So why (you ask, reasonably enough) does he bother? Doesn't President Obama know that the Republicans who wrung substantive budget cuts out of him last week aren't going to applaud this week when he calls for tax increases on "the rich" to help pay down the federal deficit? This ole dog, as we like to say in Texas, won't hunt: no way, no how.
Only after about a tenth of a second of concentrated thought do we understand what's going on. Two things essentially: PR and Democratic economics. The public relations aspect to Obama's big speech on Wednesday has back-to-back elements.
Element A is the ability it gives him to enter into sacrificial mode. As David Plouffe, his political adviser, explained it: "People like him, as he'll say, who've been very fortunate in life, have the ability to pay a little bit more." Part B is the chance to look spiffy in going after fellow plutocrats who don't -- yet -- see the need to "pay a little bit more."
If they did see it, they'd understand that this is what many Democrats believe and how they talk. Every country has its redistributionist party. The Democrats are ours. They earnestly believe that half the world's problems would be solved by Robin Hood-ism -- lifting the purses of the rich and scattering the contents around.
There isn't the least surprise in Plouffe's tipping us that his boss's economic message Wednesday will include proposals for tax hikes. (What kind we'll just have to find out, inasmuch as the package is being thrown together on a crash basis -- unlike Rep. Paul Ryan's, which took months to perfect.) The Republican House -- whose leaders kept the government "open" by city-slicking or overawing Democratic budget negotiators -- isn't going to raise taxes during a recession. Obama knows that as well as he knows the numbers behind his book royalties.
What's his game, then? Well, to beat up on the GOP as -- a familiar trope -- the party of encrusted wealth, eager, as fellow Democrat Harry Reid so eloquently put it prior to the budget deal, to throw seniors and poor people under the bus.
But beyond that? And beyond the generalized call he intends to issue for responsible cuts in spending? I point to one small straw fluttering in the wind: namely, Paul Krugman's April 11 column in The New York Times. Krugman, the quintessential left-wing economist -- who actually leaves some fellow left-wing economists in the dust when it comes to advocacy -- has all but given up on Obama. Following the budget deal this week, Krugman called his ex-hero "this bland, timid guy who doesn't seem to stand for anything in particular."
Call up his column on the Times' opinion page and then read the comments. Ow! Fetch the bandages and smelling salts! The Times' influential left-of-center readership, which turned out en masse for Obama in 2008, suddenly can't stand him. Among the choicer epithets for their fallen hero: "out-and-out liar," "empty suit," "inexperienced Chicago pol," "worst Democratic president in a century."
And the deadliest of them all: "Republican."
The hope-and-change president, it seems, is a Republican: a less honest party member, alas, than the one he replaced in the White House, delicately described by one Krugman reader as "satanic." When, in the presidential standings, you drop behind Satan, it is advisable to watch your back. Or -- here was the meat of Krugman's complaint -- get a philosophy and act on it.
Twenty-seven months into the era of Hope and Change, the perception grows and spreads, like one of those grass fires ravaging the Southwest, that Hope and Change's chief advocate lacks goals and commitments; that he's not even a liberal, just a big talker.
No more than they take a Paul Krugman column as dispositive should Republicans view the remarks of Krugman's fans that way. It does help to reflect that a certain perception concerning Obama's leadership is catching fire, for reasons resembling those underlying the call for tax increases: reasons feather-light, insubstantial, calculated as much for sound as for meaning.
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