Daniel Henninger on “The Obama Rosetta Stone”
Posted by danishova on March 22, 2009
It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.
William Tecumseh Sherman
This is old-ish (it goes back to March 12) but new to me. I figure if I missed it, you may have missed it :)
(Hat Tip: Rush Limbaugh’s Week in Review)
Barack Obama has written two famous, widely read books of autobiography — "Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope." Let me introduce his third, a book that will touch everyone’s life: "A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promise. The President’s Budget and Fiscal Preview" (Government Printing Office, 141 pages, $26; free on the Web). This is the U.S. budget for laymen, and it’s a must read.
I’ll pass on reading the budget in its entirety, because, thankfully, we have Daniel Henninger to parse the hieroglyphs for us. Indeed, his column is a must read. In a nutshell, Obama makes frequent references in his budget to Piketty and Saez. Never heard of them? You have now. As Henninger informs us:
Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, French economists, are rock stars of the intellectual left. Their specialty is "earnings inequality" and "wealth concentration."
Messrs. Piketty and Saez have produced the most politically potent squiggle along an axis since Arthur Laffer drew his famous curve on a napkin in the mid-1970s. Laffer’s was an economic argument for lowering tax rates for everyone. Piketty-Saez is a moral argument for raising taxes on the rich.
Ah, now we know who inspired Barack to lecture Joe the Plumber about wealth redistribution. A coupla French dudes.
As described in Mr. Obama’s budget, these two economists have shown that by the end of 2004, the top 1% of taxpayers "took home" more than 22% of total national income. This trend, Fig. 9 notes, began during the Reagan presidency, skyrocketed through the Clinton years, dipped after George Bush beat Al Gore, then marched upward. Widening its own definition of money-grubbers, the budget says the top 10% of households "held" 70% of total wealth.
Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute criticized the Piketty-Saez study on these pages in October 2007. Whatever its merits, their "Top 1%" chart has become a totemic obsession in progressive policy circles.
Step right up, step right up for your progressive talking points:
Turn to page five of Mr. Obama’s federal budget, and one may read these commentaries on the top 1% datum:
"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."
"Prudent investments in education, clean energy, health care and infrastructure were sacrificed for huge tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected."
"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. . . . It’s a legacy of irresponsibility, and it is our duty to change it."
Pardon me while I vomit. I cannot digest the accusation that the top 1% (who collectively pay 39.9 percent of all federal individual income taxes) are irresponsible, haven’t been playing by the rules (maybe one day we’ll get to see Obama’s official rule book), bad neighbors, and shirking their duties as citizens. You know, the scum of the earth. If only they’d bought a few windmills and carbon credits instead of donating to charities and starting foundations, Obama may have forgiven their trespasses. Although I doubt it. The anger is too visceral; it runs too deep.
Mr. Obama made clear in the campaign his intention to raise taxes on this income class by letting the Bush tax cuts expire. What is becoming clearer as his presidency unfolds is that something deeper is underway here than merely using higher taxes to fund his policy goals in health, education and energy.
The "top 1%" isn’t just going to pay for these policies. Many of them would assent to that. The rancorous language used to describe these taxpayers makes it clear that as a matter of public policy they will be made to "pay for" the fact of their wealth — no matter how many of them worked honestly and honorably to produce it. No Democratic president in 60 years has been this explicit.
Hopefully future historians will have the wherewithal to recognize the irony of a privileged kid like Obama waging war on the rich when they describe The War Between the Classes. Why he does it is a bit more complicated. Is it because he was abandoned as a child, but was accepted by the elites at Columbia, Harvard, and Chicago? Who knows for sure. All we need to know is that it’s crazy.
New York’s Mike Bloomberg, mayor of an economically damaged city, has noted the pointlessness of raising taxes on the rich when their wealth is plummeting, or of eliminating the charitable deduction for people who have less to give anyway.
True but irrelevant. Mayor Bloomberg should read the Obama budget chapter, "Inheriting a Legacy of Misplaced Priorities." The economy as most people understand it was a second-order concern of the stimulus strategy. The primary goal is a massive re-flowing of "wealth" from the top toward the bottom, to stop the moral failure they see in the budget’s "Top One Percent of Earners" chart.
The White House says its goal is simple "fairness." That may be, as they understand fairness. But Figure 9 makes it clear that for the top earners, there will be blood. This presidency is going to be an act of retribution. In the words of the third book from Mr. Obama, "it is our duty to change it."