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The Second Time As Farce

Get ready for this narrative to be replayed all over again in an Obama Administration:

“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

As John McCain heads into the second round of presidential debates tonight, Yogi Berra’s words come to mind. Mr. McCain could do worse than remind the middle class what happened to them the last time a charismatic Democratic candidate promised them a tax cut. While he’s at it, he might also remind them how much more expensive it will be to send Barack Obama to the White House at a time when his fellow Democrats will have a majority in both houses of Congress.

The Clinton years hold some good lessons on both these scores. Back when Mr. Clinton was campaigning for president in 1992, he made a pretty direct pitch: Raise taxes on people making more than $200,000, and use those revenues to fund tax relief for the “forgotten middle class.”

In an October presidential debate, then-Gov. Clinton laid out the marginal-rate increase he wanted and some of his plans for the revenue that would be brought in. He followed with a pledge:

“Now, I’ll tell you this,” he said. “I will not raise taxes on the middle class to pay for these programs. If the money does not come in there to pay for these programs, we will cut other government spending, or we will slow down the phase-in of the programs.”

Mr. Clinton, of course, won that election. And as the inauguration approached, he began backtracking from his promise. At a Jan. 14, 1993, press conference in New Hampshire, he claimed that it was the media that had played up a middle-class tax cut, not him. A month later, he announced his actual plan before a joint session of Congress.

On page one of the New York Times, the paper described the fate of the middle-class tax cut this way: “Families earning as little as $20,000 a year — members of the ‘forgotten middle class’ whose taxes he promised during his campaign to cut — will also be asked to send more dollars to Washington under the President’s plan.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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