Weakened Obama now pushing small ideas

January 28, 2012


Once upon a time, small ball was not Barack Obama’s game. Tuesday, it was the essence of his State of the Union address. The visionary of 2008 — purveyor of hope and change, healer of the earth, tamer of the rising seas — offered an hour of little things: tax-code tweaks to encourage this or that kind of behavior (manufacturing being the flavor of the day), little watchdog agencies to round up Wall Street miscreants and Chinese DVD pirates, even a presidential demand “that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.” Under penalty of what? Jail? The self-proclaimed transformer of America is now playing truant officer?

It sounded like the Clinton years with their presidentially proclaimed initiatives on midnight basketball and school uniforms. These are the marks of a shrunken presidency, thoroughly flummoxed by high unemployment, economic stagnation, crushing debt — and a glaring absence of ideas.

Of course, this being Obama, there was a reach for grandeur. Hope and change are long gone. It’s now equality and fairness.

That certainly is a large idea. Lenin and Mao went pretty far with it. As did Clement Attlee and his social-democratic counterparts in postwar Europe. Where does Obama take it? Back to the decade-old Democratic obsession with the Bush tax cuts, the crusade for a tax hike of all of 4.6 points for 2 percent of households — 10 years of which wouldn’t cover the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus alone.

Which is why Obama introduced a shiny new twist — the Buffett Rule, a minimum 30 percent rate for millionaires. Sounds novel. But it’s a tired replay of the alternative minimum tax, originally created in 1969 to bring to heel all of 155 underpaying fat cats. Following the fate of other such do-goodism, the AMT then metastasized into a $40 billion monster that today entraps millions of middle-class taxpayers.

There isn’t even a pretense that the Buffett Rule will do anything for economic growth or job creation (other than provide lucrative work for the sharp tax lawyers who will be gaming the new system for the very same rich). Which should not surprise. Back in 2008, Obama was asked if he would still support raising the capital-gains tax rate (the intended effect of the Buffett Rule) if this would decrease government revenues.

Obama said yes. In the name of fairness.

This is redistribution for its own sake — the cost be damned. It took Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels about 30 seconds of his State of the Union rebuttal to demolish that idea. To get the rich to contribute more, explained Daniels, you don’t raise tax rates. This ultimately retards economic growth for all. You (a) eliminate loopholes from which the rich benefit disproportionately (tax reform) and (b) means-test entitlements so that the benefits go to those most in need.

Tax reform and entitlement reform are the really big ideas. The first produces social equity plus economic efficiency; the second produces social equity plus debt reduction. And yet these are precisely what Obama has for three years steadfastly refused to address. He prefers the easy demagoguery of “tax the rich.”

After all, what’s he got? Can’t run on his record. Barely even mentioned Obamacare or the stimulus, his major legislative achievements, on Tuesday night. Too unpopular. His platform is fairness, wrapped around a plethora of little things, one mini-industrial policy after another — the conceit nicely encapsulated by his proclamation that “I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or to Germany.” As if he can command these industries into existence. As if Washington funding a thousand Solyndras will make solar economically viable.

Soviet central planners mandated quotas for steel production, regardless of demand. Obama’s industrial policy is a bit more subtle. Tax breaks for manufacturing — but double tax breaks for high-tech manufacturing, which for some reason is considered more virtuous, despite the fact that high tech is less likely to create blue-collar jobs. Its main job creation will be for legions of lawyers and linguists testifying before some new adjudicating bureaucracy that the Acme Umbrella Factory meets their criteria for “high tech.”

What Obama offered the nation Tuesday night was a pudding without a theme: a jumble of disconnected initiatives, a gaggle of intrusive new agencies and a whole new generation of loopholes to further corrupt a tax code that screams out for reform.

If the Republicans can’t beat that in November, they should try another line of work.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.


Gandalf 6 years, 3 months ago

Obama has to push for small Idea's. A big one would shatter a small souled teapubs skull!

jhawkinsf 6 years, 3 months ago

"If you are young and a conservative, then you have no heart. If you are old and a liberal, then you have no brain". - I believe that's a Winston Churchill quote. But it does show that just like typical male pattern baldness, a move from the political left to the right is very common.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 3 months ago

Which? The move from the political left to the right or the baldness? In the case of the latter, I can tell you with great certainty it is a fact.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

Isn't it you who likes to lecture about the difference between fact and opinion? (until one of your most cherished opinions is called for what it is, anyway.)

jhawkinsf 6 years, 3 months ago

Since I was quoting someone else, it's neither my opinion nor is it being offered as a fact.
But my interpretation would be that it was Mr. Churchill's opinion. You may conclude whatever you wish.

beatrice 6 years, 3 months ago

How about that! After three years of repeating the same nonsense over and over and over again, you finally admit that Obama was elected in the first place. If he weren't elected, how could he be "re-elected"?

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

The funny thing about this column is that the ideas praised - getting rid of loopholes that favor the rich, and means testing entitlement programs, are much more likely to be proposed by Democrats, and resisted by Republicans.

Those who propose higher capital gains taxes are likely to be in favor of those ideas as well, and those who oppose them will probably oppose those too.

imastinker 6 years, 3 months ago

Jafs, I read a lot of your posts and you seem like a person that sometimes really thinks things through.

Why is it that when an article like this comes along you resort to knocking republicans? Republicans aren't perfect either, far from it. But you knock a good idea just in a defensive way because it didn't come from Democrats. Why?

You seem so close to understanding that the problem isn't republicans or democrats, it's Republicans AND Democrats; and the system that allows them to peddle their ideas unfettered from the likes of an outsider that may not have the same allegiances as they do. It's why the Herman Cains, Ron Pauls, and even Ralph Nader's of the world will never win at politics.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I'm not defensively knocking Republicans.

I'm pointing out that Krauthammer, a loyal Republican, fails to note that the policies he's espousing are generally opposed by Republicans, which is ironic, since he's using them to attack Obama, a Democrat.

If he's in favor of those ideas, he should be criticizing Republicans for opposing them, not Obama, who is almost certainly in favor of them.

It's not a choice between those who favor a higher capital gains rate, and those who favor eliminating loopholes and means testing entitlements - it's a choice between those who generally favor all of those and those who generally oppose them.

imastinker 6 years, 3 months ago

You're claiming that he can't have a good idea because republicans don't support it. Hence, you're part of the problem.

Quit the republican and democrat monikers and evaluate the idea based on it's own merits. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

I never said anything of the sort.

I think they're all good ideas, and I've proposed them in the past.

Mike Ford 6 years, 3 months ago

actually, Obama is still pushing big ideas because the stupidity of obstruction and the embarrassment of a GOP field can only got so far. Even the total nonsense of math and falsehope that works inside the denial bubble of the gop mind does little on the outside. Can't tell them that though. Head in the sand obstructs reality....the same for kansas....

cowboy 6 years, 3 months ago

"If the Republicans can’t beat that in November, they should try another line of work. "

I agree with you completely Chaz Craphammer. Perhaps they could find work with the Taliban.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

If you were installed as CEO of a major American company that was losing money daily and needed to be turned around quickly or face bankruptcy, would you (a) lower your costs of production, or (b) raise your prices? What effect would raising your prices without lowering your costs of production have on selling your products?

Whar part of this don't liberal Democrats get?

No tax increases, I mean none, until spending gets under control. Keep that in mind when you vote in November of this year.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

The problem is that the analogy is faulty - a country isn't a company.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

And households aren't governments, a lie which liberal economics professors from Samuelson on down have been brainwashing into college students' minds for six decades. They call it the "fallacy of composition."

The analogy with major business is precisely apt, whether you have the ability to see it or not.

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Ah - the insults start early this morning.

A business exists in order to sell products - a government does not.

A business cannot collect taxes - a government can.

A business can relocate - a government cannot.

A business exists in order to make a profit - a government does not.

A business focuses on it's own success - a government exists for the good of all.

A business competes with other like businesses in a market economy - a government does not.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

"And households aren't governments, a lie which liberal economics professors from Samuelson on down have been brainwashing into college students' minds for six decades."

I don't need an economic professor to tell me that households are not governments-- where did you ever get the idea that they are?

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

All political liberals who embrace runaway spending by government when only a fool does it in his own household have been destroying America for decades. Here's hoping that Americans will elect responsible people to represent them who understand the simple truth that you can't spend irresponsibly by simply printing money in Washington any more than you can use credit cards irresponsibly and drive yourself into bankruptcy. Our government is bankrupt already, and electing more liberal Democrats will only make it worse.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 3 months ago

The only reason Clinton left with a budget surplus was that a Republican Congress was elected in 1994 and stayed that way until he left office.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 3 months ago

The media sold us a lie. A packaged protected lie. Obama is not super intelligent, nor a leader. He is a handsome, attractive to many, minority who could read a teleprompter with emotion.

Now look where we are.

We won't get fooled again............

esteshawk 6 years, 3 months ago

Hey Fox - before you claim corrupt liberal media, you might want to look at your Saviour: Rupert Murdoch. He's the only media I know of being investigated.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

And yet, you'll vote for one of the cretins that the Republicans have scraped the bottom of the barrel for.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

Apparently, the discussion software is again rejecting links to the JW's own articles.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 3 months ago

I will vote for a 3 legged turtle as long as the hard shelled little creature stops driving this nation down the disastrous road of we can give every American anything they wish.

Historians will look back at this period asking this question. The U.S. of A destroyed it's economy, made everybody miserable, scorched their backbone of industry to help a tiny percentage of the citizenry. The populace could have paid for a home, best healthcare, chefs for all the so called unfortunates for much less money.

Funny thing, I read an article about bring Bill Clinton back into some type of leadership role again. Not the worst idea I've heard recently. Give Obama and Michelle a Gold Card, send them off to play, and let some real leaders figure out how to get us out of this financial mess.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

The Clinton Administration, and particularly its economic team, were on the ground floor of the creation of the present mess. And the biggest mistake Obama made was bringing so many of them back into government.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 3 months ago

Yes, the economy is a real mess, just as predicted by teapublicans a year ago.

15% unemployment. High inflation. A moribund stock market. Flat consumer spending.

Oh wait, that didn't happen.

The teapublicans' worst nightmare is coming to pass. The economy is (gasp) improving. Obama has saved the economy. Noooooooo....

Scott Morgan 6 years, 3 months ago

yourworst, how about real money in the pocket of a the middle class family? Ummmmm? Do you know what 4 or 5 buck gas does to people who actually have to move to make a living?

How about folks who depend on housing prices? None of the things you mentioned do one single thing for the working man. Oh, also, they changed the way the compute unemployment and the figures you stated are not real.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 3 months ago

So, did you oppose Obama's middle class tax cut as did the GOP?

Do you oppose the wealthiest upper class paying more in taxes?

Do you oppose unions, who fight for high wages and good benefits for workers?

Methinks your populist rage is misdirected. You should vote democrat. The GOP are drinking your milkshake.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 3 months ago

Small ideas, eh?

Maybe so, but Obama might just be in clean up mode.

He saved the economy with a big idea started by Bush and carried through by Obama: the stimulus and bailouts.

He passed his big idea health care plan to provide coverage to all and to eliminate the worst abuses of insurance companies. Why dwell on it? It is being implemented.

If Obama's new ideas are small, you wouldn't know it by the GOP reaction to them. Socialist. Communist. Old Europe. Redistributionist.

Jesus,teapublicans. Leave a few rounds in the clip. These are just small ideas!

jafs 6 years, 3 months ago

Of course, he can't win with these guys.

When he proposes "large" ideas, he's criticized for that as well.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 3 months ago

I've lived through recessions, never as long as this one. Never one I read about everyday stating things will never be the same, never with the bleak outlook we have now.

The Greatest nation ever, and this is all we can do. Trash our industry chasing the goofiness of Global Warming, scare tactics belched out everyday over everything from school lunches to granny not getting her meds.

Knock knock libs, we have always had poor people. We have more enviromental laws and regulations we should look to repeal some. What we have never had was an economy going backwards without hope. I would hate hate hate being a 22 year old in Lawrence looking for a real job. We never threw the baby out with the bathwater like we are doing under this administration.

This was told to me by an older American last Thursday.

Health care 2012. We now face actual shortages where indeed granny who did nothing but the right thing (actually paid taxes) must choose between a few nice things in life or her medication. Granny can chow hunt at Checkers while standing in line with able bodied folks who never worked a good month of their lives. Granny worries whether she will be able to afford her medical treatment.

Folks standing next to granny who do not have to choose medication over whether they turn the thermostat up to make it comfortable. They get stuff free from the magic plastic card the nice folks at SRS gives them. I wonder if they even know most folks pay utilities bills.

Now again tell me about this wonderful Obama again.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

"Trash our industry chasing the goofiness of Global Warming,"

Pretty much nothing has been done to forestall or slow down global warming, so that's not what trashed the economy.

But if global warming isn't seriously addressed, and soon, it will cause a trashing of the economy the likes of which have never been seen-- those lucky enough to survive will look back on this recession and even the Great Depression as "good times."

ThePilgrim 6 years, 3 months ago

I say Obama can show good faith and start his campaign by giving back his Nobel Peace Prize. Many of his actions make him exactly like Bush, or maybe even worse - increased drone bombings in Pakistan (and he can't use "Bin Laden may be hiding in Pakistan" argument anymore), assassinations of Iranian nuke scientists, bombing any house where there might be a terrorist - and usually doing it when they are having a big family gathering or party. Renewed Patriot Act, expanded legislation to spy on Americans with GPS without court order, kept open Guantanamo (which I agree with, actually). And the pinnacle - attacking Libya to help persecuted protesters...oh wait, they were armed rebels from a different tribe than Qaddaffi engaging in a civil war . And also to do the boot work for France, who got most of their oil from Libya. Warmongering for oil AGAIN. Some have stated that Obama's foreign policy is "like Bush on steroids". And where is the outcry?!

ThePilgrim 6 years, 3 months ago

Socialists historically have not been peaceniks, except for the stereotypical 60's hippies. Not only are the famous socialists warmongers, but the other socialists/Marxists, such as the democratic socialists in Europe, are warmongers, they just want the US to be the ones going to war for them.

esteshawk 6 years, 3 months ago

I guess only in Georgia is Hawaii not a state.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 3 months ago

The fact is that the economy is improving. This is hard to swallow for teapublicans, so they continue to preach doom and gloom about the economy in hopes that some of it will stick and Obama will be politically damaged.

How does it feel to cheer against the US economy in hopes that a bad economy will damage the president?

A curious position to be in.

camper 6 years, 3 months ago

I am skeptical of Krauthammer. He splits something that has the same objective into a good vs. bad argument, and handily uses it to criticize President Obama. He labels revising the Alternative minimum tax as "Redistribution" and then offers tax reform via loophole elimination and means testing as the best way to address the issue.

The writer also says eliminating loopholes is a good way to promote equity:

"Tax reform and entitlement reform are the really big ideas. The first produces social equity plus economic efficiency; the second produces social equity plus debt reduction"

while mocking the very same thing in the 2nd paragraph :

"Of course, this being Obama, there was a reach for grandeur. Hope and change are long gone. It’s now equality and fairness. "

In addition to flip flopping, he makes a false statement. He say's President Obama has refused to address eliminating tax loopholes. This is patently false as this was a component of the budget debate in the fall.

Krauthammer is a part of the problem and he should be ignored. I'm surprised I even made it thru the piece. My bad. Ten minutes I'll never get back.

beatrice 6 years, 3 months ago

I guess after Newt Gingrich's call for building colonies on the moon, Obama's focus on fixing the problems right here on earth do seem small by comparison.

Patrick Suzeau 6 years, 3 months ago

I don't think "tax the rich" is demagoguery at all. Although the "pudding without a theme" is too bland for my taste it is at least more nutritious than what the republicans have to offer. They want us to eat cake.

pace 6 years, 3 months ago

Equality and fairness are not small ideas. Shame, Equality is one of the great ideas. Will we worship the misers or respect the brave?

Sunny Parker 6 years, 3 months ago

And when the rich run out of money, who is going to provide for all of the liberals? Why is it a crime to be rich, stop punishing their success!

pace 6 years, 3 months ago

so you think the rich is running out of money? Are you nuts, have you looked at the score board?

Patrick Suzeau 6 years, 3 months ago

currently we live in a plutocracy where the rich have been given (legally) the power to get richer often to the detriment of the the society as a whole.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 3 months ago

it;s just.......exactly a heavy smoking, who heard of the environment, guns, my job is getting people to vote and I get paid, married to Michelle who nobody ever heard of anything she ever besides tell others how to live andt far@ dead meat. Iraq, umm? what;s this a thing I can read and make luke warm public comments, Chicago political machine we have a winner! 10 years later an Ivy league underachiever is now our leader. Oh my!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.