For some four years now, Barack Obama has been telling us that the dramatic tax cuts that George W. Bush got passed in order to encourage investment, rev up the economy, create jobs, and generally let Americans keep more of their own money were really a disaster.
According to the Book of Obama, those tax cuts led to the Great Recession that it took his administration to end.
But if so, why does he want to extend those same tax cuts? If they were such a bad idea then, why are they such a good idea now? Because a different president is pushing them?
Which raises a second question: If it's important, indeed urgent and pressing, to extend the Bush tax cuts to keep this still sputtering economic recovery going, as this president keeps saying, why exclude those Americans with household incomes above $250,000 a year from the tax cuts he would retain? It's a puzzlement.
Aren't those high earners the very people with the most to invest in the American economy, and so create jobs for the rest of us? Not to mention how investment can raise productivity, encourage innovation, and in general revive a stalled economy.
Why raise taxes only for those with that kind of money to invest? To give their tax lawyers and tax accountants another incentive to find loopholes in the tax code? (As if there weren't enough already.)
Note well: The president's proposal to raise taxes on high earners would include sole proprietors of small businesses and corporations who file as individual taxpayers. Yet small businesses are the kind most likely to hire new workers.
At a time when the country still has an unemployment rate above 8 percent, why punish the most profitable small businesses for thriving? And discourage them from hiring? Because they're successful? And the rest of us are envious?
The president says he just wants to be fair. But if he got his way, these small businesses, tens of thousands of them if not more, would be paying a higher tax rate than giants like J.P. Morgan. This he calls having the richest Americans pay their "fair share."
An impartial observer might be forgiven for suspecting that fairness has nothing to do with the president's latest tax program and everything to do with his winning re-election. The president's proposal to keep only some of the Bush tax cuts in effect is more a cynical ploy in this election season than a feasible economic program. Not that his tax package is going anywhere in this bitterly divided Congress. Odds are the GOP will respond to it in kind, and do its own share of posturing on this issue.
This whole bipartisan show in Washington -- it could be summed up as gridlock -- is less an exercise in politics than in political theater. But the American political vocabulary has been so devalued by this point, can we the people tell the difference any more between making economic policy and just showboating?
Silly me, for even to raise such questions is to take this president's economics seriously, which was my first mistake. It's only a thin disguise for the class envy he's making the basis of his re-election campaign. Mr. Obama's economic policies and the politics of resentment are so hopelessly intertwined there's no separating them, certainly in an election year.
It's just hard to take Obamanomics at face value. Mainly because it's really a branch of electioneering rather than economics. There's nothing new about it. It's led all of Europe, beginning but only beginning with Greece and Spain, to the brink of insolvency It's called Keynesian economics in dubious tribute to the great English economist John Maynard Keynes, who in real life was entirely too realistic to believe that economic wisdom consists solely of all stimulus all the time.
Lord Keynes himself never confused inflation with some kind of all-purpose panacea for any and all economic woes, however hard he pressed for more of it in the depths of the Great Depression.
How could the great Keynes have known that politicians like Barack Obama would cut his extensive pharmacopoeia of economic solutions down to just one? The way Dr. Freud once thought he had discovered the universal remedy for all ills in that miracle drug cocaine. ("In my last serious depression I took cocaine again and a small dose lifted me to the heights in a wonderful fashion. I am just now collecting the literature for a song of praise to this magical substance.")
Power is an intoxicant, too, and having had a taste of it his first term, this president is back for a second, singing the wonders of his economic record. He's still on a stimulus high.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are left back here in the real world with its real job numbers and Barack Obama's real record. And the growing suspicion that, despite all his excuses, not all the troubles in the world can be blamed on his predecessor in the White House.. .
Postscript: It's been more than half a century now since the Democrats nominated a remarkably eloquent candidate for president named Adlai Stevenson, who began his campaign by promising, of all things, to talk sense to the American people. Even more remarkable, he proceeded to do just that. Naturally, the American people proceeded to elect his opponent president -- a famous general who in historical hindsight proved as successful a president as Adlai Stevenson had been a rhetorician. Apparently, it takes a different set of skills to run for the presidency than to run the country.
Wouldn't it be something if both presidential nominees this year, Democrat and Republican, talked sense to the American people instead of putting on another political show?
Suppose this president tried to make a cogent case for his economic policies (surely there is such a case to be made), and Mitt Romney, the GOP's standard bearer, tried to explain why the policies that didn't work for the last Republican administration -- lower taxes and more incentives for American business -- would work for his. There is a case to be made along those lines, too.
Then the American people could make an informed choice. Until they do, and have spoken at the ballot box this November, is it too much to ask both Democrats and Republicans to just stick with the current tax structure as it is -- and give the American economy at this fragile stage a small modicum of stability?
Come, let us reason together -- not just fulminate. Or would that be unspeakably civil and constructive?