Obama the Rhetorical Magician
Obama is a talented, but a wily and dishonest, salesman.


Rich Lowry

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available exclusively through King Features Syndicate. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact: [email protected], or phone 800-708-7311, ext 246).

George H. W. Bush made a “read my lips” no-new-taxes pledge in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in August 1988, and broke it two years later. That seemed a fast turnaround, but President Barack Obama has outpaced him by making, and then signaling his intention to break, a no-new-taxes pledge all in the same address.

“If your family earns less than $250,000 a year,” Obama said in his speech to a joint session of Congress, “you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime.”

Unless, that is, your family pays a utility bill. Earlier from the same podium, Obama exhorted Congress to send him “legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution.” This cap-and-trade program would increase the cost of energy for everyone, regardless of income. It is a broad-based (if indirect) tax increase of the sort the casual listener would have thought Obama ruled out in categorical language.

Obama’s just-released budget outline proposes using revenues raised by cap-and-trade to fund his “Making Work Pay” tax credits that were part of the stimulus bill. Of those credits, Obama said, “The recovery plan provides a tax cut — that’s right, a tax cut — for 95 percent of working families.” This was a central Obama pledge during the campaign, although he never mentioned he’d fund it with a countervailing tax increase on working families and everyone else.

If you follow the money — out one pocket, in the other — Obama’s campaign promise is exposed as a fraud. Obama counts on no one noticing, in a vindication of the French writer Frederic Bastiat’s definition of politics as “the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

Obama is a talented, but a wily and dishonest, salesman. Nineteenth-century pol Martin Van Buren earned the sobriquet “the little magician” for his skillful manipulation of New York’s political machine. Obama is the rhetorical magician, depending — as all magicians do — on deft sleight of hand.

In his speech, Obama didn’t want his listeners to think he’s a big-government heir to Lyndon Johnson, so he talked of slashing waste. He said his team had begun going “line by line” through the budget, and “we have already identified $2 trillion in savings over the next decade.”

In common parlance, “savings” is taken to mean . . . well, savings. But half of this $2 trillion is accounted for by Obama’s planned tax increases on the rich — in other words, he has identified revenue, not savings. Much of the rest is arrived at by assuming the Iraq War would cost $170 billion a year for the duration, even though Obama has long planned a drawdown. Obama portrays himself as ruthlessly paring back government when he is simply raising taxes and leaving Iraq.


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