Published April 11, 2012
Obama Looks to Make Romney the Villain
“And this election will probably have the biggest contrast that we’ve seen maybe since the Johnson-Goldwater election -- maybe before that.”
-- President Obama talking to donors at a fundraiser in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
President Obama will continue today in his opening salvo against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, attacking tax policies that allow investors, including the very rich, like Romney, to pay a 15 percent tax rate on income from their portfolios.
Obama has been holding up billionaire Nebraska investor and big Democratic donor Warren Buffett as the role model for the super-rich, as Buffett advocates the idea of raising the tax rate for top earners.
From a policy prospective, this is part of an overall Obama effort to promote “fairness” by increasing taxes on top incomes. Aside from increasing taxes on investment revenue, Obama seeks to reduce deductions for charitable donations by high earners and, most centrally, to raise income taxes for individuals earning more than $200,000 and families taking more than $250,000.
The millionaires tax would only raise a bit more than $1 billion a year, but Obama hopes that if he can win re-election campaigning for that, he will have won a mandate for a tax proposal aimed at increasing the burden on the top quartile of earners.
Running for re-election on a slate of proposed tax increases is a tough task, especially given the saggy state of the economy. But Obama has a message he and his campaign believe is toxic to the chances of a Republican nominee who is from the ranks of the super rich. Romney wants voters to think about his success in turning around struggling companies as a CEO. Obama wants them to think about the car elevators that are going into Romney’s beachfront estate in California.
Obama’s argument, currently being made through the megaphone of his millionaires tax, is that because of the tax policies of the Bush administration, the very wealthy, like Romney, took advantage of their positions to avoid paying their fair share to take care of middle-class Americans.
About half of American workers pay no federal taxes and most who do, pay at very low rates. But it would be political poison to suggest increasing the tax burden on these folks, who constitute the bulk of the American electorate. While the wealthy pay the bulk of taxes, Obama argues that they have been getting off far too easy compared to the rates of decades past of 50 percent or more.
Income inequality is not a problem unto itself, but the Obama Democrats argue that the chasm between the working poor and the super rich is causing, to borrow an old chestnut, the nation to divide into “two Americas.” Private schools vs. failing public schools; safe, gated neighborhoods vs. crime-stricken slums; etc.
Liberal economists argue that very high tax rates on the very rich not only provides more money to pay public salaries and create public works projects, but that it enhances a sense of cultural cohesion. Obama is arguing for a world in which the worker on the factory floor and the company CEO live in different neighborhoods perhaps, but not different worlds.
This sounds an awful lot like socialism and leaves the president vulnerable to the charge that he is redistributing wealth to build a bigger government. With many voters already believing Obama is too liberal and his signature accomplishments, a national health law and a huge stimulus package, in disrepute, this is dangerous ground for the president.
Worse still, Republicans have defied the Democratic predictions and will soon nominate a blue-state moderate to oppose Obama. The president has pined for a “choice election” in which Democrats paint Republican ideas as radical and extreme. It worked well against the hardest-line congressional candidates in 2010 and the president’s team hoped to repeat the technique in 2012.
But because Romney is moderate, Obama has had to change course and return to a less felicitous line of argument: bad old Bush. Romney, the president argues wants to return to Bush-era policies. It’s a choice, too, but one in which Obama is offering to maintain an unpopular status quo rather than a choice between moderation and extremism.
It’s not as good as calling somebody a right-wing radical because it begs a very unhappy question for the Obama Democrats: “Are you better off than you were four years ago.”
Romney, though, does have one major liability that it is easy for Obama to exploit: class resentment. The pitch on the millionaires tax, and so much else, is aimed at reminding Americans just how rich Romney is and how he only pays 15 percent in taxes. That’s the set up.
The knock down comes this summer when the Obama campaign goes to war on Romney’s record, recycling charges that the former Massachusetts governor plundered companies for his own gain, outsourcing jobs and laying off workers.
Romney’s wealth will be the cornerstone of the Obama campaign strategy and he will do everything he can to cast Romney as the villain in this play – the heel who the audience will love to hate.
It’s an unhappy and intensely negative way to run for re-election, but given the state of the nation and voters views on his policies, it’s Obama’s best chance to hold the White House.
The Day in Quotes
“So these investments -- in things like education and research and health care -- they haven’t been made as some grand scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another. This is not some socialist dream.”
-- President Obama campaigning on the campus of Florida Atlantic University.
“Ninety-two point three percent of the job losses during the Obama years have been women who lost those jobs. The real war on women has been the job losses as the result of the Obama economy.”
-- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney campaigning in Delaware.
“It’s actually four-and-a-half.”
-- President Obama responding to chants of “four more years” at a Hollywood, Fla. fundraiser.
“You have failed. We have seen it. You can't hide it. We're going to change it.”
-- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney campaigning in Delaware.
-- Effective federal tax rate paid by a typical family in the $40,000-$50,000 range, as calculated by the Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.
“We’re going to continue to go out there and fight to make sure that we defeat President Barack Obama.”
-- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum suspending his presidential campaign in a speech in Gettysburg, Pa.
"I'm not going to say we haven't talked about it, of course, you look and you say what are you going to do in the future … a lot of people said 'prepare for 2016.’”
-- Hogan Gidley, communications director to the now-suspended presidential campaign of Rick Santorum, in an interview with MSNBC host Chris Matthews describing the internal discussions of the campaign.
"There's a lot of theories on this but it looks like we don't get enough people to the polls, but there's always encouragement. The crowds come out, they're enthusiastic, they love the message, they send the money, but there seems to be a disconnect."
-- Texas Rep. Ron Paul in an interview with Austin ABC affiliate KVUE.
“As the last remaining conservative in this race, we urgently need your financial support today. We have set an ambitious goal of 12,000 donations by midnight tonight. Will you donate $25, $50, $100 or whatever you can afford to help us reach this goal?”
-- Fundraising appeal from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich issued shortly after Rick Santorum’s announcement that he would suspend his presidential campaign.
“[Administrator Martha Johnson] was actually coming to the West Coast and we had invited her to participate, but the events that she was coming to the West Coast for; one was a meeting with Salindra [sic], who is down to the San Jose area.”
-- Jeff Neely, a regional administrator with the Government Services Administration currently suspended for his role in planning a lavish 2010 conference in Las Vegas, in a March 15, 2011 interview explaining to an official from the Office of the Inspector General why GSA spent $3,500 on a videoconference link to allow officials to address the Las Vegas gathering.
“We haven’t been this involved in a GOP primary in a very long time, if ever.”
-- National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam talking to the Hill about the gun-rights group decision to try to unseat six-term Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar. Tonight, Lugar debates his Tea Party-backed rival, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Well, look at where Gingrich is going to campaign for the upcoming primaries -- the five big states. He is campaigning in Delaware, not in New York, not in Connecticut. It's not a serious campaign. I think that was for show. Perhaps he thinks for a day or two with Santorum leaving it makes him the opposition candidate. But it is over. It was over the night of Wisconsin, and it was definitely over tonight. And I can say definitely without fear of contradiction there will not be a third resurrection for the Newt Gingrich campaign.”