It’s hard to recall, I know, but once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Barack Obama promised to do away the what he derisively called the “politics of the past” – meaning the childish assertions, the dishonest claims, the incessant, non-stop spin. What we needed, Obama insisted, was someone who is “able to see all sides of an argument.” We needed politicians who would undo the cynicism about and around politics. We needed intellectual integrity and intellectual honesty.
I thought about all that during the president’s press conference last week, when he mentioned eliminating a tax loophole for corporate jets six different times, pretending it’s the GOP’s commitment to those loopholes standing in the way of a grand bargain to lower the deficit. Beyond that, Obama spoke about the tax loopholes as if they were fiscally significant, offering us the choice between allowing tax loopholes for corporate jet and gutting student loans, food safety, the weather service, and more.
The game Obama was playing was both ludicrous and self-indicting.
Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post decided to fact-check the Obama claim. “It’s a potent image, but in the context of a $4-trillion goal, it is essentially meaningless,” according to Kessler. “The item is so small the White House could not even provide an estimate of the revenue that would be raised, but other estimates suggest it would amount to $3 billion over 10 years.” Meanwhile, student financial assistance, just for 2011, is roughly $42 billion.
Here’s Kessler’s verdict: “So the corporate jet loophole — which involves the fact that such assets can be depreciated over five years, rather than the seven for commercial jets — just is not going to raise a lot of money. It certainly wouldn’t save many student loans.”
Bloomberg ran the math as well and found Obama’s proposal to end a tax break for corporate jet owners would achieve less than one-tenth of one percent of his target for reducing the federal deficit.
In other words, the most memorable example Obama used in his press conference – the need to eliminate a tax loophole for corporate jets – is comparable to trying to dig a tunnel with a teaspoon. And it’s not simply that Obama resorts to this bit of sophistry; it is that in the process he presents himself as the only adult in Washington, America’s intrepid truth teller, our modern-day Socrates.
His intellectual dishonesty and unparalleled self-image would be difficult enough to take separately. Together, it’s all a bit much. The good news is, in the end the truth will out. And I’m betting regardless of how many false statements the president makes, regardless of how many straw men he trots out, he cannot escape the bitter fruits of his policies. In 2008, Obama relied on promises of what he would do. In 2012, he will have to rely on deeds he has done. That will make all the difference.
Events have unmasked Obama. At this juncture it looks as if the president is likely to lose his re-election bid. It’s a shame he is besmirching his public character in the process.