KRAUTHAMMER: The return of the real Obama
Published: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 2:14 p.m.
The rout was complete, the retreat disorderly. President
As he showed in his two speeches this week. After perfunctory nods to debt and spending reduction, he waxed enthusiastic about continued
Having promised more government, he then promised more taxes — on
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 (c) to fracture the one remaining institutional obstacle to the rest of his ideological agenda.
Not bad for two months’ work.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post.