Obama Osawatomie Speech Reaction Roundup
Layoffs too often became permanent, not part of the business cycle. And these changes didn’t just affect blue collar workers. If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs and the internet
The President seemed to pull out a number at random, saying the some billionaires (which is now apparently a bad thing to be) pay only 1 percent on their income in taxes. Here’s the quote:
“Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent — 1 percent. That is the height of unfairness.”
The problem: it’s just not true. And the President and the White House know it. From the Washington Post:
An administration official conceded the White House had no actual data to back up the president’s assertion, but argued that other reports showed that some of the wealthy pay little in taxes.
Peter Suderman at Reason noticed the same thing: Obama Declares That 1 Percent Tax Rates on Billionaires are the Height of Unfairness, Not That He Has Any Evidence That Such Rates Exist
Even by the standards of campaign rhetoric, this is a shockingly shoddy piece of work. You can start with his intellectually indefensible caricature of Republican philosophy: “We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.” Or his simple factual inaccuracy: “The wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century.” Or his infantile economic analysis, blaming job losses on the invention of the automated teller machine (they’ve been around for more than four decades, Mr. President, and we’ve had lots of job growth during that time) and the Internet.
But what’s really staggering is the weakness of his public policy arguments. The long-term unsustainability of our entitlement programs he blames solely on the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts—an explanation no serious observer regards as anything but incomplete, to say the least. He points to growing income inequality and to remedy it advocates policies that are utterly inadequate to the task.
Today, the president did sweepingly what he has done patchily for the past few months, did at last what I have long wished he would do. He honestly argued for a welfare state and directly stated his disbelief in trickle-down economics. For once — again, except in a few places — this wasn’t conservative rhetoric to cover up progressive policies. It was progressive rhetoric to promote progressive policies. Nobody who reads this speech should be in doubt as to what he’s selling — but they should think deeply about how much freedom they’re willing to give up to buy it.
Fairness to bankers may not seem like the most pressing issue on the justice agenda. But in addition to being unfair, conflating actual crooks and the innocent affluent makes it hard to claim that raising their taxes isn’t punishment for some form of misbehavior. Taxes are not a punishment; they are a source of necessary revenue. But if you tie them to the financial scandal, they sound pretty punitive.
He says “trickle-down economics” rather than capitalism, but “trickle-down economics” is merely an argument in favor of capitalism. There is no such thing as “trickle-down economics.” There is capitalism, and the argued advantage of it, which is the trickling down of created wealth.
So he is in fact saying, as the headline puts it, that capitalism has never worked.
The misdirection is blindingly obvious. The claim is that the Administration needs new tools to get tough on banks. No, it has plenty of tools, starting with Sarbanes Oxley. As we’ve discussed at length in earlier posts, Sarbox was designed to eliminate the CEO and top brass “know nothing” excuse. And the language for civil and criminal charges is parallel, so a prosecutor could file civil charges, and if successful, could then open up a related criminal case. Sarbox required that top executives (which means at least the CEO and CFO) certify the adequacy of internal controls, and for a big financial firm, that has to include risk controls and position valuation. The fact that the Administration didn’t attempt to go after, for instance, AIG on Sarbox is inexcusable. The “investigation” done by Andrew Ross Sorkin in his Too Big To Fail (Willumstad not having a good handle on the cash bleed, the sudden discovery of a $20 billion hole in the securities lending portfolio, the mysterious “unofficial vault” with billions of dollars of securities in file cabinets) all are proof of an organization with seriously deficient controls.
But more broadly, it’s blindingly obvious this Administration has never had the slightest interest in doing anything more serious than posture.
Some other New Nationalism items that President Obama left out:
* A call for using the state to “destroy privilege.”
* “[G]overnment supervision of the capitalization, not only of public-service corporations…but of all corporations doing an interstate business.”
* Also, “the same kind and degree of control and supervision which should be exercised over public-service corporations should be extended also to combinations which control necessaries of life, such as meat, oil, or coal.”
* Plus, “franchises should never be granted except for a limited time, and never without proper provision for compensation to the public.”
* Creation of a “Federal Bureau of Corporations.”
* Regarding people making a fortune, “It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.”
* Using the Department of Agriculture to “cover all phases of farm life.”
* And finally, one of the boldest (and most prescient) calls for executive power expansion in presidential history
Obama is simply crushing the straw man he’s arguing with. Brutal beat-down of imaginary “generic Republican.”
I have posted numerous times before about Obama’s penchant for creating false choices in his speeches, invariably some non-existent supposedly conservative position versus his position. This enables Obama to knock down the conservative straw man and make his own position seem reasonable by contrast. He’s a classic shorter.
It’s a cheap rhetorical trick, but he can’t seem to shake the habit.
Obama’s speech yesterday in Kansas presented yet another example, as Obama set up his call for more government regulation and redistribution of wealth against opponents who supposedly want everyone to fend for themselves and play by their own rules
In a column a couple of years ago, I noted that President Obama often resorts to the rhetorical tic/trick “there are those who”—a setup that warns you to be on the lookout for straw men. His speechtoday in Kansas (noted earlier this evening by Matt Welch and Mike Riggs) features a variation on that theme:
In the midst of this debate [about the best way to restore growth, prosperity, balance, and fairness], there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
I am here to say they are wrong.
Who are these “some” who say everyone should fend for himself while playing by his own rules? Obama does not say, but they sound like real dicks, don’t they?
It’s not surprising that Obama would be hitting these themes. In reality, they aren’t all that much different from what we’ve seen from the President in different matters for a long time. Last December, even as he was making a deal with the Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts, the President was talking about how the “rich” needed to pay their “fair share,” terms that were, as all political terms are, left purposely vague. The Administration repeated that theme during the March/April budget showdown, during the July/August debt ceiling showdown, and against in September when the President called on the debt Super Committee to put forward a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction and put forward the idea of the “Buffet Rule,” another political term that was left purposely undefined. So, in reality, there’s not much new in what the President had to say yesterday other than the location of where he said and the invocation of the memory of the Rough Rider, which seems to have all started with an appearance by Doris Kearns Goodwin on Meet the Press that Stephen Taylor wrote about earlier this week. In some sense the whole speech struck me as a campaign kickoff speech, although we’ve had many of those types of speeches from the President lately, which makes the fact that the entire trip was funded by the taxpayers rather than the campaign rather ironic.
There are a lot of things wrong with Obama’s recent stump-speech; to list them all would be a book-length project. But one thing stands out, and it’s more a thematic issue than with anything in particular that President Obama said or did not say. He keeps spewing the canard that the government is capable of moving poor people into the middle class — that somehow it is in a benevolent government’s power to perfect the raw human material and turn it into something better and nobler. In previous Administrations, this took the form of pushing home ownership — the idea being, of course, that owning a home would foster the qualities that one finds in the middle class: frugality, civic-mindedness, responsibility, a strong sense of community and family, and so on. However, others have pointed out that Obama and his fellow travelers get it exactly backwards: people achieve a middle class life because they are thrifty, responsible, and careful; not the other way around. President Obama once again displays his fundamental and abyssal ignorance of his own country’s character and history. (The progressive project to ‘improve’ humanity always seems to focus less on moral and ethical development than it does on behavioral changes: “progressives” seem to view citizens as little more than rats scurrying around a Skinner box.)
Oddly enough, Obama also praises Roosevelt for supporting a minimum wage for women. Chapter 4 of Rehabilitating Lochner describes the impetus for such laws, and much of the relevant the information in that chapter can be found in this paper published in Law and Contemporary Problems. The history is too rich to give an adequate summary here. Let’s just say that the history of such laws is not pretty. The laws’ primary supporters included male-only labor unions that wanted to keep women out of the workplace–women-only minimum wage laws almost never passed without strong from unions that typically opposed minimum wage laws for men; eugenicists who wanted women to stay home and take care of their children; bigots who thought that only the lower order of men (including Eastern European immigrants) would allow their women to work for wages; moralists who believed that low-wage women were susceptible to vice and should therefore stay out of the workforce; and economists who believed that, as Felix Frankfurter summarized in his brief in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, women who wanted to work but could not command a government-imposed minimum wage were “semi-employable” or “unemployable” workers who should “accept the status of a defective to be segregated for special treatment as a dependent.”
Damon W. Root expands on this at Reason: Why Is Obama Championing Sexist Progressive Era Laws?
It’s pathetic if the mighty U.S. is really forced to beg corporations to produce here out of Warren-Buffetesque philanthropic urges. But it’s especially pathetic for American liberalism, which has always been most appealing when it stood up against the condescension of “alms givers”–but which now celebrates wealthy philanthropists with nauseating ease (a trend I blame, in very small part, on my old employer Slate, with its annual “Slate 60″ charity porn feature). “Giving back” is the credo of Hollywood celebrities, not New Deal liberals. Democrats are supposed to be the party of government–government that establishes a foundation for the essential dignity of working people–not the party that sucks up to the Google guys and the Gates Foundation.
At least Elizabeth Warren only wanted rich businessmen to pay higher taxes. It’s a sign of liberalism’s humiliating inability to do enough with those taxes that left-wingers now seek to substitute The Giving Pledge.
In a Very Important Speech he gave today President Obama made a strong case for more government oversight. That is, more government oversight of you, not the government
If you asked Theodore Roosevelt what kind of Republican he was, he would — and did — tell you that he was a proud standard bearer of the Hamiltonian tradition in American politics.
Ron Paul, who would have fought TR tooth and nail as much as he is currently fighting both President Obama and ex-Speaker Newt would agree. Gingrich, Obama and TR are all Hamiltonians, and Ron Paul thinks they are all dead wrong.
As we gear up for 2012 and beyond, American attention is increasingly returning to the oldest battle in our political history: the battle between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians that split George Washington’s cabinet down the middle and established our first party system.
That fight was essentially over three things that divide us intensely today: the role of the federal government, the nature of the credit system, and the future of the social hierarchy.
President Obama this week started testing his new campaign theme, replacing “hope and change” with the equally vacant promise of “fairness.” Apparently he hopes Americans can be fooled twice.
This article is from a year and a half ago, but it is very relevant to the issue at hand:
Obama is no Marxist. This is a point lost on some who like to highlight the president’s indebtedness to the ideas of the late radical Saul Alinsky, who was no Marxist either. Rather, Alinsky was a radical leftist and a proponent of “social-ism” before Blair named it. He believed that all institutions, indeed the system itself, should be bent to the needs of the underprivileged and the downtrodden in the name of social justice. Bent, not broken. Like the progressives and various Marxists, Alinsky was a proponent of radical pragmatism, using the tools available to change the existing order. This was the core of what the New York Times, in a remarkable 1913 analysis surveying Theodore Roosevelt’s ideas in the wake of his third-party campaign for president, dubbed T.R.’s “super-socialism”: “It is not the Marxian Socialism. Much that Karl Marx taught is rejected by present-day Socialists. Mr. Roosevelt achieves the redistribution of wealth in a simpler and easier way”—by soaking the rich and yoking big business to the state. “It has all the simplicity of theft and much of its impudence,” the Times asserted. “The means employed are admirably adapted to the ends sought, and if the system can be made to work at all, it will go on forever.”