The Campaign Spot

Will Obama Really Resist ‘Traditional Left-Politics’?

Christopher Buckley has probably forgotten more than I will ever learn, and is one of the funniest novelists alive. He has written a column declaring he will vote for Obama. He will get enough grief for this decision from many, many others, I am only going to make one observation about his thinking on this, specifically this point:

I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine. He is also a lefty. I am not. I am a small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets. On abortion, gay marriage, et al, I’m libertarian. I believe with my sage and epigrammatic friend P.J. O’Rourke that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.

But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves. If he raises taxes and throws up tariff walls and opens the coffers of the DNC to bribe-money from the special interest groups against whom he has (somewhat disingenuously) railed during the campaign trail, then he will almost certainly reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.

Earlier this year, we saw Obama confronted with the argument in the vein of, “hey, traditional left-politics may not bring us the results we want.” And his response was… well…

GIBSON: All right. You have, however, said you would favor an increase in the capital gains tax. As a matter of fact, you said on CNBC, and I quote, “I certainly would not go above what existed under Bill Clinton,” which was 28 percent. It’s now 15 percent. That’s almost a doubling, if you went to 28 percent.

But actually, Bill Clinton, in 1997, signed legislation that dropped the capital gains tax to 20 percent.

OBAMA: Right.

GIBSON: And George Bush has taken it down to 15 percent.

OBAMA: Right.

GIBSON: And in each instance, when the rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased; the government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28 percent, the revenues went down.

So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?

OBAMA: Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.

We saw an article today which showed that the top 50 hedge fund managers made $29 billion last year — $29 billion for 50 individuals. And part of what has happened is that those who are able to work the stock market and amass huge fortunes on capital gains are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That’s not fair.

And what I want is not oppressive taxation. I want businesses to thrive, and I want people to be rewarded for their success. But what I also want to make sure is that our tax system is fair and that we are able to finance health care for Americans who currently don’t have it and that we’re able to invest in our infrastructure and invest in our schools.

And you can’t do that for free. And you can’t take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children and our grandchildren, and then say that you’re cutting taxes, which is essentially what John McCain has been talking about. And that is irresponsible. I believe in the principle that you pay as you go. And, you know, you don’t propose tax cuts, unless you are closing other tax breaks for individuals. And you don’t increase spending, unless you’re eliminating some spending or you’re finding some new revenue. That’s how we got an additional $4 trillion worth of debt under George Bush. That is helping to undermine our economy. And it’s going to change when I’m president of the United States.

GIBSON: But history shows that when you drop the capital gains tax, the revenues go up.

OBAMA: Well, that might happen, or it might not. It depends on what’s happening on Wall Street and how business is going. I think the biggest problem that we’ve got on Wall Street right now is the fact that we got have a housing crisis that this president has not been attentive to and that it took John McCain three tries before he got it right. And if we can stabilize that market, and we can get credit flowing again, then I think we’ll see stocks do well. And once again, I think we can generate the revenue that we need to run this government and hopefully to pay down some of this debt.

Gibson presumed that Obama’s goal in raising the capital gains tax was to increase government revenue. Obama’s answer suggests that his goal isn’t that at all; it’s meeting some arbitrary definition of “fairness” that he sees. Apparently when investors are paying a tax rate on their investment gains akin to the income tax rate  of secretaries, the world will be fair.

One other thought – and again, my aim is not to give Christopher Buckley additional grief — sure, if President Obama enacts traditional-left policies, he probably will “reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.” Of course, the rest of the country will catch a lot of collateral damage from that whirlwind, too. If I can steer my country away from a bad course of action, I do it…

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