Commentary Magazine


Who’s the Ideologue? Obama or the GOP?

The budget standoff between the White House and House Republicans appears to be getting worse. President Obama has now flatly rejected the GOP proposal for revenue increases and spending cuts. His reason: any revenue increase that does not include a tax increase for the wealthy is unacceptable. The president believes the purpose of the tax code and, indeed, the only reason to prolong the fiscal crisis, is to punish the rich even though doing so does little to balance the budget. Moreover, he clings to this position even though the GOP has offered alternative methods for raising revenue. The thought of not raising taxes is so abhorrent to him that he will not even negotiate the point, preferring to continue to grandstand on the issue, confident that the same class warfare rhetoric that helped him get re-elected will panic enough Republicans to force the House leadership to fold.

As the New York Times reported:

“We’re going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up,” Mr. Obama told Bloomberg Television in his first television interview since his re-election last month, “and we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it.”

Fair enough. All this is easily understood and leaves us perilously close to going over the fiscal cliff that he has warned would harm the economy. But it does leave us with one question: why is the GOP compromise proposal being labeled as evidence of the influence of extremists while the president’s hard-line refusal to consider an alternative to his soak-the-rich scheme is not being spoken of as proof that he is no moderate?

There is an argument to be made that the tax code should be used primarily for the purpose of redistribution of income, as the president seems to be insisting. But it has nothing to do with balancing the budget and avoiding sending the economy into another tailspin. It is nothing but pure liberal ideology in which achievement and investment is to be taxed punitively regardless of whether such a policy would actually improve the country’s fiscal health.

The president believes his stand is popular, and perhaps he’s right. But let’s not deceive ourselves that this is about common sense or a “balanced” approach to the problem. It is ideology.

It is true that many on the other side of the aisle are opposed in principle to higher taxes whether or not such a measure might be prudent in a given situation. Though there is a good argument to be made that their position is a sound one, they are rightly labeled ideologues. But as Obama’s stubborn refusal to consider different ways to reduce the deficit makes clear, they are no more, nor less, ideological than the man in the White House. Yet the universal reaction of the liberal mainstream media is to claim that the president is playing the moderate while his opponents are right-wing partisans blinded by ideology.

We’ll soon see whether the president’s evaluation of his opponents is accurate. He is counting on the press echoing his talking points about the extremism of the Republicans and that they will be blamed for the fallout if no agreement is reached. If so, it will be more evidence of the enormous advantage he derives from a pliant media. But even if the GOP allows itself to be stampeded by this false dichotomy, no one should be fooled. What the president is doing is neither moderate nor balanced. The country has re-elected a liberal ideologue and what follows will have more to do with his extremist approach to the issue than that of the Republicans.