The Corner

Obama’s Budget Message Is Packed with Populist Cliches

According to the Washington Post:

President Obama will kick off an all-out grass-roots effort today urging Congress to pass his $3.55 trillion budget, activating the extensive campaign apparatus he built during his successful 2008 candidacy for the first time since taking office. . .

Several people closely involved in this campaign’s planning made it clear that they believe this is the moment Democrats have been waiting for since Obama’s election — the deployment of the volunteer army that helped catapult a freshman senator to the presidency.

The military vocabulary makes me nervous. More importantly, this is not a war. It’s propaganda. Not convinced? I suggest you read in detail President Barack Obama’s budget summary, which is titled “A New Era of Responsibility.” In particular, the chapter called “inheriting a legacy of misplaced priorities” reads like a compilation of platitudes about how the Wealthy on Wall Street accumulated millions at the expense of the struggling, laborious middle-class. To wit:

While middle-class families have been playing by the rules, living up to their responsibilities as neighbors and citizens, those at the commanding heights of our economy have not. They have taken risks and piled on debts that while seemingly profitable in the short-term, have now proven to be dangerous not only for their individual firms but for the economy as a whole. With loosened oversight and weak enforcement from Washington, too many cut corners as they racked up record profits and paid themselves millions of dollars in compensation and bonuses. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but there is something wrong when we allow the playing field to be tilted so far in the favor of so few.

Read along, there is much more in there. While I loathe the Madoffs of this world, I would like to remind the president that not everyone on Wall Street — and not everyone who’s wealthy — is a crook. It’s not “just luck” or circumstances that explains the wealth accumulated by some. The “tilted-level playing” that he likes to denounce is called hard work and smarts. And I am grateful that some people do work so hard to produce wealth. We are all better off for it.

Behind this ultra-populist message, I would like to suggest that Obama knows how hardworking high-income earners are. How would he otherwise propose such an incredible tax increase on them? It’s because he knows that while they might react and shift some money around to avoid the increased burden of taxation, they will keep on working and working and will keep on producing wealth. That’s what they do. And he better wish that they do keep working in the face of adversity because otherwise his new taxes, his excessive spending, and the massive amount of debt he is proposing to impose on us all will kill the geese that laid the golden eggs (for some numbers in the Obama budget go here).

— Veronique de Rugy is an economist at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.


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