There was a very revealing segment on The Chris Matthews Show last Sunday. The discussion was about President Obama’s recent focus on jobs, jobs, jobs. Obama gave his much ballyhooed speech in Congress, right after everyone returned from their August recess. You will recall that Obama first tried to schedule it up against a long-planned Republican presidential debate, the first day Congress was back, but that was rejected in what was treated by the media as a show of disrespect. The President agreed to speak the next night, and had to carefully schedule it so as not to conflict with the opening game of the National Football League season.
The speech had all the trappings of a State of the Union address, when in fact it turned out to be a campaign speech. Obama laid out a plan that he knew had no chance of being passed by Congress, largely because of all of the tax hikes in the plan. But it was clearly designed to make the Republicans appear completely unreasonable and seemingly out to help “millionaires and billionaires,” as well as corporate jet owners and oil companies. Obama introduced his package, which he called the American Jobs Act, which included some tax cuts that, as Obama said, were Republican ideas, things they had supported in the past. So far, it still has not been introduced in Congress.
During the discussion on the weekend Chris Matthews show, Helene Cooper, a White House reporter for The New York Times, exposed Obama’s hand. She made it clear that he knew the theatrics of his speech to Congress was never intended to result in legislation. Here is part of that discussion [or you can watch it here—scroll to 17:30]:
HELENE COOPER: He [Obama] made this—this is a conscious decision that the White House made that President Obama made during the summer. He was going to come out with this economic package. He would have enough things in there to say, this is, Republicans have supported in the past, but he knew, before he even presented it that this had no chance in Congress, and his plan was to hang—he put forth a plan and he was going to hang its failure around the necks of the Republicans in Congress. I was with him this week in New York when he went to, he had this huge, very glittering fundraiser at Gotham Theater in front of a whole lot of, 400 really, really rich people, Alicia Keys was singing, and it was this fabulous affair. And he tried out that line. “If they call making a rich guy pay as much, the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher, then I’m a class warrior.” And he got a standing ovation for that.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: So bottom line, he came up with this idea to go after the poor people against the rich people up at Martha’s Vineyard this summer.
ANDREW SULLIVAN (The Daily Beast): No Chris, come on. I mean really, vindictive? You think that statement was vindictive? I don’t think it’s vindictive in the slightest. We have to have revenues if we’re going to tackle this debt. There’s no way around it. You can’t do it entirely by spending cuts alone. Look at the conservatives in Britain. Three to one, spending cuts to tax hikes. He [Obama] spent two years trying to get an agreement, and they’ve walked away from him. He has no choice.
MATTHEWS: Okay, does this help or hurt him, Mike Gerson, the fact that he’s now seen as a guy taking sides against the rich he says aren’t paying taxes?
MICHAEL GERSON (Former Bush speechwriter, columnist for Washington Post): I’ll tell you, I think the problem is not that he’s being too harsh on the rich; I think the problem is he’s being irrelevant to the only debate in American politics, which is growth and job creation. He had an anemic plan that he brought forward that was largely recycled stuff, and then he even swamped that plan with class warfare rhetoric. People are concerned with Europe in economic decline, with the possibility of a second dip of an American recession. How do we get growth back in this economy? The President is not even speaking to the issue.
SULLIVAN: The American Jobs Act, have you forgotten that?
Matthews then said that he’s hearing from people this week “on the left, progressives who were lit up by his attack on the wealthy this week and said to pay their fair share, and they’ve never been lit up by all this talk of jobs, infrastructure and bridges.”
Talk about straw men. On the one hand is the idea of the rich paying their fair share, as exemplified by the so-called Buffett principle. This completely overlooks that different types of income are taxed at different rates. Does Obama’s devotion to the Buffett principle mean that he wants to raise capital gains taxes from 15% to 35%? If so, he should say so.
As far as Sullivan’s point about needing to raise revenue, yes, of course we need to raise revenue. But how about doing it by genuine tax reform—lowering rates, ending many deductions, and getting that extra revenue through growing the economy and putting lots of people back to work? Obama claims to be both for tax reform, and for ending the Bush tax cuts on those making over $250,000, thus raising their rate to 39%. Which is he really for?
President Obama demonstrated that he was prepared to give a speech before Congress, billed as an important policy speech that turned out to be just one more campaign speech in his bid for reelection in 2012.