Obama Willing to Risk Accusations of Socialism for Chance to Whack Romney’s Wealth
“And we’re hoping that because of its simplicity and clarity, perhaps that Republicans this time will heed the call of their constituents, read the polls at least, as I hear they sometimes do, and act accordingly because it’s a matter of basic fairness and it makes economic sense.”
President Obama has usually been careful since taking office to marry his calls for tax increases with specific projects or initiatives. But, as the general election campaign speeds up, Obama is increasingly embracing the idea that top earners should pay more because of “fairness.”
In the capstone speech to his fall campaign swing delivered in Osawatomie, Kan., Obama denounced “breathtaking greed” in the financial sector and began to outline his re-election pitch to “restore balance, restore fairness.”
Obama escalated that rhetoric in recent weeks in a series of campaign speeches attacking Republican budget proposals that call for overhauling entitlement programs and rules that tax investment income at 15 percent. The rules were designed to encourage investment, but allow some wealthy Americans, like Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney, to pay taxes at a lower rate than other high earners who derive their income from paychecks.
The president allowed Wednesday that the move was a “gimmick” but that any effort to increase federal income in order to reduce deficit spending was worthwhile. However, with projected annual proceeds from the tax increase not equal to even one day of federal borrowing and conservatives countering that increasing taxes on investment income will further starve markets of capital, Obama needs a more compelling reason to target some 22,000 households with a special tax.
The additional reason, according to the president and his team, is to make sure that everyone is doing their “fair share”: it’s not just the money, it’s the principle.
Vice President Joe Biden will make the case in the most explicit way yet in a New Hampshire speech today that will accuse Romney and other wealthy Americans of taking advantage of middle-income Americans.
“Middle class Americans are willing to stand up and do their part. But they don't want to be played for a sucker,” Biden will say in a campaign speech in Exeter, N.H., according to an advance copy released by the Obama campaign. “When you pay your taxes next week, you ought to be able to know that everyone else is paying their fair share too.”
Contrast that with what Obama has said about the need to increase taxes on individuals making over $200,000, to close tax loopholes enjoyed by oil companies or to slash deductions for charitable giving for earners in the top brackets. Those higher taxes have been tied to specific policy proposals, Though the purpose sometimes changes, Obama has typically coupled calls for increased spending on his priorities with taxes on the wealthy or corporations.
He did not say that it would be satisfying for poorer folks to see these people or companies pay more taxes, but that the increases were necessary to fund projects that the president argued were crucial.
The argument has mostly failed, whether in calls to finance the president’s new middle-class health insurance entitlement by the expiry of current tax rates on top earners or the subsidy of anti-global warming technologies by increased taxes on Exxon. This may be mostly a result of skepticism about the projects themselves, but it has been a rhetorical shield for the president against conservative cries of “socialism.”
Obama has mostly avoided this kind of rhetoric since 2008 when he was badly burned by his comments while campaigning in Ohio about the need to “spread the wealth around.”
The president is clearly conscious of the dangers involved his class-based line of attack against Romney. In February, he said his tax policies were animated by the teachings of Jesus Christ, and he has lately been mocking his detractors and putting words in their mouths: “wild-eyed socialism” etc. Obama has also been increasing his invocations of Republican icon Ronald Reagan, who worked with democrats to close loopholes for the wealthy as part of an overall reduction in tax rates during his presidency.
But these straw-man lines and Reagan invocations mostly work for those who already agree with the president that income inequality is a problem unto itself and economic equality is a worthy goal of its own. For the rest of the electorate, insisting that your plan is not “some grand scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another” or a “socialist dream,” draws attention to a negative.
This recalls Obama’s mockery of the foes of his health law who spoke of “death panels.” As recent debates have shown, this mockery likely embedded the language in the political discourse rather than discrediting it. Same with “Obamacare.” Unable to force the mushy “Affordable Care Act” on the general public, Obama has been forced to try to embrace the unflattering moniker for his law.
President Obama tried to laugh off his hot mic moment in which he was overheard asking Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to convey to Russian leader Vladimir Putin that Obama would have “more flexibility” after the November election. Obama was trying to show that he was unfazed by the gaffe and that it was no big deal, but instead kept the story alive that much longer.
The president is very much aware of the dangers attendant to a class-based attack strategy, especially for one seen as too liberal by such a large chunk of the electorate, but has apparently decided that given the uncertainty of his political prospects, it is worth the risk.
Obama today will talk to reporters from swing-state TV stations in an effort to pressure Democratic senators from those states to vote for the targeted tax increase on millionaires. He knows that if there are Democratic defections on the plan it will damage the symbolic value of the vote with his party divided on the issue. The law will lose, but he wants to deny Republicans the cover of bipartisan opposition.
His rhetoric in these interviews will be telling: How much of his call for higher taxes on the rich will be about fiscal prudence and how much will be about economic justice?
The Day in Quotes
“There are others who are saying, well, this is just a gimmick. Just taxing millionaires and billionaires, just imposing [a 30 percent minimum tax on incomes over $1 million] won’t do enough to close the deficit. Well, I agree. That’s not all we have to do to close the deficit.”
-- President Obama in a White House speech calling for the creation of a new tax rate for top earners.
“I’m not the first President to call for this idea that everybody has got to do their fair share. Some years ago, one of my predecessors traveled across the country pushing for the same concept… That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan.”
-- President Obama in a White House speech calling for the creation of a new tax rate for top earners.
“Does anyone think that raising taxes is going to create more jobs? Does anyone think that Congress needs more money? My view is: Congress has enough. It should live within its means.”
-- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney campaigning in Warwick, R.I.
"I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly. Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize."
-- Tweet from Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina responding to Republican umbrage over comments on CNN by Rosen, who has advised the Obama team and the Democratic National Committee, that Ann Romney, a stay-at-home mother of five, doesn’t understand the economy because she “has never worked a day in her life.”
“Once I was in the state legislature, I was teaching, I was practicing law, I'd be traveling. And we didn't have the luxury for [Michelle Obama] not to work.”
-- President Obama speaking Friday at a White House event on women’s economic concerns.
“I know that many of you are greatly -- and rightly -- concerned about the recent shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages."
-- Attorney General Eric Holder speaking to the National Action Network, the racial activist group led by MSNBC host Al Sharpton, about the department’s inquiry into alleged civil rights violations from a February shooting in suburban Orlando.
-- Amount raised since last year by a pro-Democrat political action committee created by the AFL-CIO, Workers’ Voice, according to federal filings. The union will today announce an escalation of the PAC’s efforts.
“We had 3,500 people send money to Newt.org online after 2 o’clock yesterday saying, ‘Please stay in.’”
-- Newt Gingrich campaigning in Delaware tacitly acknowledging to reporters that he fell short of his goal of getting 12,000 donations from a fundraising appeal issued on news that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was suspending his presidential campaign.
“I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”
-- Rep. Alan West, R-Fla., talking to constituents at a town hall, according to a spokesman.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Obama in that one sound bite gave us two offers [on a proposed millionaires tax] in under 30 seconds:
Reduce the deficit? It is a triviality. It's about the $4 billion a year. If you want to collect it for the next 250 years, longer than the life of the republic, it wouldn't cover the deficit Obama ran up last year alone.
Second, that it will spur growth. It would have the exact opposite effect. It's a disguise doubling of the capital gains tax. What does it do for a country that already has the highest corporate tax rate in the world? We are now going to have the fourth highest capital gains tax rate in the world. What do you think of somebody with capital to invest is going to do, choose the United States in or choose any other country in the world?”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.