The Campaign Spot

Apparently Using the Dictionary to Define ‘Tax’ Is Cheating

I don’t think this exchange from yesterday, highlighted by the RNC, went well for Obama:

STEPHANOPOULOS: I don’t think I’m making it up. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: “Tax- — A charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.”

OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam’s dictionary, the definition of tax increase indicates to me that you are stretching a bit right now. Otherwise you wouldn’t have gone to the dictionary to check on it.

How is defining the term “stretching a bit”?

This, by the way, is one of the ways that Obama drives his opponents up the wall. He offers a sweeping promise — in this case, his campaign-trail pledge that “under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital-gains taxes, not any of your taxes.” And then he breaks that pledge by, say, raising the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, and his instinctive response, along with that of his defenders, is “Oh, come on, that doesn’t count.” Nor does a new governnment charge for not having a health-insurance policy.

I have my running observation about his statements’ expiration dates, but I suspect that in Obama’s mind, there are always unspoken caveats and exceptions that are crystal-clear to him, so clear that he doesn’t have to mention them.

The other point worth remembering is that to the candidate who used “just words?” as one of his rallying cries, all of these conditional, situational, caveat-heavy promises really are “just words,” because the meaning of each term — even “tax” — is in dispute. A government charge for not having health insurance isn’t a tax; defining a term represents stretching the truth; and so on.

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