced the legislation in the Senate. But instead of making payroll tax fairness a fixture of the Democratic brand, instead of wrapping that into a critique about the inequality that is at the heart of what America needs to fix in order to have sustainable finances again, Democrats chase these little moments to “prove” Republican hypocrisy – and in turn confuse everyone as to what it means to be a Democrat.

Something is getting lost in the campaign: Why goad Republicans into supporting tax cuts? It’s an irritating short-term strategy. What does it get Democrats in the long term if they say this tax cut can’t be undone?

“It’s completely hapless negotiating!” says Nancy Altman, the co-director of the defend-the-New-Deal-at-all-costs group Social Security Works. “You’re taking something the other side wants and then begging them to take it. I’d expect that Republicans would eventually take it, but in exchange for some other concession. What a perfect position to be in, when you’re begging me and offering me more if only I’ll vote for something I want already.” [...]

Sanders’s proposal is actually more popular than the one the Democratic establishment has tattooed on its forehead. Last week a Reuters poll asked voters to assess a few different stimulus proposals. Forty-six percent of them liked “raising taxes on wealthy individuals.” Only 20 percent liked “extending the payroll tax cut.” That’s what happens when Democrats get Norquist on the brain: They become obsessed with making Republicans uncomfortable instead of with something that voters like. Or with something that’s easier to campaign on. Or with something that works.

I’m ready for some pragmatist to come back with the idea that “this is the only thing that will pass!” And sure, if you never try to pass anything but what you imagine the other side to accept, I imagine you could rack up a pretty solid track record. You lose any meaning for your party in the process, but oh well.

I understand fully that telling Republicans that they work for their constituents and not Grover Norquist is a nice debating point. And I’m down with pressuring those representatives who don’t come close to representing the people. But in a two-party system, if one side is militantly anti-tax, and the other side has representatives who say things like “a 10-year plan to reduce $4 trillion in debt should not be the kind of ultimate heavy lift,” and who try this pincer movements in the service of more tax cuts, where does that leave people with a different view? With the historical view of the Democratic Party?

If we’re talking about a tax cut that acts like a wage increase and can reduce unemployment by 0.3% in the next year, it’s worth exploring. There are better ways to do it, incidentally; the Making Work Pay tax credit put more money into the hands of people who would be more likely to spend it, and less into the hands of the truly wealthy, for example. And it didn’t monkey with Social Security’s finances in any way. Similarly, you could pair a one-year tax cut now with a raising of the cap to capture 90% of compensation later, or a lifting of the cap entirely, and pay for the cut many times over while keeping Social Security completely solvent (you could actually increase benefits) and restoring some fairness to the system.

Instead, we have this endless chase to trap Republicans, as if they or their constituents or really any voter thinks completely logically about these decisions. As politics it’s just a short-term story; as policy it just keeps moving the goalposts to the right.