Obama shifts gears on tax plan

The trouble that Democrats and other “progressives” face in selling their economic theories is that they don’t seem to really believe them, themselves.

Yes, at the federal level, there’s hypocrisy on the topic from both major parties. But grown-ups should have questions when Democrats contend they can vastly expand the welfare state — free universal medical care like that supposedly enjoyed in the worker’s paradise of Cuba, for instance — while “raising taxes only on the rich.”

Haven’t we heard that one before? When the federal income tax was put into place in 1913, weren’t our grandparents told it would “apply only to millionaires”? Instead of mailing in your 1040 form next April, think you could get away with sending in a note to the IRS, saying, “I’m not a millionaire, so this can’t apply to me?”

Adults working full time, trying to support a family on the minimum wage, are about as thin on the ground as unicorns. Yet Democratic/trade union rhetoric would have us believe no harm is done — “greedy businessmen can easily afford it” — by constantly raising the mandatory minimum wage, since “no head of household can raise his family on $12,100 a year.”

But it’s not significantly easier to raise a family on $13,600. So shouldn’t the minimum wage really be raised to $11 an hour? Heck, why not give everyone a comfortable living and raise it to $18?

“Don’t be ridiculous,” reply the folks who moments ago were arguing that outlawing lower-paying jobs “couldn’t hurt” anything. “Why, if you did that, it would throw all kinds of people out of work.”

Like Goldilocks, fans of increased taxation are constantly trying to hike government income seizures till they’re “just right” — which apparently means “just short of the point at which the economy would collapse.”

But not even the Democrats’ standard bearer seems to be able to agree with himself on what that means.

A year ago, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, freshman Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois wanted to repeal all the Bush tax cuts, lift the cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax, raise the top marginal personal income tax rate to 39.8 percent and hike the tax on capital gains and dividends from 15 percent to 25 percent. None of this, Sen. Obama insisted, would hurt the economy or anyone but “the rich.”

But this weekend, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Obama on national television: “So even if we’re in a recession next January, you come into office, you’ll still go through with your tax increases?”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Sen. Obama replied. “What I’ve said, George, is that even if we’re still in a recession, I’m going to go through with my tax cuts. That’s my priority.”

“But not the increases?” Mr. Stephanopoulos repeated.

“I think we’ve got to take a look and see where the economy is,” Sen. Obama replied. “The economy is weak right now. The news with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, I think, along with the unemployment numbers indicates that we’re fragile. I want to accelerate those tax cuts through a second stimulus package, get more money into the pockets of ordinary Americans, see if we can stabilize the housing market, and then we’re going to have to re-evaluate at the beginning of the year to see what kind of hole we’re in.”

Why? If tax hikes can’t hurt the economy — if they don’t inconvenience anyone but “the rich” — why delay them just because the economy is “weak” and “fragile”? If raising taxes helps the economy — great new jobs through federal solar subsidies! — why not raise taxes, especially in a recession? On the other hand, if raising taxes hurts the economy, why do it ever?

There are three possibilities. First, Sen. Obama was pretending to be a “soak-the-rich” progressive last year, running to the left of Hillary Clinton to win the nomination of a party dominated by government unions. Second, it’s possible we saw the real Barack Obama last year, that he’s instead decided to spend 60 days this fall pretending to be concerned about not wrecking the economy in order to avert economic panic and win the general election — at which point he’ll revert to form.

Or, most likely, Democrats and other “progressives” cheer each other on as they spout the politically correct, redistributionist rhetoric they learned from their leftist college professors, though they do harbor a strong suspicion that they could quickly cripple the economy if allowed to actually put their rhetoric into effect.

Which leaves them trying to sell something even they don’t believe in.

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