If Michael Scherer believes what he writes, it's very hard to understand why he doesn't quit his job, go do something he does understand, and let somebody who understands policy take his slot at Time. It is a mystery.
Ezra Klein is shrill like me:
Ezra Klein : For reasons that I try not to speculate on before 9am, the media likes to make policy disputes sound incredibly complicated. Much too complicated for mortals to understand, or base electoral behavior on. Take this Time article on the various tax plans floating around the election. The piece argues that the plans are composed of loosely connected soundbites, lacking numbers or details or real information. To read it, you'd think the two proposals were impossible to estimate, or understand, or in any way summarize. But they're not. And reporters don't even have to do the hard work themselves. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center -- a joint project between the Urban Institute and Brookings -- scored both plans and came up with this nickel summary: Against current policy, Senator Obama’s proposals would raise $800 billion and Senator McCain’s proposals lose $600 billion.
The two candidates’ tax plans would have sharply different distributional effects. Senator McCain’s tax cuts would primarily benefit those with very high incomes, almost all of whom would receive large tax cuts that would, on average, raise their after-tax incomes by more than twice the average for all households. Many fewer households at the bottom of the income distribution would get tax cuts and those tax cuts would be small as a share of after-tax income. In marked contrast, Senator Obama offers much larger tax breaks to low- and middle-income taxpayers and would increase taxes on high-income taxpayers. The largest tax cuts, as a share of income, would go to those at the bottom of the income distribution, while taxpayers with the highest income would see their taxes rise significantly.
Over at their site, they've got the distributional tables and everything. You can examine this in as much, or as little, detail as you want.
And you can, of course, complicate the picture. This is using what's called a "current policy" baseline, which presumes the extension of the Bush tax cuts and permanence of the AMT patch. That's an unlikely scenario, particularly under President Obama. But you don't need to make it complicated. These plans exist to give voters and the media a simple way to understand the candidate's basic priorities on tax policy. And in that, they're plenty concrete: McCain will blow a hole in the deficit in order to cut taxes on the rich. Obama will raise taxes on the rich and give cuts to middle class and poor voters, but he won't end the deficit.
The Time piece ends by saying, "And so we return to where we began, a war of words with few numbers to back them up. The candidates speak in platitudes and broad swipes. They claim the high road, while banishing their opponents to the low road. And the American voters, if they are interested, must sort through the literature seeking numbers that were never really meant to add up." In other words, don't bother your pretty little heads about it. Too complicated. Too hard. Plus: All politicians are bullshit artists who are lying to you. Worry instead about three-pointers in Kuwait, and McCain's time in Vietnam, and straight talkyness. That's the stuff we know how to tell you, and the stuff that we trust you can understand.