Politics & Policy

No One Left to Pander To

President Obama signs Dodd-Frank, July 21, 2010.
Not even Obama can buy the votes of over half the country.

In 1999, Christopher Hitchens penned an acid reflection on the presidency of Bill Clinton, titled No One Left to Lie To. The verdict on the presidency of Barack Obama, at least during this campaign season, might be “No One Left to Pander To.” In three and a half years, we’ve gone from the “audacity of hope” to the “shameless palm grease.”

Shaken by the polls, and unable to tout his accomplishments in office, the president has instead targeted giveaways to particular constituencies of the Democratic party. We’ve gone from soaring to squalid. Women got free contraceptives and the invitation to believe that the Republicans had launched another war of choice — against women. College students got more subsidies for their loans. Gays got support for same-sex marriage. And Hispanics got the dubiously legal decision to forgo deportations for certain illegal immigrants. Blacks and Jews haven’t been bribed yet, but perhaps that’s what comes of voting too reliably Democratic. (Supporters of Israel have long since been disappointed in this White House.) 

Still, not even Barack Obama can successfully buy the votes of 50 percent plus one of the American people. His argument to win over the unpurchased thus goes as follows: “Sure the economy is worse than it could be. But if you vote Republican, you will be endorsing the very policies that brought on the recession and caused our current troubles.” The policies President Obama most often cites as having caused the “mess” we’re in are (1) the Bush tax cuts, and (2) “letting Wall Street write its own rules.”

#ad#The president’s contempt for the Bush tax cuts is an obsession. As the Huffington Post noted, he invoked Bush’s supposed tax breaks “for millionaires and billionaires” at least 50 times during the congressional campaigns of 2010. They were, he protested, tax cuts “we cannot afford,” and would require us to borrow from “China or the Saudis or whoever is buying our debt.”

Yet President Obama has always favored preserving the Bush tax cuts for individuals who make less than $200,000 and for married couples who earn less than $250,000. President Obama signed an extension of those tax cuts in 2010. Of the $544 billion that the extension of the tax cuts granted, $463 billion went to exactly those earning under $200,000. So President Obama supports, and has always supported, 85 percent of the Bush tax cuts. His rage against corporate jets and such is pure theater.

A redistributionist like Mr. Obama ought to love even the tax cuts for the wealthy, because they resulted in the rich shouldering a higher percentage of the total tax burden. As the Wall Street Journal explained, “Taxes paid by millionaire households more than doubled to $274 billion in 2006 from $136 billion in 2003. No President has ever plied more money from the rich than George W. Bush did with his 2003 tax cuts.” The Congressional Budget Office calculated that the Bush tax cuts shifted the total tax burden further toward the wealthy, so that the total income tax paid by the top 40 percent of income earners grew by 4.6 percent to 99.1 percent of the total.

The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl examined Congressional Budget Office data that refute Mr. Obama’s favorite myth that the tax cuts “blew a hole in the deficit.” In fact, revenues in 2006 were actually $47 billion greater than projected before the 2003 tax cuts. It was spending that created the deficits.

Along with his intellectual mentors in the Occupy movement, President Obama urges voters to believe that Wall Street greed and Republican “deregulation” caused the financial crisis of 2008. This is a fairy tale. President Carter initiated the deregulation of certain American industries (trucking and airlines), and President Reagan continued the trend. But financial services were never subject to deregulation and have, with the exception of Gramm-Leach-Bliley in 1999 (which had no effect on the financial crisis), seen increasing levels of regulation. As Veronique de Rugy noted in National Review, the budgets for financial and banking regulation rose by 26 percent during the Bush years. And while more spending doesn’t guarantee better quality, it doesn’t suggest a hands-off approach either.

President Obama signed the 2,300-page Dodd-Frank law, which studiously ignores the real causes of the financial crisis (i.e., easy money and government incentives to engage in risky loans to uncreditworthy borrowers), institutionalizes “too big to fail,” and exempts Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from oversight. Even in Washington, it’s rare to find a law that is so misconceived, ineffectual, and mischievous. That’s what comes of letting Democrats write their own, and our, rules.

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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