Goldberg: The ideologue in the Oval Office

ElectionsPoliticsRepublican PartyBarack ObamaABCRobert HaysCharles Gibson

"I think increasingly the American people are going to say to themselves, 'You know what? If a party or a politician is constantly taking the position my-way-or-the-highway, constantly being locked into ideologically rigid positions, that we're going to remember at the polls,'" President Obama said at his Friday news conference.

I know everyone is sick of hearing about the debt-limit negotiations. Lord knows I am. When I turn on the news these days, I feel like one of the passengers seated next to Robert Hays in the movie "Airplane!" By the time we get to the phrase "in the out years," I'm ready to pour a can of gasoline over my head.

Still, regardless of how things turn out with the negotiations, what we are witnessing is the rollout of the Obama reelection campaign's theme: Obama is the pragmatic voice of reason holding the ideologues at bay.

So it's worth asking, before this branding campaign gels into the conventional wisdom: Who is the real ideologue here?

The president, we are told, is a pragmatist for wanting a "fair and balanced" budget deal. What that means is tax increases must accompany spending cuts. Any significant spending cuts would be way in the future. The tax increases would begin right after Obama is reelected.

Now keep in mind that tax hikes (or what the administration calls "revenue increases") are Obama's idee fixe. He campaigned on raising taxes for millionaires and billionaires (defined in the small print as people making more than $200,000 a year or couples making $250,000).

During a primary debate, he was asked by ABC's Charles Gibson if he would raise the capital gains tax even if he knew that cutting it would generate more revenue for the government. The non-ideologue responded that raising the tax, even if doing so would lower revenue, might be warranted out of "fairness." As he said to Joe the Plumber, things are better when you "spread the wealth around."

Earlier last week, referring to the fact that he is rich, the president said: "I do not want, and I will not accept, a deal in which I am asked to do nothing. In fact, I'm able to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income that I don't need."

Leaving aside the fact that the man lives in public housing and has a government jet at his disposal — so his definition of "need" might be a bit out of whack — what is pragmatic about this position?

Obama says that Republicans are rigid ideologues because they won't put "everything on the table." Specifically, they won't consider tax hikes, even though polls suggest Americans wouldn't mind soaking "the rich," "big oil" and "corporate jet owners."

But Obama hasn't put everything on the table either. He's walled off "Obamacare" and the rest of his "winning the future" agenda.

If Obama believes the American people are the voice of reason when it comes to tax hikes, why does their opinion count for nothing when it comes to Obamacare, which has never been popular? (According to a RealClearPolitics average of polls, only 38.6% of voters favor the plan.) Why not look for some savings there?

Consider the frustration of the supposedly ideologically locked-in GOP Congress. In 2008, the national debt was 40% of GDP. Now it's more than 60%, and it is projected to reach 75% next year, all thanks to a sour economy the GOP feels Obama made worse with incontinent spending.

Republicans won a historic election last November campaigning against the spending, borrowing, tax hikes and Obamacare. Yet Obama's position is that the Republicans are deranged dogmatists because they don't want to raise taxes or borrow more money to pay for spending they opposed. And Obama is flexible because he refuses to revisit a program that has never been popular.

Meanwhile, the sole example of Obama's pragmatism — that he has publicly acknowledged — is his openness to means-testing Medicare, which may not be a bad idea. But Obama's support for it rests entirely on the fact that it would continue to tax upper-income people for benefits they will no longer receive. So, in addition to taxing the "rich" more, he also wants to give them less.

I know why liberals would support that, but for the life of me I can't see how it's non-ideological.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
ElectionsPoliticsRepublican PartyBarack ObamaABCRobert HaysCharles Gibson
  • Why have U.S. companies become such skinflints?
    Why have U.S. companies become such skinflints?

    Here's a depressing statistic: Last year, U.S. companies spent a whopping $598 billion — not to develop new technologies, open new markets or to hire new workers but to buy up their own shares. By removing shares from circulation, companies made remaining shares pricier, thus...

  • The inversion virus spreads as Burger King seeks to flee to Canada
    The inversion virus spreads as Burger King seeks to flee to Canada

    Has President Obama's tough talk on corporate inversions started a mad rush by companies to do these deals before they're outlawed?

  • GOP is off target on Export-Import Bank
    GOP is off target on Export-Import Bank

    The new, tea-infused Republican Party has been training its rhetorical sights on "crony capitalism," the chummy relationship between government and the private sector that breeds subsidies and regulatory favors. Indeed, some Republicans seem to think that crony capitalism is at play...

  • 'Too big to fail' equals 'too eager to borrow'
    'Too big to fail' equals 'too eager to borrow'

    Four years ago this month, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, promising that the 848-page financial law would "put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all," he said. But recently, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a Detroit crowd that "the biggest...

  • Anti-poverty talk from conservative Paul Ryan?
    Anti-poverty talk from conservative Paul Ryan?

    Quick quiz: Which potential 2016 presidential candidate had this to say about federal anti-poverty programs last week?

  • House GOP, home of hyperbole and hyperpartisanship
    House GOP, home of hyperbole and hyperpartisanship

    Claiming that President Obama "believes he has the power to make his own laws," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is preparing a lawsuit against the president. Is the proposed lawsuit a reaction to an aggressive use of executive power or a political stunt likely to be tossed...

Comments
Loading