New York Times editorial writers and Democrat warrior James Carville agree. The politics of economic malaise are simple: the last thing that Obama has to worry about is sounding stupid or even keeping his cool. The more literary of the two complains that Obama’s messages are often “too long and nuanced”—and the fighter simply tells the president to “panic.”
The Times remains gentle and interprets an opinion poll, “All he (Obama) has to do is listen to the people.” Carville speaks for himself: “fire” a few officials and “indict” a few invest bankers. Both want to see blood on Obama’s hands, to show he cares.
Hunting for the same middle-class votes, one insists that raising taxes on the rich will help Obama get re-elected, and the other suggests that throwing speculators in jail will be the solution.
Obama can’t hide and win in 2012. Next year’s election may be deeply polarizing. Furthermore, there’s no reason to fear, despite the constraints of the presidency, that Obama will fail to go on the attack. (A Ronald Reagan talk-alike isn’t going to get away with great boots and the shrug “there you go again.”) However, literally campaigning against the rich and for higher taxes on those who simply have too much money could complicate economic recovery and would likely be dumb politically as well.
The bloodless, more congenial case for raising modest additional revenues from the most affluent—once the economy starts growing again (after all, they’ve got extra cash they’re not investing and vital services do need better financing)—has a chance of getting support from moderates in Congress and the middle class.
(Liberals are free with the word “fair,” but they don’t own it or its rules. In America, equality, on the face of it, means treating everyone the same. That’s why, on the face of it, taxing everyone at the same rate strikes most people as okay. Singling out a few for a higher rate makes people nervous. Specifically, hitting just 2 or 3 percent of the people with higher taxes needs as careful an explanation as hitting everyone.)
The poll that so comforts the New York Times frames this proposition in the most benign terms and, still, only 56 per cent believe wealthier Americans should pay higher taxes to reduce the deficit.
Democrats who want an economic polarizer in the White House haven’t elected a winner in memory. So, they go back to the New Deal and the Roosevelt-Truman years.
With a second dip in the economy in 1937, Roosevelt tilted to the left, accepting the accusation that a “capital strike” was taking place to defeat his government. Fiery speeches were made and investigations were launched to rally people against the suspected machinations of monopoly power and the super rich.
Lawrence W. Reed in his essay “Great Myths of the Great Depression” for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy suggests it didn’t work as Mr. Carville would have intended. In 1939, when the U.S. unemployment rate was still over 15 percent, and the economy—not war—was still the issue, the American Institute of Public Opinion asked: “Do you think the attitude of the Roosevelt administration toward business is delaying business recovery?” The American people, Reed found, responded yes by a margin of more than two to one.
The more reasoned Obama’s proposals on taxes and the more nuanced his message, the more effective Obama will be in exposing the extremism of his more extreme opponents. If he allows Republicans, however, to describe his arguments as well as his proposals as “class warfare,” he’ll accomplish very little. And he will be less able to paint them into a corner.