Barack Obama’s grand campaign of 2008 – that golden time when he blessed us with promises of “Hope” and “Change,” while declaiming across the land that “We are what we’ve been waiting for” – has degenerated into one of the ugliest, most dishonest campaigns of the last half-century. Not since Lyndon Johnson’s campaign ran the TV ad showing the little girl picking flowers, followed by the horrific fireball and mushroom cloud of a hydrogen bomb – thus implying that GOP candidate Barry Goldwater would very likely pull the nuclear trigger – has a candidate stooped to such slanderous imagery as has Barack Obama against Mitt Romney.
LBJ painted Mr. Goldwater as a warmonger who would very likely “get us into a land-war in Asia” – ironically, the very thing that LBJ did just two months after his inauguration. The interesting inversion, in 2012, is that Mr. Romney is being depicted as too wimpy to have given the order to take out Osama Bin Laden. In a twist of supreme irony, Mr. Obama – the ultimate anti-war president as ever was – is running on his “cred” as a tough Commander-in-Chief who wasted terrorist bad guy Bin Laden.
The Washington Times points out that there was no “risk” for the president. Admiral McRaven, who had overall charge of the bin Laden operation, would have taken the heat had anything gone wrong. This makes Mr. Obama's taunts of “I did it, but you wouldn’t have had the guts” seem all the more juvenile. Even Mr. Obama’s liberal acolytes have objected to his use of a grisly war-incident as a political football.
In a double-dip of irony, ex-President Bill Clinton now narrates an Obama campaign ad that touts the Big O’s boldness in ordering the Bin Laden strike. (This would be the same Bill Clinton who twice soiled his britches when presented with opportunities to take out Bin Laden during his own presidency.) I’ll be surprised if a majority of the American people can be hoodwinked by this sophomoric “victory lap” over the killing of a villain who was arguably not worth the media attention given to him.
For sheer ugliness, though, the campaign against financially successful people (including Mr. Romney) can hardly be surpassed. These are the people Mr. Obama likes to call “millionaires and billionaires” – as though both words describe people at the same general financial level. (In due time, I expect those words to morph into a single word in the official lexicon of American politics: e.g., millibillionaire or perhaps zillionaire.)
Mr. Obama has been running round the country pushing something he calls the “Buffet Tax” – named after Warren Buffet, who really is a billionaire. Mr. Buffet has ingratiated himself with the Obama crowd by claiming that his secretary pays a higher tax rate on her income than he does, and calling for new law to make people in his income stratum pay more. (So far, Mr. Buffet has ignored suggestions that he should simply pay more, if he feels so moved. By law, any citizen may donate personal funds to the federal government, as he sees fit.)
The president has used Mr. Buffet’s anecdote about his secretary as a springboard to try to make the campaign be about making “the rich pay their fair share” – by way of implying that enacting the Buffet rule (ostensibly a minimum tax rate of 30% on million-dollar incomes) would solve our financial problems at the federal level. Numerous economists have pointed out that the tax, as proposed, would actually raise no more than $5 billion a year in new federal revenues, but this has not deterred Mr. Obama from demagoguing the issue before audiences who wouldn’t know if the federal deficit is a million, a billion or a trillion dollars (pounds, euros or deutschmarks) – and couldn’t care less. All they know is that somebody else is going to pay it.
Mr. Obama has, however, made enough noise about the Buffet Rule and Mr. Buffet’s secretary that some actual investigative journalism has been committed. Mr. Buffet’s secretary is now known to be Debbie Bosanek. Her exact compensation has not been disclosed, but various commentators and tax experts have estimated it to be between $200,000 and $500,000 a year – certainly not on Mr. B’s level, but not exactly a poor, downtrodden woman, just trying to put milk on the table for her threadbare children, either.
Tax experts have pointed out (until they are blue in the face) that Mr. Buffet’s income is taxed at 15% because it probably comes largely from dividends and capital gains, while Mrs. Bosanek’s income comes largely from salary – i.e., “earned income” in IRS-speak. The latter is taxed at ever-higher “progressive” rates, up to about 35% under the so-called Bush tax-rates.
Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Buffet are relying on the likelihood that most of the hoi polloi who hear their remarks don’t know that past congresses set tax rates for investment income at those lower rates to promote investment and to acknowledge the fact that investment gains are already taxed at their corporate source before they ever reach the pockets of investors. Know-nothing college students – often attending school on daddy’s investment gains – typically have no clue about such fine details of the tax system.
The oft-repeated claim that the rich are paying less than their fair share has also attracted some serious investigation, some of which is summarized in the attached chart (borrowed from the Washington Examiner of May 2, 2012), which compares share of income earned to share of tax paid by various income-strata.
The chart should be read column-wise. For example, the leftmost column shows the top 1% income stratum earning 17% of all income, but paying 37% of all income tax. Other columns show other income-strata, concluding with the lowest 50%, who earn 13% of all income, but pay only 2% of all income taxes.
“Fairness” is a word of nebulous meaning, but “balance” usually means that things are in correct numerical proportion. Thus, the 5% to 10% stratum seems reasonably well balanced (11% of all income earned vs. 12% of all taxes paid), while other income strata are less balanced – the lowest 50% being the most unbalanced.
Fundamental to any serious political discussion is the principle that issues should be argued from facts, not on the basis of anecdotes or emotional appeals. Mr. Obama is hardly doing that on the tax-issue. He is, in fact, using it to distract voters from the serious financial issues his administration has produced by gigantic deficit spending and borrowing. With luck and media support, he will try to fiddle his distraction tune all the way to the election, hoping that clueless (mostly younger) voters won’t tumble to the fact that he’s leading them down a rabbit-trail to nowhere.
Ignorance is the keystone of Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign, just as it was in 2008. Then, he rhapsodized about “fundamentally changing” the country – without ever saying exactly what he proposed to do. Now he is banking on ignorance among young voters, who he hopes will flock to vote for him again on the basis of disinformation he is spouting about taxes and his military showboating.
Energy and the American economy are two other important areas where Mr. Obama is spreading misinformation that he hopes will convince ignorant voters that he is on the right track. Facts are stubborn things, though. On energy, he keeps preaching that we are doing more drilling for oil than at any time in our history – while delicately omitting the nettlesome detail that most of the increase in drilling has been on private land, while drilling on federal lands and offshore has diminished under his administration. He also is fond of saying that we have only 2% of the world’s proven oil reserves, while we use 20% of the oil produced every year.
These figures are true, but they are only part of the story. Thanks to new “fracking” technology, which will enable extraction of oil and natural gas from oil-shale, we shall soon have unproven (but probable) reserves of upwards of 1 trillion barrels of oil, plus virtually incalculable reserves of natural gas. At current and projected rates of use, they will represent more than 100 years of supply for the USA.
Mr. Obama keeps arguing (mostly to credulous young people) that “we can’t drill our way out of our energy problem.” But the data belie this disingenuous claim. Our true energy problem is a president who doesn’t want us to access our abundant energy resources, and $4-a-gallon gas is our payoff for electing him. If they don’t grasp anything else, uninformed voters can certainly grasp that.
The overall economy – particularly the jobs picture – is another area where legerdemain is Mr. Obama’s strong suit. Lately, the close of each month has brought a new report showing the unemployment rate going down another tenth of a point. These reports are generally trumpeted by both media and administration officials as encouraging signs that the Obama policies are growing more effective.
Yet a closer look shows that the number of jobs added cannot account for the diminished jobless rate. Instead, the removal of several hundred thousand people from the rolls of those seeking work has pushed the employed fraction up a bit, and the unemployed fraction a tick lower. For April, 115,000 jobs were added, while 342,000 would-be workers were subtracted from the total worker-pool. If this trend continues, the potential working population will eventually be reduced enough that employment will look high and unemployment low. But the statistical picture will be false, since the potential workforce will have been reduced by millions in order to produce it.
Mr. Obama cheerily proclaims that we are “moving ahead,” but under his administration the USA’s total workforce – i.e., people working + those currently unemployed – has shrunk by at least 2 million. This shrinkage cannot all be due to people retiring, dying or dropping out to go to school (as Mr. Obama sometimes claims).
My own evidence is anecdotal, but I cannot remember a time – stretching back 50 years – when I have personally known so many families or individuals in which someone is out of work. Mr. Obama is living in a dream-world if he believes things are on an upswing. People out there “on the ground” know better. We’re going to see if the most deceptive campaign in memory can win, despite the worst recovery since World War II.