He concedes that tax increases do hurt the economy
The good news is that Barack Obama said on ABC Sunday that he might not go through with his plans to increase taxes. The bad news is that the economy has to be mired in recession to avoid the largest tax increase in the nation's history.
Our check of the Dow Jones Factiva database suggests that other than viewers of ABC's "This Week," only three or four newspapers carried an account of Senator Obama's amended tax plan. While it's possible that the story of a deferred tax increase could shock the media into paralysis, we take it as an encouraging sign. The education of Barack Obama continues apace. For the record, here is what he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
Mr. Stephanopoulos: "So even if we're in a recession next January, you come into office, you'll still go through with your tax increases?"
Senator Obama: "No, no, no, no, no. What I've said, George, is that even if we're still in a recession, I'm going to go through with my tax cuts. That's my priority."
Mr. Stephanopoulos: "But not the increases?"
Senator Obama: "I think we've got to take a look and see where the economy is. The economy is weak right now. The news with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, I think, along with the unemployment numbers indicates that we're fragile. I want to accelerate those tax cuts through a second stimulus package, get more money into the pockets of ordinary Americans, see if we can stabilize the housing market, and then we're going to have to reevaluate at the beginning of the year to see what kind of hole we're in."
Even individuals staring down the barrel of Mr. Obama's tax increases should not wish for an economic recession to give them a reprieve. The relevant point is that it was early last year, when the "Bush economy" was still humming, that Senator Obama first proposed pushing taxes sharply upward on "the wealthy," while giving what he calls "tax cuts" (actually they are credits, not rate reductions) to "the middle class."
At the time, Mr. Obama was the long shot in the Democratic Presidential sweepstakes, and it made some political sense to reassure the party's intensely liberal primary voters with class-war boilerplate on taxes. Under ObamaTax 1.0, he would have repealed all the Bush tax cuts, lifted the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax, put the top marginal rate up to 39.8% and raised the rate on capital gains and dividends to at least 25% from 15% now. The official campaign line was that tax rates really don't matter to economic growth.
Summer arrived, the Clinton challenge was history and with the general election ahead came ObamaTax 2.0. It posited that the top rate on capital gains now would be 20%, described on this page August 14 by economic advisers Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee as "almost a third lower than the rate President Reagan set in 1986." This was progress.
Now with the big vote less than 60 days off and John McCain pounding him as a tax-raiser and pulling ahead in some polls, the Democratic nominee has decided to release ObamaTax 3.0, the most interesting upgrade so far. If the economy is still weak in January, a President Obama might defer all of the planned increases.
Several interpretations of this shift are possible, none of which reflect badly on Senator Obama's political learning curve. At the bloodless level of simply wishing to win, the Obama camp may have concluded that in the sprint to November it is a losing strategy to be the election's only doctrinaire tax raiser. A tight race tends to focus political minds, and none forget Walter Mondale's catastrophic promise in his 1984 acceptance speech: "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did."
Beyond this lies the economic reality of jacking up income, investment and payroll taxes on "the wealthy" amid a flat or falling economy. In the standard narrative, these taxpayers exist as fat cats atop hedge funds, banks and megacorporations. Let's toss into the vat the top-tier managers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Beltway's own fat-cat sinecure.
The reality is that the creators of new jobs in the economy are more likely to be rising entrepreneurs or filers under Subchapter S, who typically pay taxes at individual rates. Hanging three or four tax millstones around their productive necks in January if the economy is weak will likely produce unimpressive growth and job numbers in the first year of the new Obama Presidency, and likely beyond. That in turn could drag down the Democrats in Congress who will get credit for voting these higher taxes into law.
Thus Mr. Obama's unambiguous answer Sunday to whether he'd insist on his tax increases if the economy is in an official recession: "No, no, no, no, no." It seems Mr. McCain is right that taxes do matter. Mr. Obama's most ardent primary supporters may not like it, but we'll take the five "Nos" as evidence that Senator Obama may be learning the difference between liberal doctrine and sensible governance.
Obama swings Right on schools
Embraces charter schools, ouster of bad teachers in bipartisan approach to education. Sarah has sure got him spooked
Barack Obama is promising to double funding for charter schools and replace inferior teachers, embracing education reform proposals normally more popular with Republican candidates. The Democratic presidential nominee says both parties must work together to improve education, according to remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday at a suburban high school gymnasium. The pitch was an appeal to moderate voters in this presidential election swing state, where the fight over education reform has been the focus of a longtime partisan battle.
"There's partisanship and there's bickering, but there's no understanding that both sides have good ideas that we'll need to implement if we hope to make the changes our children need," Obama said in excerpts provided by his campaign before the speech. "And we've fallen further and further behind as a result. If we're going to make a real and lasting difference for our future, we have to be willing to move beyond the old arguments of left and right and take meaningful, practical steps to build an education system worthy of our children and our future."
The federal government spends about $200 million a year on charter schools, privately run institutions that receive public money. Obama's proposal would take that up to over $400 million.
Obama recognized that charter schools have been a source of debate in Ohio. Past Republican administrations used charter schools and private school vouchers to offer families a way out of troubled public schools. But Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has been trying to scale back the programs to focus taxpayer money on more traditional public schools.
The Ohio Federation of Teachers has complained about the management of some charter schools, which has moved money away from the schools where its members work. The union has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate for-profit charter school operator White Hat Management for allegedly violating the terms of the tax-free status assigned to some of its schools.
"I'll work with all our nation's governors to hold all our charter schools accountable," Obama said in the excerpts. "Charter schools that are successful will get the support they need to grow. And charters that aren't will get shut down."
While teachers unions typically oppose the idea of performance-based merit pay, Obama is embracing the idea along with demands that teachers who don't meet standards are removed from the classroom. Obama's campaign said teacher performance could be judged by peer review, student test results, classroom evaluations or other processes. "We must give teachers every tool they need to be successful, but we also need to give every child the assurance that they'll have the teacher they need to be successful," Obama said. "That means setting a firm standard - teachers who are doing a poor job will get extra support, but if they still don't improve, they'll be replaced."
At the same time he's calling for bipartisan cooperation, Obama is accusing Republican rival John McCain of failing to do anything to improve the quality of public education during nearly three decades in Washington. "Not one real proposal or law or initiative. Nothing," Obama said.
Obama's career as a "community organizer"
Last week we wrote that " 'community organizer' is to Barack Obama what 'war hero' was to John Kerry." We didn't know the half of it. Kerry staked his claim to the presidency on the pretense that he was a war hero, notwithstanding his showy repudiation decades earlier of the war and his fellow veterans. According to a new expos‚ in the liberal New Republic, Obama, before embarking on a career in politics, similarly, albeit quietly, repudiated "community organizing," only to re-embrace it decades later, apparently out of political expediency.
TNR's John Judis tracked down Jerry Kellman, who in 1985 "hired Obama to organize residents of Chicago's South Side." Kellman describes a conversation the two "community organizers" had at a conference on "social justice" in October 1987:
"[Obama] wanted to marry and have children, and to have a stable income," Kellman recalls. But Obama was also worried about something else. He told Kellman that he feared community organizing would never allow him "to make major changes in poverty or discrimination." To do that, he said, "you either had to be an elected official or be influential with elected officials." In other words, Obama believed that his chosen profession was getting him nowhere, or at least not far enough. . . . And so, Obama told Kellman, he had decided to leave community organizing and go to law school.
Another way of putting this might be that Obama left community organizing because he wanted a job in which he had actual responsibilities (and, of course, earned more money).
But Obama did not decide only that "community organizing" was not for him. Judis reports the future senator took part in a September 1989 symposium in which he "rejected the guiding principles of community organizing: the elevation of self-interest over moral vision; the disdain for charismatic leaders and their movements; and the suspicion of politics itself." Later, Obama "would begin to construct a political identity for himself that was not simply different from his identity as a community organizer--but was, in fact, its very opposite."
Judis offers the closest thing we've heard to a job description for "community organizers." What they do, he writes, is "unite people of different backgrounds around common goals and use their collective strength to wring concessions from the powers that be." To help illuminate this rather vague description, Judis also enumerates some of the tasks Obama and his colleagues undertook.
Before Obama's arrival in Chicago, Kellman and his "partner," Mike Kruglik, set out "to revive the region's manufacturing base--and preserve what remained of its steel industry--by working with unions and church groups to pressure companies and the city; but those hopes were quickly dashed." Apparently the presence of "community organizers" is not a strong selling point for companies making location decisions. Go figure.
Obama set his sights lower, but still missed the mark. He "got community members to demand a job center that would provide job referrals, but there were few jobs to distribute." Then "he tried to create what he called a 'second-level consumer economy' . . . consisting of shops, restaurants, and theaters. This, too, went nowhere." These efforts at economic development having failed, Obama "began to focus on providing social services for Altgeld Gardens," a government-owned and -operated apartment complex:
"We didn't yet have the power to change state welfare policy, or create local jobs, or bring substantially more money into the schools," [Obama] wrote. "But what we could do was begin to improve basic services at Altgeld--get the toilets fixed, the heaters working, the windows repaired." Obama helped the residents wage a successful campaign to get the Chicago Housing Authority to promise to remove asbestos from the units; but, after an initial burst of activity, the city failed to keep its promise. (As of last year, some residences still had not been cleared of asbestos.)
It is both funny and scary that one of America's major political parties would offer this record of sheer futility as its nominee's chief qualification to be president of the United States. Even more striking, though, is how alien the world in which Obama operated was by comparison with the world in which normal Americans live. Reader, when your toilet breaks, do you wait around for some Ivy League hotshot to show up and organize a meeting so that you can use your collective strength to wring concessions from the powers that be? Or do you call a plumber?
As a "community organizer," Obama toiled within a subculture of such abject dependency that even home repairs were "social services," provided by government (or, in Obama's Chicago, not provided). It was an utterly bizarre intersection between the cultural elite and the underclass. By Judis's account, Obama's Columbia degree was useless. He would have been more helpful if he'd gone to vocational school instead.
Judis quotes an Altgeld resident as telling Obama, "Ain't nothing gonna change. . . . We just gonna concentrate on saving our money so we can move outta here as fast as we can." Certainly no one can fault Obama for doing the same thing. But what did Obama move outta there do to? To become a politician--specifically, an "idealistic" politician who wants "to make major changes in poverty." Guys like that created this mess in the first place.
In his political career, has Obama done or even said anything to suggest that he has a different approach to "poverty," one that would reduce dependency rather than promote it? His recent rediscovery of the glories of "community organizing" certainly isn't an encouraging sign.
Obama: Palin as mother, governor, moose hunter may be cool, but she's just another politician
Listening to Barack Obama, it can seem like Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is the main person standing between him and the White House instead of John McCain. Obama is putting as much heat on Palin as he is on the man at the top of the GOP ticket, objecting to the Republican Party's portrayal of her as a reformer who can bring change to Washington. That is supposed to be Obama's distinction, and he's not taking kindly to Palin trying to claim it. Especially when it appears the new star on the GOP ticket is helping boost its standing: McCain has jumped to a dead heat or narrow lead over Obama in the latest national polls since choosing Palin as his running mate.
Obama said last week's Republican National Convention did a good job of highlighting Palin's biography - "Mother, governor, moose shooter. That's cool," he said. But he said Palin really is just another Republican politician, one who is stretching the truth about her record. "When John McCain gets up there with Sarah Palin and says, `We're for change,' ... what are they talking about?" Obama said Monday, arguing that they aren't offering different ideas from President Bush and they are just trying to steal his campaign theme because it seemed to be working. "It was just like a month ago they were all saying, `Oh, it's experience, experience, experience.' Then they chose Palin and they started talking about change, change, change," he said.
Obama's campaign seemed to be caught off guard by McCain's surprise pick of Palin on Aug. 29. Obama's spokesman initially blasted her as a former small-town mayor with zero foreign policy experience who wants to continue Bush's policies. But Obama quickly walked the statement back with more congratulatory words about Palin as a compelling addition to the ticket.
Voters, particularly women, seem to agree, according to new polls. An ABC News-Washington Post survey showed white women have moved from backing Obama by 8 points to supporting McCain by 12 points, with majorities viewing Palin favorably and saying she boosts their faith in McCain's decisions.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said there's no doubt Palin is helping excite the GOP base, but what remains to be seen is how she plays with swing voters over the remaining two months of the campaign. "There's no question they believe Governor Palin has given them a surge of energy in the short term," he said. "We'll see where we stand eight weeks from now."
With Palin out on the campaign trail every day blasting Obama, it became increasingly clear he had to respond and try to undermine her credibility. He was careful with his approach, declining in an interview on MSNBC's "Countdown" on Monday to respond directly to a question about whether she's too inexperienced to be next in line to the presidency.
But Obama's campaign saw an opening when the McCain-Palin campaign released a new ad Monday called "Original Mavericks" that included the claim that Palin stopped the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, a nearly $400 million proposal to build a bridge to an island in Alaska occupied by just 50 residents and an airport. Obama called the claim "shameless." Palin voiced support for the bridge during her campaign to become Alaska's governor, although she was critical of the size, and later abandoned plans for the project. She used the federal dollars for other projects in Alaska.
"A bunch of heat started generating because people were thinking, `Why are we building a bridge to nowhere?'" Obama said to laughter from a packed gymnasium of supporters in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills. Some booed at the mention of her name. "So a deal was cut where Alaska still got the money. They just didn't build a bridge with it, and now she's out there acting like she was fighting this thing the whole time," he said, jabbing his fist in the air like a boxer. He released his own ad in response to the GOP spot that says McCain and Palin are "politicians lying about their records." [Obama forgot to mention that he himself voted for the bridge!] At an earlier stop Monday in Flint, Obama said of the bridge claim: "I mean, you can't just make stuff up. You can't just re-create yourself. You can't just reinvent yourself. The American people aren't stupid. What they are looking for is someone who has consistently been calling for change."
On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Palin has billed Alaska taxpayers for more than $43,000 in travel and lodging expenses for her children and husband during the 19 months she has been governor. Sharon Leighow, a spokeswoman for the Alaska governor's office, told the Post that many of the invitations Palin receives also request that she bring her family. And the newspaper pointed out that Palin's travel expenses are far less than those of her predecessor, Frank Murkowski.
McCain-Palin spokesman Tucker Bounds said Obama's negative attacks show he is increasingly desperate. "Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin have shook up the establishment and delivered real reforms," Bounds said. "Barack Obama has a speech he gave in 2002."
Woman Who Was Dumb Enough to Call America 'Just Downright Mean' Implies Sarah Palin Isn't All That Bright
Poor Sarah, the country bumpkin only has a lowly journalism degree from the University of Idaho. She didn't quite have what it took to get an affirmative action gig at Princeton like certain people.
Little noticed over the weekend, but while the Community Organizer was hob-nobbing at the Jon Bon Jovi soiree in Jersey, the lovely and gracious Michelle Obama was the star attraction at a LGBT event in Beverly Hills, where she took a cheap shot at Palin.
Obama then moved on to politics, where she first brought up her husband's vice-presidential choice. "I think it was a really good pick-Senator Joe Biden," she said, and later added, "People say they have amazing chemistry, and it's true." Obama continued with talk about Biden when she said, "What you learn about Barack from his choice is that he's not afraid of smart people." The crowd softly chuckled.
So what are we saying, Michelle, Greasy Joe is the intellectual superior or Sarah Palin? We'll see about that come debate time. And who exactly is saying your husband and Joe Biden have amazing chemistry?
Democrats must learn some respect
This article is not the first to note the cultural contradiction in American liberalism, but just now the point bears restating. The election may turn on it. Democrats speak up for the less prosperous; they have well-intentioned policies to help them; they are disturbed by inequality, and want to do something about it. Their concern is real and admirable. The trouble is, they lack respect for the objects of their solicitude. Their sympathy comes mixed with disdain, and even contempt.
Democrats regard their policies as self-evidently in the interests of the US working and middle classes. Yet those wide segments of US society keep helping to elect Republican presidents. How is one to account for this? Are those people idiots? Frankly, yes - or so many liberals are driven to conclude. Either that or bigots, clinging to guns, God and white supremacy; or else pathetic dupes, ever at the disposal of Republican strategists. If they only had the brains to vote in their interests, Democrats think, the party would never be out of power. But again and again, the Republicans tell their lies, and those stupid damned voters buy it.
It is an attitude that a good part of the US media share. The country has conservative media (Fox News, talk radio) as well as liberal media (most of the rest). Curiously, whereas the conservative media know they are conservative, much of the liberal media believe themselves to be neutral.
Their constant support for Democratic views has nothing to do with bias, in their minds, but reflects the fact that Democrats just happen to be right about everything. The result is the same: for much of the media, the fact that Republicans keep winning can only be due to the backwardness of much of the country.
Because it was so unexpected, Sarah Palin's nomination for the vice-presidency jolted these attitudes to the surface. Ms Palin is a small-town American. It is said that she has only recently acquired a passport. Her husband is a fisherman and production worker. She represents a great slice of the country that the Democrats say they care about - yet her selection induced an apoplectic fit.
For days, the derision poured down from Democratic party talking heads and much of the media too. The idea that "this woman" might be vice-president or even president was literally incomprehensible. The popular liberal comedian Bill Maher, whose act is an endless sneer at the Republican party, noted that John McCain's case for the presidency was that only he was capable of standing between the US and its enemies, but that should he die he had chosen "this stewardess" to take over. This joke was not - or not only - a complaint about lack of experience. It was also an expression of class disgust. I give Mr Maher credit for daring to say what many Democrats would only insinuate.
Little was known about Ms Palin, but it sufficed for her nomination to be regarded as a kind of insult. Even after her triumph at the Republican convention in St Paul last week, the put-downs continued. Yes, the delivery was all right, but the speech was written by somebody else - as though that is unusual, as though the speechwriter is not the junior partner in the preparation of a speech, and as though just anybody could have raised the roof with that text. Voters in small towns and suburbs, forever mocked and condescended to by metropolitan liberals, are attuned to this disdain. Every four years, many take their revenge.
The irony in 2008 is that the Democratic candidate, despite Republican claims to the contrary, is not an elitist. Barack Obama is an intellectual, but he remembers his history. He can and does connect with ordinary people. His courteous reaction to the Palin nomination was telling. Mrs Palin (and others) found it irresistible to skewer him in St Paul for "saying one thing about [working Americans] in Scranton, and another in San Francisco". Mr Obama made a bad mistake when he talked about clinging to God and guns, but I am inclined to make allowances: he was speaking to his own political tribe in the native idiom.
The problem in my view is less Mr Obama and more the attitudes of the claque of official and unofficial supporters that surrounds him. The prevailing liberal mindset is what makes the criticisms of Mr Obama's distance from working Americans stick.
If only the Democrats could contain their sense of entitlement to govern in a rational world, and their consequent distaste for wide swathes of the US electorate, they might gain the unshakeable grip on power they feel they deserve. Winning elections would certainly be easier - and Republicans would have to address themselves more seriously to economic insecurity. But the fathomless cultural complacency of the metropolitan liberal rules this out.
The attitude that expressed itself in response to the Palin nomination is the best weapon in the Republican armoury. Rely on the Democrats to keep it primed. You just have to laugh.
The Palin nomination could still misfire for Mr McCain, but the liberal reaction has made it a huge success so far. To avoid endlessly repeating this mistake, Democrats need to learn some respect.
It will be hard. They will have to develop some regard for the values that the middle of the country expresses when it votes Republican. Religion. Unembarrassed flag-waving patriotism. Freedom to succeed or fail through one's own efforts. Refusal to be pitied, bossed around or talked down to. And all those other laughable redneck notions that made the United States what it is.
Bookstore battle showdown: Obama vs. Obama expose
'Audacity of Deceit' challenging candidate's 'Change We Can Believe In'
On the same day Barack Obama is releasing a new book touting his appeal for change, bookstores are bracing for the impact of another book's release: "The Audacity of Deceit: Barack Obama's War on American Values," an expose that promises to reveal just how Obama's proposed changes would radically redefine American life and government. "The Audacity of Deceit," by Brad O'Leary and released by WND Books, hits the nation's largest bookstores today in a head-to-head clash with Obama's release of his campaign book, "Change We Can Believe In." Printers have produced 100,000 copies of "Audacity" already and 31,000 have been shipped to retailers and book clubs.
"Brad O'Leary has written a book that will shed new light on a public figure who's enjoyed a meteoric rise with little scrutiny," says Eric M. Jackson, president of WND Books. "We're thrilled that it will debut head-to-head against Senator Obama's own book. When the dust settles, we think 'The Audacity of Deceit' will be the defining book on his candidacy."
Challenging O'Leary will be Obama himself, with his book "Change We Can Believe In." The book is described on bookseller websites as outlining Obama's "vision for America" with the promotional line, "At this defining moment in our history, Americans are hungry for change."
O'Leary, former president of the American Association of Political Consultants, is the author of 11 books, a former talk radio host with millions of listeners and the award-winning television producer of "Ronald Reagan: An American President."
O'Leary's book suggests Obama's vision for change, if exposed, would not come close to what Americans are hoping for. "Obama has written multiple books and no major legislation, but that's not a coincidence" says O'Leary. "He's tried to hide his true beliefs from the American people behind soaring oratory promising 'hope' and 'change,' but that's just a smokescreen, and one that's been very effective. Until now."
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