Obama’s mojo moment
It’s impossible to enumerate how often Barack Obama has lost and found his mojo. He found it again yesterday, big time. And even though this feisty phase may not last very long, it sure was a kick to see him substantively smash-mouth the opposition.The president merely stated the obvious, but it needed to be said: (1) The Republicans’ 2012 budget blueprint is essentially an Ayn Rand confection that would turn back the clock 75 years, make the rich even richer (quelle surprise!), and victimize our most vulnerable citizens by shredding their safety net; and (2) Deficit reduction can only be achieved via a combination of spending cuts and enhanced revenues…which means, at minimum, that the GOP’s most cherished constituency – rich people – will have to pay more taxes.After itemizing some of the more draconian GOP proposals (a 70 percent cut in clean energy programs, a 25 percent cut in education programs, the eradication of Medicare as we know it), Obama combined all his themes in this key passage:The Republican blueprint “is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. The top one percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors to each pay $6000 more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”In other words, he connected the dots: The Republicans want average citizens to take the hit so that the rich can keep their money. He said, “Their vision is less about deficit reduction than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.” That’s not the America he knows, “a country that values fairness.” Indeed, he sought to frame this whole budget debate as a test of America’s priorities and moral commitment; in his words, “It’s about the kind of future we want. It’s about the kind of country we believe in,” a country that balances rugged individualism with “a belief that we are all connected.”(Bill Clinton made the same moral argument during his third year in office, in 1995, while facing off against House Republicans on the eve of his own re-election bid. The argument worked. I’m just saying.)Obama’s speech was tailored in part to attract independents (he wants to take “a more balanced approach” than the GOP, he wants to be viewed as the adult in the room), but he clearly sought to reassure the restive Democratic base that he’s fundamentally on the team. When he asserted yesterday that “those who have benefited most from our way of life can afford to give a bit more back,” he sounded a lot like the guy who scored in the ’08 Democratic primaries with the line, “Those doing well should put a bit more back. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”Moreover, Obama suggested yesterday that the Republicans have a lot of gall proposing such a heartless plan, given the budgetary mess they made of America during the George W. Bush era. (A mess they still refuse to own up to.) And Obama said it well: “We lost our way…We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program – but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts – tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.”Accordingly, Obama said, “there’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”Given all his lost-mojo phases, it’s jarring when Obama suddenly talks like a soak-the-rich populist. So be it, the moment requires it. He says he won’t accept yet another extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich (“I refuse to renew them again”), and he says that Congress should limit itemized deductions for the wealthy and close the tax loopholes that the rich typically exploit, “so that the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.” The House Republicans, of course, would never sign off on such reforms, but it was refreshing to hear the president frame the right priorities. (He probably should have gone further, and warned that middle-class taxes will need to be nudged upward as well, in order to truly spread the sacrifice fairly, but the last politician to say such a thing was Walter Mondale in 1984, and we all know what happened to him.)Such was Obama’s latest mojo moment, one of his finest. He drew a sharp line in the sand; the question, of course, is whether the next breeze will wipe it away. I couldn’t help but notice this passage, near the end of his speech: “I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum.” Uh oh….
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