Divide et Impera: Another High-Budget Production

Posted: Feb 20, 2012 3:42 PM
Divide et Impera: Another High-Budget Production

It should be coming soon to a campaign stop near you. Watch for it: Still another high-budget, low-content production by the same masterful hand that gave you shows like "Stimuless" and "Solyndra." This administration just keeps churning them out.

All these blockbusters get rave reviews from uncritical critics like the Democratic National Committee. Consider "FY2013," the mix of fantasy and fun-with-numbers known formally as this year's federal budget.

It's a positively Roman extravaganza. The VIPs in the choice seats at the Colosseum hail Caesar. "Encore! Encore!" they shout. "Four more years!"

"More, more!" say the Paul Krugmans of economic theory. "Keep spending!" This economy will yet get up to speed if only Washington would spend even more. These experts look on events in Greece, that economic basket case, not as an example to beware but one to emulate.

The rest of us may be tempted to just sigh and go on. We've seen this show before. It's as old as Rome.

As for any sign of genuine reform in our president's latest budget, it's gone with the Bowles-Simpson commission. The president's last real connection with that commission was to appoint it. By now it's just stage scenery, one more of his many foils. For this president doesn't address issues so much as use them. And his budget isn't so much a budget as a campaign document. He's laid it out like a 2,000-page bear trap.

Behind all the fanciful figures in this budget, there is a simple strategy, also dating back to Roman times. Divide et impera. It's a battle plan as old as Cannae: Divide and conquer. In political terms, it means setting poor against rich. Then settle back and watch those votes come rolling in election night. Happy days will be here again. As for what happens the morning after, any disappointments can be blamed on George W. Bush.

Here's the plan. It's simplicity itself: Raise taxes on the highest incomes, on capital gains, on dividends, on every investment in sight, on all that wealth just lying around waiting to be divvied up by a president who knows how to spend our money so much better than we do. It's about time the 1 percent did their fair share and the 99 percent got it.

So let's get busy killing that golden goose. The sooner we do, the sooner we'll all have eggs. And if not, we'll just borrow some -- without ever having to pay back the loan. Just keep raising the debt limit.

Unfortunately, there is only so much blood that can squeezed out of even the biggest turnip. At last report (2009) the top 1 percent paid 36.7 percent of federal income taxes, though they earned only 16.9 percent of American income. And the bottom 50 percent paid just 2.3 percent of income taxes. It's only fair, right?

In the name of the same spurious fairness, this president would pit the poor against the rich. But in practice there just aren't enough rich to go around, more's the pity. So he'll have to keep changing his definition of rich to include more and more of the middle class. Which is what has happened with the ATM, the Alternative Minimum Tax that was going to soak the rich but wound up soaking the middle class, as even Barack Obama now recognizes.

But the president dreams on. This is the budget that, unlike his first three, is actually going to lower deficits and reduce the national debt. Someday. Over the rainbow by and by. When the oceans retreat and the planet heals, to cite another of Barack Obama's forgotten campaign promises.

Canute has commanded, but the waves keep splashing ashore. Budget proposals are one thing, the laws of economics another. And the real economy refuses to fit into his grand scheme. Or even his fictive budget.

But the president is undeterred. He keeps getting up on his steed, striking a heroic pose, and riding off in all directions. Result: The economy is denied what it may need most from government when it comes to economic policy: predictability.