There are lots of ways of calculating the ratio between cuts and raising taxes in the fiscal-cliff deal — but the computations all are nightmarish — especially in comparison with the seemingly long-ago euphoria among the tea-party-driven Republicans following the landslide 2010 midterm elections in the House.
One thing, however, is clear: Obama and his supporters will not view Republican concessions as magnanimous but rather as a green light for further tax hikes in 2013, as the president himself pontificated in his pre-victory-lap press conference.
For Obama and his base, deficits are always a symptom of too little taxation, never of too much spending. The higher the red ink rises, even to the point of becoming unsustainable, the more leverage accrues to raise taxes on those who unfairly make too much money. A Republican concession to raise taxes is seen as synonymous with a confession of greed and past culpability, as a messianic Obama is now willing to offer penance to those who only belatedly see the error of their greedy ways.
It is an academic point whether Obama’s aim in the vast borrowing of $5 trillion in four years was to grow a political constituency reliant on entitlements or to create enough pressure to hike taxes on the suspect affluent — or both.
Yet in almost every unguarded moment over the last decade, Obama, quite apart from compiling the most partisan voting record in the Senate, made his redistributionist intentions quite clear — lamenting the Supreme Court’s failure to take up forced redistribution, the sloppy spread-the-wealth riff, the no-time-to-profit warning, the failure of the rich to know when it was time to stop making money, the “you didn’t build your own business” snarl, and the gratuitous slurs such as fat-cat, corporate-jet-owners, the Vegas junketeering, and demonization of those who make $250,000 as the vulture rich.
So it is odd — especially after Mitt Romney was destroyed by being reduced to an car-elevator-owning, unkind to the garbage man, outsourcing, greedy felon, whose callousness killed people — that the Republican leadership does not fully comprehend the Obama modus operandi of waging a vicious ad hominem class war, only to step back at opportune moments and lament the growing acrimony and incivility. They better wake up in the next two years to the fact that they are dealing with a Nixonian mind with a folksy Reaganesque veneer.
The final irony is that the liberal technocracy in the administration and Congress, who are lifelong revolving-door political junkies, are empowered by the higher taxes they enact, and always assume that the growth of government provides more opportunities than what is lost through higher taxes on their own income. And the power of cool — whether an outsourcing hip Google, or a zillionaire Buffett whose businesses profit from higher estate taxes, or multimillionaire Solyndra grandees — allows insiders to do quite well without worry over the contradictions of what they preach and how they profit.
The key question is at what point, if any — with Obamacare’s messy implementation on the near horizon, with huge deficits and debt still unaddressed, and with Obama intent on reminding his base of how he has humiliated conservatives — does hubris invite nemesis? The midterm 2014 elections will have to trump even 2010 if there is to be any roadblock on the present road to a France or Greece.