The Right Opinion

Return of the Real Obama

By Charles Krauthammer · Jan. 4, 2013

WASHINGTON – The rout was complete, the retreat disorderly. President Obama got his tax hikes – naked of spending cuts – passed by the ostensibly Republican House of Representatives. After which, you might expect him to pivot to his self-proclaimed “principle” of fiscal “balance” by taking the lead on reducing spending. “Why,” asked The Washington Post on the eve of the final “fiscal-cliff” agreement, “is the nation's leader not embracing and then explaining the balanced reforms the nation needs?”

Because he has no interest in them. He's a visionary, not an accountant. Sure, he'll pretend to care about deficits, especially while running for re-election. But now that he's past the post, he's free to be himself – a committed big-government social-democrat.

As he showed in his two speeches this week. After perfunctory nods to debt and spending reduction, he waxed enthusiastic about continued “investments” – i.e. spending – on education, research, roads and bridges, green energy, etc.

Having promised more government, he then promised more taxes – on “millionaires” and “companies with a lot of lobbyists,” of course. It was a bold affirmation of pre-Clintonian tax-and-spend liberalism.

Why not? He had just won Round 1: raising rates. Round 2 is to raise yet more tax revenues by eliminating deductions. After all, didn't John Boehner offer him $800 billion of such loophole-closing revenues just a few weeks ago?

To paraphrase Churchill on the British Empire, Barack Obama did not become president of the United States to preside over the liquidation of the welfare state. On the contrary, he is dedicated to its expansion. He's already created the largest new entitlement in half a century (Obamacare). And he has increased federal spending to an astronomical 24.4 percent of GDP (the postwar norm is about 20 percent), a level not seen since World War II.

But this level of spending requires a significantly higher level of taxation. Hence his hardball fiscal-cliff strategy of issuing an ultimatum to Republicans to raise tax rates – or be blamed for a massive across-the-board tax increase and a subsequent recession.

I'll get you the money by eliminating deductions, offered Boehner. No, sir, replied the president. Rates it must be.

Why the insistence?

(1) Partisan Advantage

As I wrote last month, the ultimatum was designed to exploit and exacerbate internal Republican divisions. It worked perfectly. Boehner's attempted finesse (Plan B), which would have raised rates but only for those making more than $1 million, collapsed amid an open rebellion from a good quarter of the Republican caucus.

At which point, power passed from the House to the Senate, where a deal was brokered. By the time the Senate bill reached the House, there was no time or room for maneuver. Checkmate. Obama neutralized the one body that had stymied him during the last two years.

(2) Ideological Breakthrough

Obama's ultimate ambition is to break the nation's 30-year thrall of low taxes – so powerful that those who defied the Reaganite norm paid heavily for it. Walter Mondale's acceptance speech at the 1984 convention promising to raise taxes ended his campaign before it began. President George H.W. Bush's no-new-taxes reversal cost him a second term.

On this, too, Obama is succeeding. He not only got his tax increase passed. He did it with public opinion behind him.

Why are higher taxes so important to him?

First, as a means: A high-tax economy is liberalism's only hope for sustaining and enlarging the entitlement state. It provides the funds for enlightened adventures in everything from algae to Obamacare.

Second, as an end in itself. Fundamentally, Obama is a leveler. The community organizer seeks, above all, to reverse the growing inequality that he dates and attributes to ruthless Reaganism. Now, however, clothed in the immense powers of the presidency, he can actually engage in unadorned redistributionism. As in Tuesday night's $620 billion wealth transfer.

Upon losing the House in 2010, the leveler took cover for the next two years. He wasn't going to advance his real agenda through the Republican House anyway, and he needed to win re-election.

Now he's won. The old Obama is back. He must not be underestimated. He has deftly leveraged his class-war-themed election victory (a) to secure a source of funding (albeit still small) for the bloated welfare state, (b) to carry out an admirably candid bit of income redistribution and © to fracture the one remaining institutional obstacle to the rest of his ideological agenda.

Not bad for two months' work.

© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group

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8 Comments

Truthseeker in Springfield, MO said:

Charles, as usual an excellent analysis. However, I would lay the responsibility for the Progressives getting away with all this more on the mainstream media than the opposition party. My mother, who is normally very conservative, doesn't have cable and relies entirely on the major TV broadcast media for her news. She is convinced that the country's problems lie with the evil rich who need to pay their "fair share" of taxes. Sound familiar?

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Redistributors kare not, about debt or the American Dream; they are narrowly channeling their energies, into becoming a Greek Utopia. Frank Marshall Davis (No relation) taught the comm-organizer well. "Obongo is drunk on the wine of retribution,for America's wealthy!" Bacchus is pouring out his first fruits. Sophocles' Greek-Amerikan Tragedy is unfolding-stay tuned for ACT II. The silver lining-Zeus is ever-watching the DRAMATIKOS!

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 6:14 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

It is amazing the number of brain-dead people praising this bill. You tell those working that your FICA taxes just went up and your going to take home less pay and they look at you with a dumbfounded look. Idiots are so wrapped up in the class warfare BS they never see the real harm being done by this monstrousity. Imbeciles deserve what they get!

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 6:59 AM

TW in London UK said:

Great article, but smiling, charming, Obama is no genuine 'social democratic'. His 'mentor', as Obama himself refers to him, the communist Frank Marshall Davis, taught him well, and does anyone seriously think that misfit Marxist Obama and his pals are ever going to relinquish power before the task is accomplished? (As for those election results, what a joke of a count, election machines and all). Obama is their guy and a lot has been invested in him, and he must deliver the goods before the time runs out, leaving the US broken, never to be remade again in the image of the once great Nation it was. Who would ever have believed it.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

The "real" Obama has always been there, lurking behind his lies and deceit. What I can't figure out is how the Republicans have put themselves in a position of "loser" on virtually all accounts. It's as if we have two parties, Democrats and Democrats. I predict that this year we will see Obama grab virtually all the power from Congress, appointing who he wants, taking what he wants, and giving his cabinets the power to make law. Heck, it's already begun, and with his intent to subjugate us, the guns will have to go (and it appears many Republicans will roll over on that), and he's making up laws and regulations every day to consolidate his power. The Republican response? Yawn.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 11:22 AM

India in GA replied:

You said it, Tex. The Republicans in Congress seem to be willing to do anything to be liked by the "cool kid".

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 1:22 PM

India in GA said:

I am so disgusted with this bill. I wish we had just let ALL of the tax cuts expire, rather than surrender to the class-war argument. At least then, some of the "47%" would feel the bite of government spending like the "53%" already does.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 1:18 PM

Cal in SoCal said:

Obummer has done in a few short years (with four more years to come) what
Socialists have been trying to do for centuries. Congratulations, Americans.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 1:53 PM