Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The right-wing obsession with President Obama's "obsession" with raising taxes

We're hearing it all the time from Republicans these days: Obama's "obsessed" with raising taxes. It's the same old tired partisan bullshit, of course, and a blatant lie, but the uninitiated, those unaware of how Republicans do their thing, might be excused for thinking, upon hearing this over and over again, that the president is maniacally trying to transform America into some sort of retro-Scandinavian dystopia, Scandinavia before right-wing neo-liberalism arrived on the scene.

Take James Pethokoukis, for example. In his latest smearfest of a post at Reuters, Pethokoukis opens, as usual, by stacking the deck against reasonable debate and an appreciation of the facts:

It's the great mystery of the debt ceiling debate: Why is President Barack Obama so darn adamant about raising taxes?

Really, that's "the great mystery"? Well, I suppose it's no mystery why Republicans, even those who should know better (and probably do) have caved in to the Tea Party and are pulling the country towards financial, fiscal, and economic catastrophe.

But how exactly is Obama "so darn adamant"? Dismissing progressives altogether, not to mention his party's base, the president has responded to the debt ceiling crisis by playing aggressively to the center. He has put Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on the table, much to our chagrin. He continues to negotiate with a Republican Party that refuses to compromise and that is essentially holding the process -- and the country -- hostage. Indeed, he appears to have positioned himself not as some sort of Big Government leftist (not that such leftists even exist anymore in the Democratic Party, or on the American left at all, they're just straw men created by the Republicans to scare people) but rather as a moderate Republican, as the sort of Republican who used to run the GOP. If this were the '90s, Obama, at least on economic policy, would be very much at home there.

Even now, even with Republicans doing poorly in the polls over the debt ceiling crisis, even with Republicans divided and on the run, even after he turned the tables and backed them into a corner, gaining the upper hand, Obama continues to push for a Grand Bargain that includes massive spending cuts and only relatively small revenue increases (mostly by closing tax loopholes, not by actually raising taxes). The so-called Gang of Six re-emerges yesterday with a $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction package, a package that while bipartisan is Republican in terms of its priorities, a package that if passed may not actually benefit him politically, and Obama showers it with praise.

Now, maybe Obama is being so kind to it because he knows it will never pass the GOP-led House of Representatives, and so maybe he's still just trying to appeal to independents by presenting himself as open to compromise and serious about getting something meaningful done -- and so when the package goes nowhere he can let Republicans take the fall for sinking it. But he's been pretty consistent on the policy and at no point has he even come close to appearing obsessed with raising taxes. Not now, not before, not ever.

If anything, Obama is just being responsible. He knows full well, even if Republicans do not (and Pethokoukis does not), that the only way to solve America's deficit/debt problem over the long term is to increase revenue. And that can be done in part by closing loopholes and letting the Bush tax cuts, and particularly the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, expire. Though of course it was Obama who agreed with Republicans last fall to extend the tax cuts.

Pethokoukis also accuses Obama of violating Keynesianism by calling for tax increases. Well, I agree that the focus should be on economic stimulation (deficit spending) instead of deficit-cutting, but, again, Obama hasn't called for anti-stimulative tax increases. If anything, Obama wants more stimulus.

Obama's tax obsession becomes understandable when you realize the long game he's playing: Big Taxes to fund Big Government. Decade after decade. See, it's an almost universal belief among left-of-center journalists, economists, policymakers and politicians that Americans must pay higher taxes in coming years to cover the medical expenses of its aging population – not to mention all sorts of brand new social spending and green "investment." Dramatically higher taxes. On everybody. And if we have a debt crisis, maybe those tax increases come sooner rather than later.

This makes no sense at all. Across the board, taxes are at an extremely low level. Raising them slightly -- for example, by letting the Bush tax cuts expire -- would only mean a return to Clinton-era levels. And that was hardly an era of Big Government Socialism. In fact, it was a rather successful era for the economy. And if Obama's agenda is really all about "Big Government," what are we to make of his willingness to cut core entitlement programs? Is it all about health care? About, say, funding a government-controlled single-payer system? How could it be, given that the Affordable Care Act, while extending coverage to tens of millions, proposes only a reformed market-based approach to health insurance? Green investment? Please. Obama isn't even talking cap and trade anymore, and that, too, is a market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, one that Republicans used to support (just as they used to support what's in the Affordable Care Act).

Okay, enough. I think you get the point. (If you don't, you need help.) Pethokoukis is just regurgitating the same old lies, the Obama-as-tax-loving-Socialist meme that has no basis whatsoever in reality.

If you really want to talk about obsession, look no further than these anti-Obama smearmongers on the right. They just keep repeating themselves, and looking increasingly desperate and stupid in the process.

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