I hope that one of our many insiders posts a final recap of how the "yes" forces managed to pass a tax hike measure for the first time since 1930. Owing to various personal issues, I was less involved in this effort than in almost any in the past decade--and have no special insight. Like everyone else, I just sat by and watched it play out, culminating in last night's amazing victory. I'd love to hear the story.
But in terms of the larger picture, even someone not directly involved can draw some conclusions. In politics, there are certain preconditions that color what kind of action is even possible. One of the preconditions is a prevailing set of accepted "truths" about policy. Of course, they're not really truths--they're mainstream beliefs that a majority live by. They fit into a quasi-historical narrative that we tell ourselves in newspapers and at election time, and only a few dyspeptic dissenters--whom we ignore--dispute the "facts." This process has an end point, though. Eventually, the narrative becomes more and more rigid and ideological and the country veers off-course, and we abandon it for a new narrative.
Following the depression, we believed in the power of labor and the middle class and we were suspicious of the moneyed interests who ruined our economy. This was well and good until the 70s, when the country slid into bad economic times again and the fringe left became ever more militant and dogmatic. Enter Reagan and a new narrative. In this one, taxes and government were bad, wealth and business were good, and labor was corrupt.
This narrative seemed bulletproof. I remember my shock in 2004 when amid stagnant wages, a collapsed Dow, and two wars, Bush was re-elected. How could it be? Narratives are hard to change because people don't relate to them as narratives. It takes awhile for people to revisit their assumptions and even longer for them to abandon them.
Over the past decade, Oregon has been a bet of a bellwether state. We seemed to be just ahead of the curve in the changes that were happening across the country. The results in M66 and 67 could be seen as an anomaly. Maybe they are. Or possibly they are more evidence that people have begun to revisit the Reagan-era "truths" and have found them wanting. Eighty years is a long time to go between successful tax-increase measures. That's suggestive that this was more than the average surprise. I can't help but notice the similarities between the two eras, either. In 1930, the crash had already arrived, but the new narrative wasn't yet in place. If I had to guess, I'd say yesterday's results mean that the old rules are no longer operative. Something changed last night. What will rise from the ashes remains to be seen, but if history is a lesson, it won't be a reprise of the old orthodoxy that has ruled for a generation.