In three years, Barack Obama has morphed from the Herald of Hope to the Envoy of Envy.
The President has always been an eager class warrior. But he has now taken things to a new level, making the politics of envy and resentment the signature theme of his reelection campaign.
Last week President Obama insisted, “It’s not class warfare, it’s math” in defending his new deficit-reduction plan that relies on raising taxes on the wealthy. But Obama’s base has given him permission to wage class warfare. As Robert Kuttner, editor of the American Prospect, wrote in Politico last week, “There’s nothing wrong with class politics when you are speaking for 90% of Americans …”
Obama’s soak-the-rich policy is founded on his conception of “fairness.” The rich, he insists, must pay their “fair share.”
Obama’s plan wouldn’t hit just the oft-targeted “millionaires and billionaires,” of course. It includes letting the Bush tax cuts expire for people earning as little as $200,000 a year. And it is not the rich but the middle class and poor who will suffer most when Obama’s taxes on high-earners prompt small businesses to stop hiring and cause the wealthy to reduce their charitable giving.
The wealthy already pay more than their fair share in taxes. The top 1% of earners pays nearly 40% of income taxes. The effective tax rate of the well-off is about twice that of middle-income earners. Half the country pays no federal income tax.
The Weekly Standard‘s Jeffrey Anderson put things in stark relief: “[T]he top 0.1% paid more toward the workings of government than the bottom 80% did,” he wrote last week. “That’s despite the fact that the bottom 80% collectively made more than six times as much money as the top 0.1% did.”
None of this matters to Obama, because his economic policies aren’t really about fairness, but rather about ensuring his own reelection. The sad truth is, thanks in part to Obama and his media allies, millions of voters believe that the wealthy pay not just a lower rate on their taxes, but less in net taxes than do middle-income earners.
Opinion polls reveal how little many Americans know about how much the rich actually pay in taxes. Polls show that most Americans support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. But a Resurgent Republic poll found that 65% of American voters say that “the maximum percentage that the federal government should take from any individual’s income should be 20% or lower.”
It would surely be news to many Americans that the average federal income-tax rate of those earning between $1 million and $10 million was nearly 30% in 2009. And in state and local taxes, many are ponying up more than 40%, with new tax hikes scheduled just after the election, on Jan. 1, 2013.
With many economists forecasting a double-dip recession, Obama’s raw class-warfare rhetoric has the potential to rip the social fabric and provoke real violence in the months ahead. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently predicted that there would be riots in the streets if jobs aren’t created and the economy doesn’t improve. Filmmaker Michael Moore was even more ominous. “The smart rich know they can only build the gate so high. And sooner or later history proves that people, when they’ve had enough, aren’t going to take it anymore,” Moore told Keith Olbermann last week. “And much better to deal with it nonviolently now, through the political system, than what could possibly happen in the future, which nobody wants to see.”
But violence has already started to erupt. Though the media have mostly ignored them, flash mobs of poor, minority kids have besieged cities across the country.
In February, Obama labeled Wisconsin Republicans’ effort to limit public employee unions’ power in that state “an assault on unions.” Some on the Left took Obama’s remarks as a call to action. The weeks following saw mob action in the state capitol, as several conservative lawmakers were assaulted.
What happened to the Obama who spoke at the memorial for victims of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., last January? In a speech that many commentators hailed as a high point of his presidency, Obama lamented that “our discourse has become so sharply polarized” and urged the nation not to “use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.”
Back then, half the country still approved of Obama’s job performance. Ten months and 10 approval points later, Obama has settled on a reelection strategy that employs exactly the kind of “sharply polarized” discourse he admonished his fellow citizens to avoid.
In order to save his political future, Obama shows every willingness to stoke the fires of class anger and envy. That is not only a mistake, it is a failed opportunity for the President, who claimed he would unite America in new and profound ways.