A most revealing window into our presidentâ€™s political core: To impose a tax that actually impoverishes our communal bank account (the U.S. Treasury) is ridiculous. It is nothing but punitive. It benefits no one â€” not the rich, not the poor, not the government. For Obama, however, it brings fairness, which is priceless. …
Obama has actually gone and done it. Heâ€™s just proposed a $1.5 trillion tsunami of tax hikes featuring a â€œBuffett ruleâ€ that, although as yet deliberately still fuzzy, clearly includes raising capital gains taxes.
He also insists again upon raising marginal rates on â€œmillionaireâ€ couples making $250,000 or more. But roughly half the income of small businesses (i.e., those filing individual returns) would be hit by this tax increase. Therefore, if we are to believe Obamaâ€™s own logic that his proposed business tax credits would increase hiring, then surely this tax hike will reduce small-business hiring.
But what are jobs when fairness is at stake? Fairness trumps growth. Fairness trumps revenue. Fairness trumps economic logic.
Obama himself has said that â€œyou donâ€™t raise taxes in a recession.â€ Why then would he risk economic damage when facing reelection? Because these proposals have no chance of being enacted, many of them having been rejected by the Democratic-controlled Congress of Obamaâ€™s first two years in office.
Moreover, this is not an economic, or jobs, or debt-reduction plan in the first place. This is a campaign manifesto. This is anti-millionaire populism as premise for his reelection. And as such, it is already working.
Obamaâ€™s Democratic base is electrified. On the left, the new message is playing to rave reviews. It has rekindled the enthusiasm of his core constituency â€” the MoveOn, Hollywood liberal, Upper West Side precincts best described years ago by John Updike: â€œLike most of the neighborhood, she was a fighting liberal, fighting to have her money taken from her.â€
Added Updike: â€œFor all her exertions, it never was.â€ But now with Obama â€” it will be! Turns out, Obama really was the one they had been waiting for.
That is: the new Obama, todayâ€™s soak-the-rich, veto-threatening, self-proclaimed class warrior. Except that the new Obama is really the old Obama â€” the one who, upon entering office in the middle of a deep economic crisis, and determined not to allow â€œa serious crisis to go to wasteâ€ (to quote his then-chief of staff), exploited the (presumed) malleability of a demoralized and therefore passive citizenry to enact the largest Keynesian stimulus in recorded history, followed by the quasi-nationalization of one-sixth of the economy that is health care.
Considering the political cost â€” a massive electoral rebuke by an infuriated 2010 electorate â€” these are the works of a conviction politician, one deeply committed to his own social-democratic vision.
That politician now returns. Obamaâ€™s new populism surely is a calculation that his halfhearted feints to the center after the midterm â€œshellackingâ€ were not only unconvincing but would do him no good anyway with a stagnant economy, 9 percent unemployment and a staggering $4 trillion of new debt.
But this is more than a political calculation. It is more than just a pander to his base. It is a pander to himself: Obama is a member of his base. He believes this stuff. It is an easy and comfortable political shift for him, because itâ€™s a shift from a phony centrism back to his social-democratic core, from positioning to authenticity.
The authentic Obama is a leveler, a committed social democrat, a staunch believer in the redistributionist state, a tribune, above all, of â€œfairnessâ€ â€” understood as government-imposed and government-enforced equality.
Thatâ€™s why â€œsoak the richâ€ is not just a campaign slogan to rally the base. Itâ€™s a mission, a vocation. Itâ€™s why, for all its gratuitous cynicism and demagoguery, Obamaâ€™s populist Rose Garden lecture on Monday was delivered with such obvious â€” and unusual â€” conviction.
Heâ€™s returned to the authenticity of his radical April 2009 â€œNew Foundationâ€ address (at Georgetown University) that openly proclaimed his intent to fundamentally transform America.