Wednesday’s press conference marked the first occasion journalists have had to question the President directly – about anything – in eight months, and President Obama tipped his hat on his plans to confront the coming fiscal cliff with chastened House Republicans. In short, he will probably raise tax rates for the wealthy.
But thanks to an explosive and, as my colleague Donny Deutsch put it, testosterone-fueled defense of UN Ambassador Susan Rice, a lot of what the President also said about his plans to reduce the deficit went ignored. That’s a shame – they were quite illuminating.
Before Obama’s “bring it on” taunt to Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham sucked all the oxygen out of the room, he was asked, if the wealthy must pay more, “would closing loopholes instead of raising rates for them satisfy you?” In the answer to that one question the President proved in four different ways that he just doesn’t get it.
Let’s start with this declaration: “What I’m not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don’t need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars.”
The part to ponder there is the clause “who don’t need it,” which opens up a philosophical can of worms that conservatives tried – heroically but unsuccessfully – to litigate during the presidential election.
Basing an economic, monetary or tax policy purely on “need” is either an embarrassingly naïve or dangerously misguided interpretation of both collectivism and capitalism, which presumes that as free people we are only entitled to what we minimally require to survive. In addition to conjuring images of bread lines and rationing, the suggestion undermines and in fact undoes the philosophical foundations on which both our legal system and our economic system are based: property rights. John Locke and Max Weber would be perplexed, to say the least.
Wealthy, poor or middle class, no one benefits when the government can stipulate how much its citizens “need.”
The next juicy nugget is far more Earthly. In fact, it’s just about math. In Obama’s words, extending the Bush tax cuts would cost one trillion dollars, and we can’t make up that trillion dollars by closing loopholes and deductions. “You know, the math tends not to work.”