Opinion: Obama still a tax-and-spend liberal

January 4, 2013


— 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.

  1. 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 Washington Post Writers Group.


Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Charles K has an intentional short memory.

Republicans bring on big debt and super duper bailouts which does not seem to bother Republicans, as long as they are in power.

In fact, by the time the second Bush left office, the national debt had grown to $12.1 trillion.

This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Over half of that amount had been created by Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy.

This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Another 30% of the national debt had been created by the tax cuts for the wealthy under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Fully 81% of the national debt was created by just these three Republican Presidents. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2010/0111orr.html

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Bailouts,millions of job losses and no job replacement were brought about by criminal Repub activity. --- This GOP ENTITLEMENT - TABOR is Coming by Grover Norquist = Grab Your Wallets! http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0705rebne.html

--- This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Bailing out The Reagan/Bush Savings and Loan Heist aka home loan scandal sent the economy out the window costing taxpayers many many $$ trillions (Cost taxpayers $1.4 trillion), Plus millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

--- This GOP ENTITLEMENT Bailing out the Bush/Cheney Home Loan Wall Street Bank Fraud cost consumers $ trillions, millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. Exactly like the Reagan/Bush home loan scam. Déjà vu can we say. Yep seems to be a pattern. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

--- This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Bush/Cheney implied many financial institutions were at risk instead of only 3? One of the biggest lies perpetrated to American citizens. Where did this money go? Why were some banks forced to take bail out money? http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/10/good_billions_after_bad_one_year

--- RECKLESS GOP Tax cuts = THE GOP ENTITLEMENT program for the wealthy which do nothing to make an economy strong or produce jobs. Tax cuts are a tax increase to others in order to make up the loss in revenue = duped again. Bush Tax Cuts aka

--- This GOP ENTITLEMENT program for the wealthy is at the expense of the middle class = duped one more time. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2001/0301miller.html

JackMcKee 4 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Paul R Getto 4 years ago

Now, Jack. We need to listen to all the opinions out there, then decide what we think.

verity 4 years ago

Hows about we get all the facts and then decide? :-)

gr 4 years ago

Why? Why should there be any limit on spending. Just ask the private Federal Reserve to create more money to borrow and pay back with interest? Isn't the private company getting some interest anyway? No cost to them. Or does it devalue their worth, too, when debt is not repaid?

But why worry? Won't we all be dead by the time to pay the piper?

Spend. Spend. Spend.

Be happy.

Mike Ford 4 years ago

nice to know when reality fails them the circus entertainers on the right can keep making up stuff and calling names. thanks for the entertainment.

voevoda 4 years ago

The facts, rockchalk1977, don't back up your contention concerning jobs:


In fact, unemployment has generally risen during Republican administrations, and fallen during Democratic ones:


Gregory Newman 4 years ago

NAFTA/GATT cut jobs and tax revenue and the congress knows it. But its too late folks Wall Street has contracts with European Nations it would be a good thing for us but bad for bankers to reneg on a contracts especially with China because they would retaliate and pool together against our debt. Its not much we can do because federal reserve notes are not ours it is lended to us on credit. So the repugs in congress sees the easy way out by allowing Wall Street to be the federal government and not us as people. Welcome to the New World Order and this was long before Obama. So you need to rock your own chalk and get a clue because 38% of whites are on welfare and that was during G.W. Bush with a Repug house.

In_God_we_trust 4 years ago

President Obama on July 3, 2008 condemned President Bush for running up a 4 trillion dollar debt in 8 years. Then President Obama quickly ran up 6 trillion of additional debt in just 4 years.

heygary 4 years ago

There is a long-held belief that democracies, in general, are a predictably doomed form of government.

In the year 1787, Alexander Tyler (a Scottish history professor at The University of Edinborough) used an analogy to describe "The Fall of The Athenian Republic" some 2,000 years prior: “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”

From my vantage point, Mr. Tyler’s observation has been unsettlingly predictive of the path of our own experiment in Democracy.

In my youth I studied, with gratitude and reverence, the “bondage to liberty” sequence associated with the birth of our country. I believe I have lived through the “abundance to apathy” sequence. Now, as I watch the current Administration attempt to spend its way out of a recession, push forward massive bail out and entitlement programs, and socio-engineer Government intrusion/involvement in to most aspects of our lives, I cannot help but feel that the road to “dependence” has been charted.

ThePilgrim 4 years ago

We have been in dependence for some time now. And we are getting closer to bondage, if we have not already arrived.

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

The quote by Alexander Tytler (not "Tyler") is totally made up from whole fabric. It's first appearance was in an editorial in an Oklahoma paper in the 1950's. Nice try.

voevoda 4 years ago

Not to mention that this vision of history as consisting of universal, repeating cycles of rise and inevitable fall, was discredited a century ago.

Nobody who actually studies history seriously puts any credence into such theories. They are generally used not to explain history, but rather to advance a contemporary political agenda--in the way Heygary did. Such arguments are easy to refute, because all one needs to do is point out a single country that diverges from the pattern. In this case, look at Switzerland.

If Heygary wants to argue that the US is now in the midst of apathy and dependence, and the destruction of our country is inevitable, fine. But then he should get out of the way of those of us who think our country can and will overcome the current difficulties, and are working to make that happen.

voevoda 4 years ago

Clearly, Gandalf, you have no clue who Turchin and Korotayev are, or you wouldn't cite them as "proof" that history really follows patterns. They aren't historians, Gandalf; they are mathematicians. They oversimply complicated material in order to reduce it to mathematical formulae, and then conclude that the mathematical patterns they created that way actually reflect reality. Not a "little jewel," Gandalf, Just bit of glass that attracts the attention of people who don't know better.

voevoda 4 years ago

Gandalf, calling me names because I don't subscribe to this Marxist-inspired view of history doesn't prove that you are smarter than I am. These scholars start from the Marxist premises that all countries follow a universal pattern and that economics is the sole "engine" of history. Therefore, they conclude that such universal patterns exist and that they can be defined mathematically.

I've looked at some of their research myself, and I'm not impressed. Instead of reading a "highly cited" website, I checked what professional historians had to say, and I read some of this material myself. For example, Korotaev's argument that there are "universal" patterns in love and sex over all countries and all eras in the past was based on a 14-question questionnaire with fill-in-the-bubble answers distributed to a few hundred people in a few countries in recent years--that is, hardly authoritative. When these scholars stick to what they know--mathematical data--their research is valuable. But they don't recongize the limitations on their data--often, the sources before the modern period do not contain sufficient or sufficiently accurate information to sustain the overarching conclusions these scholars are drawing. They ignore some of the most basic information that is not quantitative, and they develop classifications of "different types of states" that do not pay sufficient attention to crucial characteristics that are not quantifiable. Evidence from the medieval world, for example must be understood in the context of the society that produced it; anyone who has actually read Ibn Khaldun (have you??) and who is knowledgable about Muslim society would not be impressed with his views on this subject.

Clearly, though, this kind of historical narrative appeals to your preconceptions. You bypass all the works by reputable scholars who are fully trained as historians to embrace the ideas of people who aren't trained as historians merely because they say what you have already decided is true.

So I've got a challenge for you, Gandalf, since you're so convinced that your ideas are correct and mine are "flat earth": Copy what you wrote and what I wrote, and ask 2-3 KU History Professors what they think. Unless, that is, you have already decided that they are "flat earth" and "everyone else has left them behind."

voevoda 4 years ago

Gandalf, I already know his biography, which you cut and pasted from Wikipedia. I know citation indexes, which count only how often a work is cited, not whether it is any good (sometimes works are cited as bad examples). I judge scholars by their work, not by their self-promoting biographies. I have read very extensively in reputable historical works, and I am an excellent judge of quality in historical scholarship. Clearly, you are not. You, Gandalf, decide what is authoritative and what is not depending upon how closely it resembles what you already think. That is the opposite of how real historians work.

For you, these sorts of forums are "word games," as you have called them, which you like to play "aggressively," as you admitted on Dec. 31. When someone says something you disagree with, you respond in one of three ways: 1) call that person names; 2) launch a pointed pseudo-question intended to trip up the other person; and/or 3) quote a pseudo-source that you pull at random off the internet. You aren't interested in a genuine, equal exchange of views, much less in actually learning anything. Consequently, this is the last time I will every respond to you. If you respond to me, I will warn other readers of forums of your mistakes, if I think they represent a dangerous misapprehension. Otherwise, I will ignore you.

MarcoPogo 4 years ago

Not inflammatory; it's just Dfacetious.

The D is silent.

MarcoPogo 4 years ago

I'm kicking myself for falling into your trap - this was all a setup so you could use the word "jocose". Well played.

Shane Garrett 4 years ago

the tax agreement also came loaded with extensions of separate existing tax breaks for businesses and industries, many of which had expired in the past year — about $67.9 billion in all in 2013, as tabulated by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. Of course that is just a small percentage of the 16 Trillion we the people are in debt to... other countries, banks and profiteers.

Shane Garrett 4 years ago

A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it Nice try Al Gore.

voevoda 4 years ago

I'm pretty sure, Wally, that all the members of Congress, whether Democrats or Republicans, have to pay the taxes they vote for. Although so many of them are mega-rich, which explains why it was so hard for them to agree to raise taxes particularly on the top 2%. And in fact, in monarchical forms of government, very often the monarchs and the nobility do not pay for the taxes they enact on the lower social orders. In theocracies, the religious leader-rulers very often do not pay the taxes they require of ordinary people. In dictatorships, favored persons can get away with not paying taxes, no matter what the law might say. In fact, come to think of it, a democratic government is one of the few in which those who vote for a tax actually do pay it!

yourworstnightmare 4 years ago

Krauthammer still a faux news zombie.

riverdrifter 4 years ago

Oh, crap, he can't walk. Nevermind.

jayhawklawrence 4 years ago

As a legal gun owner, I am going to recommend that Krauthammer not be allowed to purchase one and that he be screened by an appropriately qualified professional in the event that he may injure himself and/or others.

Paul R Getto 4 years ago

Opinion: Obama still a tax-and-spend liberal

Replace the president's name with "America" and we are about there. Both parties, given the chance, spend money like water because we want them to (SS, Medicare) or because we let them (BS wars.) When America grows up we will all take less and pay more for a couple of generations and start keeping real books. That will help a lot. Bloviating by either party is useless.

jafs 4 years ago

The amounts taken out of those programs far exceeds the monetary contributions, so they're good examples, actually.

Average Medicare recipients receive about 3x as much as they contribute.

SS differs a bit from case to case, but many people will take at least 2x as much as they pay in, as well.

jafs 4 years ago

That's also true.

In fact, my guess is that lower income folks are quite likely to die younger, and thus pay more in than they receive, while higher income folks are somewhat the opposite, generally speaking.

jafs 4 years ago

Although, of course, these programs differ from private sector insurance in that the government isn't making a profit, in fact is losing money on them, which doesn't happen in the private sector.

So, there may be fewer "losers" in these programs than in the private sector analogous ones.

bevy 4 years ago

I thought jocose was the vocab word of the day, but I think bloviating tops it. Well played!

Greg Cooper 4 years ago

And, in other news, Obama is still black. Sorry, Kraut. Facts are still facts, and you speak none.

md 4 years ago

I will never understand how libs can be so blind. You have an infantile sense dealing with the real world. So sad.

Larry Sturm 4 years ago

Wouldn't have to tax & spend if Bush/ Cheney hadn't run us off of the finincal cliff.

Armstrong 4 years ago

md. I thought it would take a little longer for your point to be proven, obviously not tho

parco814 4 years ago

Good. I like the President's policies and priorities on taxation and federal spending. MC HammerKraut undoubtedly makes a 6-7 figure salary for griping about the President and he'll have four more years to do that. Truth be told, I'm sure Charlie prefers that to having to defend Romney-Ryan.

beatrice 4 years ago

I'll bet Mitt Romney's was ... well ... who cares!

jafs 4 years ago

If so, that would indicate that he was interested in capitalism from a young age, and contradict the often repeated claim that he's really a socialist.

Also, I always have to wonder about people who feel the need to use casual first names with presidents, and why they do that.

Seems to me like a way of demeaning them, of course, but why?

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