How to Hate the Rich

We’ve decided to get with the times and start hating rich people. All the cool kids are doing it, so our previous attitude that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house suddenly seems terribly old-fashioned.
Being au courant on the class envy craze is proving more difficult than anticipated, however, because it isn’t quite clear who the rich people are and which ones we are supposed to hate. The recent “fiscal cliff” agreement only raises the income tax rate for people earning more than $400,000 a year, for instance, but perhaps we should still be hating anyone raking in more than the $250,000 a year that the president has always set as a threshold for hatred. There are probably a lot of people out there making between $250,000 and $400,00 a year, so it would save us a lot of energy if we were to forgo hating them, but one can never be too careful when striving to be trendy.
That “fiscal cliff” agreement also contains several reminders that some rich people are to be hated more than others. Buried in the bill are numerous tax breaks for certain essential industries, such as stock car racing and Puerto Rican rum, but apparently the people enriched by such frivolous pursuits as energy, aviation, and agriculture are still to be punitively taxed. The motion picture industry is also exempted from any punitive taxation, of course, and as always the people who become rich by being pretty and able to convincingly pretend to be someone else are to be adored rather than hated. Perhaps this is because movie stars are exceptionally fine people who take time out from their busy schedules of making blood-splattered shoot-‘em-ups to demand that guns be taken from law-abiding citizens.
Such blatant hypocrisy always seems to confer an immunity from class hatred, somehow, although we’re still trying to discern all the subtleties. We see that Al Gore just picked up yet another $100 million by selling his stock in something called Current TV to the al-Jazeera network , making sure he got the sale done ahead of any tax hikes, but we expect that he’ll retain his membership in the un-hated rich. One hundred million bucks is a lot of money by anybody’s definition, and it’s coming from a network owned by dirty-oil-rich Qatar, which intends to use the little-seen network’s cable access to spread its pro-terrorism editorial policy, but so long as Gore flies on private jets from his opulent and energy-consuming mansion to spread the warning about global warming he will likely remain one of the officially designated good guys.
Gore was once a Democratic presidential nominee, too, and that also seems to mitigate the evil of wealth. The John Kerry-John Edwards ticket was by far the richest in the history of presidential politics, but we can’t recall anyone raising any of the moral objections so many people had to Mitt Romney’s much smaller fortune. Maybe that’s because marrying into money or ambulance-chasing malpractice suits that drive up the cost of medical care are more honorable occupations than rescuing companies and their workers from bankruptcy, which will surely screw somebody over at some point, but we suspect it has more to do with party affiliation. To say that our current Democratic president lives like a king would understate the matter by many millions of dollars, judging by the difference in the American taxpayers’ cost of supporting their First Family and what the British spend on the royals, but so long as he’s willing to repay a small portion of it on tax day he’ll always be regarded as a righteous class warrior.
Lacking any information about a particular rich person’s voting registration, political ideology seems to be the most reliable indicator of how much we are supposed to hate them. Warren Buffett has become extremely wealthy by providing tax shelters for his fellow rich people, but he urges further tax hikes on the rich and thus his wealth can be forgiven. The Koch brothers have become extremely wealthy by providing the public with affordable refined gasoline, and then worsened the offense by using some of the money to promote free market capitalism, so of course they are to be hated with a special passion. “Pinch” Sulzberger has made his family less wealthy by turning its New York Times into an unreliable purveyor of left-wing propaganda, so we suppose he’s some sort of saint, but we can’t say for sure.
We’ll eventually figure out all the vexing rules of class envy, and then we’ll begin hating in earnest. It sounds like great fun, and if things keep going as they have been the past four years it might be the only entertainment we can afford.

— Bud Norman

Stopping at the Cliff

About the best that can be said of the much-ballyhooed “fiscal cliff” deal is that it could have been worse. The same can also be said of almost anything, including history’s worst calamities, but in this case the deal at least momentarily postpones the greater calamity that still lies ahead.
As a result of the last-minute accord there won’t be an across-the-board reversion to the Clinton-era tax rates, which even the Democrats conceded would have been a very bad idea, and it puts off for two months any “sequestration” budget cuts, which even the Republicans dreaded because they would have come mostly from national defense. This modest achievement was sufficient to fuel a strong rally on the stock markets, although it should be noted that the guys on Wall Street stage a big rally every time the United States or the European Union or any other flat-broke political entity comes up with another scheme to stave off bankruptcy for another few months. Everyone outside of Wall Street will surely find something to hate about the bargain.
The most rock-ribbed conservatives are infuriated that the congressional Republicans surrendered to a tax hike on “the rich,” which in this case turns out to be people making $400,000 or more in a year. Obama had originally insisted on a definition of $250,000 per annum, and given the public’s vengeful attitude toward the affluent the Republicans can claim a small victory, but the tax hike will still be a drag on economic growth and its effect on the deficit will be negligible at best, so the conservatives can be forgiven their grumbling. The agreement also allows a temporary payroll tax cut to expire for about 77 percent of workers, on the other hand, so perhaps one can take solace in the realization that such a large portion of the country can now be considered part of the hated rich.
More appalling yet to a conservative sensibility are the spending increases included in the deal. The wizards at the Congressional Budget Office somehow found a miniscule $15 billion worth of budget cuts in the deal along with its $620 billion of increased taxes, a 41-to-one ratio that the president would call a “balanced” approach to deficit-cutting, but they also concluded that the deal will wind up adding nearly $4 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years. Among the many provisions in the bill is a continuation of benefits to some two million unemployed workers, and one Democratic congressman was frank enough to state that the fiscal cliff bill basically means “an unemployment check is in the mail.”
All that gnashing of conservative teeth allows the president and his cheerleaders in the press to claim a rousing victory, and much of the public will probably agree. Obama resumed his Hawaiian vacation to celebrate, adding another $3 million of government spending in the process, and he seems not to have taking any of the public relations beating that George W. Bush used to take for a summer break in Crawford, Texas. Some incurably optimistic conservatives expect that the public will at long last be aware that the Bush tax cuts extended to the middle class and that soak-the-rich schemes don’t make a dent in the deficit, but the public’s imperviousness to obvious truths should have been made apparent by the last election. A typical Obama fan called into Sean Hannity’s radio program Wednesday to gloat about his guy’s big win the “physical cliff” negotiations, insisting that the president had thwarted a concerted Republican effort to raise taxes on everyone but the opulently wealthy, and he’ll likely persist in such misconceptions for the remainder of his days.
Still, the president’s political victory will prove short-lived, perhaps ending this week when the first paychecks of the year are issued and that 77 percent of workers hit by the restored payroll tax discover they are now the nouveau riche, and the more brazenly realistic liberals are already lamenting that the opportunity for tax hikes on everyone has passed. There’s another potential end-of-the-world imbroglio over the debt ceiling scheduled for another month or so, too, and by then even the press cheerleaders will find it hard to disguise the fact that Obama intends to spend on a level that will require more revenue than even the hated rich can provide. The Republicans won’t necessarily win that round, either, but the president will still lose another stash of political capital.
The president and congress will probably negotiate some sort of scheme to stave off bankruptcy, and the guys on Wall Street will stage another big rally, but ultimately the country will bump its head against a bond market-imposed debt ceiling that even congressional acquiescence cannot raise. The “fiscal cliff” deal does nothing to prevent that fateful day, and only hastens it.

– Bud Norman

In the Dead of Winter

There is no drearier day on the calendar than today. Christmas and its cheerful spirit have come and gone, the New Year’s revelries have been completed and the resolutions already forsaken, and all that remains of a seemingly eternal winter is the cold and the dark and the back to business as usual.
Holiday lights are still flashing around the neighborhood, but at this point they only represent a chilly chore that remains undone. No one can rouse himself to spend New Year’s Day taking down all those decorations, but the more industrious neighbors will get around to it on the weekend, most of the others will take care of it within another week or so, and after that only the worst procrastinators will leave any lingering trace of festivity. An older couple down the street who decorate for every holiday will come up with something for Valentine’s Day in another month or so, but otherwise our block will be unadorned for the remainder of the winter.
The sub-freezing temperatures that have prevailed the past couple of weeks and are expected to continue forever discourage our daily walks around the neighborhood, but the forays into the world that necessity requires us to make will be less aesthetically pleasing. Although our prairie city is surprisingly picturesque through three seasons, this is an ugly time of year around here. Dingy brown and depressing gray is the basic color scheme, with the occasional snows being wind-blown to leave brown patches on every lawn and the drifts soon turning the color of automotive exhaust. All the cars are dirty, too, and even the most meticulously tended lawns are strewn with the last of the leaves from the skeletal trees and the piles of fast food litter tossed by the increasingly inconsiderate citizenry. The pretty girls are so well hidden beneath layers of bulky clothing that they seem to have vanished altogether, leaving nothing to pleasantly distract us as we go about our business.
We have a good friend who claims to love the winter, and he drives around on even the coldest nights with his car windows rolled down to prove it, but he’s a fair-skinned fellow of arctic origin who starts to gripe about the heat on the first warm day of spring. He’s also a stickler for old-fashioned protocol who still observes the prohibition against sipping cocktails before sundown, so he regards the scant amounts of daylight as more of a blessing than a bother. Being of more tropic stock and teetotaling lineage we are tormented by the cold from the time we crawl out from under our massive pile of blankets until we return to their warm embrace, no matter how many sweaters we don or how far we push the thermostat, and no amount of alcohol can compensate for the nearly constant darkness.
Washington’s newsmakers usually oblige us by making little news at this time of year, and they are almost always kind and shrewd enough to take the holidays off altogether, but this time around the “fiscal cliff” crisis intruded on our determinedly apolitical holidays. Some sort of agreement to avert a catastrophic cliff-diving was apparently reached at the twelfth or thirteenth hour, but we could not rouse ourselves to the chore of reading about it at length any more than we could bring ourselves to store our very modest amount of Christmas decorations. A cursory glance at the headlines suggests that it’s a disaster, perhaps not as bad as the worst possible outcomes but a disaster nonetheless, but a more considered judgment will have to await the post-New Year’s Day routine.
Until then, we will gird ourselves with a final holiday libation and the certainty that God will always bring a spring. Although we haven’t the slightest bit of paganism in us we’ve been counting off the days since the winter solstice, which this year was supposed to bring the Mayan apocalypse but apparently didn’t, and we note with some satisfaction that already the day will stretch twelve minutes further into the night. Just a few short months from now the irises will begin to bloom, and snow and ice can mean a good year for irises. In a good year for irises our old neighborhood on the prairie is a most beautiful place.

— Bud Norman

Unlucky Number

One year always leads to another, and we shudder to think where a year such as 2012 might lead.
Journalistic tradition dictates that an end-of-the year column either look back at the past 12 months or prognosticate about the upcoming dozen, and at this particular point in history neither task is appealing. The past year saw the United States go yet another trillion dollars and more into debt, with slow economic growth and fewer gainfully employed workers to show for it, the citizenry’s increased dependence on a government that is increasingly bossy about every aspect of life, various scandals from the cover-up of a botched gun-running operation to the “sloppy” foreign policy that resulted in the death of an ambassador and three other brave Americans in Libya and a body blow to free speech rights here, the ascendance of a belligerent and supremacist Islamism in key countries of the Middle East with American support, and an ever stupider popular culture. By far the biggest story of the year was an electoral majority of the country’s decision to vote for more of the same — lest those evil Republicans kill off Big Bird, continue their dastardly if entirely fictional war on women’s private parts, and generally harsh everyone’s buzz — so it’s hard to envision a reversal of this bad fortune.
All indications are that America will begin the new year by barreling over the “fiscal cliff,” that dire-sounding name given the across-the-board tax hikes and arbitrary spending cuts that almost everyone agrees will lead to a recession. Some sort of patchwork agreement remains a possibility, but although it will surely be hailed as further proof of Obama’s transcendent genius it will still involve job-killing taxes that won’t raise sufficient revenue to make a dent in the deficits. Indeed, the deficits are likely to swell when more workers sign up for the never-ending unemployment benefits and a slew of new entitlement programs are deemed necessary to deal with economic downturn. This might even be the year that America’s looming debt crisis finally arrives, and even if the country’s economy continues to crawl along the prospects for the rest of the world remain unpromising. The prospect of a Secretary of State John Kerry and a Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel certainly do not bode well.
None of this is any reason, of course, not to celebrate heartily tonight as the clock turns over to a brand new year. Nor is it any reason not to make the most of the next 365 days, whatever they might bring, and perhaps even prosper and be happy. Keep clinging bitterly to God and your guns, at least for so long as both are still legal, and give this whole 2013 idea a good shot.

— Bud Norman

Boehner’s Blues

Maybe it’s just a lingering touch of the holiday spirit, but we believe that a few kind words should be spoken on behalf on John Boehner.
The Speaker of the House has been quite beleaguered of late, with sharp criticism coming from every direction. To the president and his liberal supporters Boehner is an ideologue obstructing a reasonable agreement to avert the “fiscal cliff” for typically plutocratic Republican reasons. As far as the conservatives are concerned, Boehner is all too willing to compromise bedrock principles for mere political expedience. The mainstream press has predictably taken the president’s side, while the conservative radio shows are all demanding that Boehner be banished from the party, and with no one left in the middle these days Boehner has wound up with worse poll numbers than Nancy Pelosi has ever suffered.

This is a sorry state, indeed, given that Pelosi is perhaps the most horrible woman in the history of the republic. Although the Republican party might well require a change of management, as losing ball clubs often do, Boehner certainly does not deserve this ignominy.
We are sympathetic to the conservatives’ complaints, being unrepentant right-wingers ourselves, but it seems to us that Boehner’s critics are not taking into account the difficult situation in which we finds himself. A tax hike on anybody will indeed be harmful to an already unhealthy economy, thorough entitlement reforms truly are urgently required to stave off federal insolvency, and the Republicans are also correct in arguing that they won their House majority running on such sound ideas, but somehow it is also true that Obama was re-elected on a platform of soaking the rich and continuing to throw vast amounts of imaginary money into the governmental sinkhole. Obama is better positioned to keep his promises, having no fear of a “fiscal cliff” that will provide him tax hikes and defense cuts that he much desires and would not otherwise be able to achieve, and Boehner has few options.
Conservative purists continue to insist on the possible policy, which is to keep all the Bush tax rates and start swinging the budget axe in some direction other than the Department of Defense, but Obama’s threatened veto power means that isn’t a possibility at all. The only choices that political realities make available to Boehner are tax hikes on the rich or tax hikes on everybody, and while the former will enrage that base of his party the latter will enrage the entire country. Given the resentful mood of the country and the still-potent power of the press, along with the plentiful blame being ascribed by even the most conservative media, it is an easily foreseeable certainty that the Republican party will wind up being blamed for the inevitable recession by an electoral majority of the country.
Some conservatives, including the usually astute Charles Krauthammer, contend that Obama can be forced into a reasonable agreement because he doesn’t want to be saddled with an economic downturn lasting through his second term. The president didn’t suffer much from the lull that lasted through his first term, though, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be able to use another recession for as much government expansion as the earlier one allowed. Other conservatives argue that the public can be persuaded it was Obama’s intransigence that led the country over the fiscal cliff, but they should consult the most recent election returns before judging the public’s willingness to be persuaded by even the most obvious truths. Still other conservatives are taking the old Roman line of “fiat justitia, pereat mundus,” or “let justice be done, even if the world perish,” but this seems to lack the pragmatism that has traditionally characterized the conservative movement.
Those who would damn Boehner as a spineless political animal for conceding to any “revenue enhancements” should at least credit him with the savvy to correctly assess the political landscape. It is possible that a shrewder negotiator could have won a more favorable deal than what Boehner will eventually get his caucus to agree on, and it is certain that a more telegenic and personable politician would have stood a better chance in the public relations battles, but it is not clear who that remarkable leader might be. One shudders to think of Pelosi returning to the speakership, and even Boehner’s harshest critics on the right will miss him if that comes to pass.

— Bud Norman

The Woman at the Store

One of the dreariest duties of the daily newspaper reporter is the “man on the street” interview. Newspaper editors love to have the resulting quotes in a story, partly because of a belief that it gives a reader some sense of what the average person is thinking about an issue, mostly because they don’t have to harass the random passersby themselves, yet there is little justification for this strange journalistic tradition. The small number of people a reporter can pester before deadline doesn’t amount to a representative sampling of public opinion, the reader is usually an average person himself and is therefore more interested in what better informed sources have to say, and the quotes are almost always banal.
Every now and then, though, a story will contain a quote from some purportedly typical person that actually makes a pertinent point. An excellent example can be found in the twelfth paragraph of a recent Reuters story about how the possibility of the government going over “the fiscal cliff” is affecting Christmas sales. A Linda Hampton, identified only as a New Yorker found shopping at a Best Buy store, is reported to have remarked that “It would be a disaster. Our taxes will go up. But I think our president will step in.”
This is the extent of Hamilton’s contribution to the story, so there is no knowing if the reporters questioned her further about her opinion, but we would have been interested to hear why she has such a touching faith in the president. It seems to us that a plunge over the “fiscal cliff” would result in across-the-board tax hikes that provide the president with more money to dole out to his preferred constituencies, as well as cuts to the defense budget that the president ardently desires yet would otherwise be unlikely to achieve, and so long as people such as Hamilton are so trusting of his intentions he will he gain political advantage from the resulting economic catastrophe. It would have been worth a drive to the Best Buy to hear why she is confident the president will “step in” and save the country from something that redounds so completely to his benefit.
Obama’s boundless empathy for the common man, probably. The president often speaks of it, and the papers have all confirmed it, so perhaps that’s where Hamilton got the idea. There’s no discerning Obama’s concern from the consequences of his policies, which have left the common man poorer, more dependent on government, and less free, but the damning statistics that quantify this decline get less coverage than the good intentions. The common men who are ponying up for the Obama’s multi-million dollar Hawaiian vacation can be assured they will repaid in empathy.
Even the most reliably liberal news media are hinting at Obama’s willingness to go over the cliff, but that’s the kind of complicated and dull story that Hamilton might be too busy to read. Although she’s obviously not one of the many people that the Reuters reporters no doubt spoke with who had never heard of a “fiscal cliff,” we suspect that her news-reading is not so far-ranging that it has brought her into contact with any doubts about the president’s good faith. This does indeed qualify her as a typical American, and as much as it pains us to hear it’s useful to know what’s she thinking. Forewarned is, after all, forearmed.

— Bud Norman

That Falling Off the Cliff Feeling

We just had another of our more-or-less weekly beer-drinking sessions with an old friend, a thoughtful and hard-working man who shares many of our views, and it made for a rather dispiriting conversation.
Assessing the current political and economic situation, as is our wont whenever sharing the cut-rate Stella Artois at our usual tavern, we found little justification for a positive attitude. In earlier conversations we had fretted that the Republicans were at a disadvantage in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations because the president didn’t care if the country went over that allegorical abyss, but now we agreed that Obama was intent on the outcome and that the Republicans were incapable of preventing it and bound to be widely blamed for the disastrous results. In no case could we envision any politically possible way to avert the far more serious debt crisis that looms just another debt-ceiling raising or two away, no matter how many futile attempts are made to tax our way out of it, and the more we pondered the situation the more it we agreed the country will only accelerate toward that unhappy day.
Our friend is a remarkably resourceful fellow, the sort who can replace the thermo-coupler on our water heater, fix any number of automotive problems, or fashion a swimming pool fountain from a few feet of PVC pipe, but he could think of no practical solutions to the country’s current mess. He had plenty of good ideas, all based on tried-and-true methods, but none that wouldn’t be ridiculed by the late night comics or would stand a chance of winning an election. Every idea he brought up was quickly shot down, each time by the realization that too many people would prefer the offer of free stuff to such harsh necessities. Our friend harbors none of the modern left’s snobbish disdain for the average American, and likes think himself a regular guy, but he has reluctantly concluded an electoral majority of his countrymen is simply too stupid and lazy and apathetic to veer away from the coming catastrophe.
Crappy “classic” rock music was blaring from the tavern’s tinny speakers, four walls of television sets were beaming the latest offering of the National Football League, which has racked up quite a body count this season, and just across the street was a grocery store where able-bodied young men in saggy pants ride down the aisles in motorized shopping carts intended for the handicapped, so we were in no position to argue with our friend’s point. Sometimes during these regular ruminations our friend will look around with us to speculate on how many of the other customers are troubled by any worrisome thoughts, and they almost always seem to be more interested in the football game or the buxom divorcee at the bar. Good burgers, stiff drinks, and an ebullient staff of waitresses bring a diverse group of customers into the joint, including a very white collar crowd from the nearby offices of downtown, but this representative sampling of the populace did little to inspire hope that the country was ready to roll up its collective sleeve and start the tinkering with the metaphorical thermo-coupler of the nation’s economy.
We spotted a professor and a retired adjunct professor from the local university, both smart men in an academic kind of way, but for obvious reasons they are of no use in the present crisis. There was also an old newspaper colleague, now working in one of the federal government’s many local offices, and when we joshed him about being in the nation’s only growth industry he rolled his eyes nervously and replied “Until the fiscal cliff,” making a falling-off-the-cliff gesture with his hand and whistling a cartoonish diminuendo to emphasize the point. Everyone else seemed to be checking their cell phones, and judging from the blank expressions none of the text messages were bearing news of the coming economic and cultural apocalypse.
The success of our friend’s arduously-built business is tied to the fate of the general economy, so he keeps abreast of that news with an especially keen interest. He also has a son, an excellent 10-year-old, and thus tends to take a longer view that also reveals little reason for hopefulness. At one point in the conversation we admit to some envy of the happily distracted customers in the tavern, but we also talk of the steps he’s been taking lately to prepare for the coming hard times. He worries that his boy will have a hard time fitting in with the future, and knowing the boy’s already independent thinking we share his concern.
A delayed broadcast of John Gibson’s talk radio show accompanied us home, and “Gibby” and his callers all seemed in a similar dispiritedly state. It got us to wondering if there were any exultant liberals having a round of some trendier beer at some more fashionable venue while excitedly sharing their great hopes and expectations for the coming years, and we decided it was unlikely. They’re probably deriving some satisfaction from knowing that those rich bastards are going have their taxes raised, but surely they don’t expect it will restore the nation’s economic health and lead to a new golden age. No one seems to believe that’s coming any time soon.
All in all it was a rather dispiriting conversation, as we say, but it’s good to have friends to share it with.

— Bud Norman

Fiscal Cliff Notes

After careful consideration of all the possible “fiscal cliff” outcomes we have concluded there is no way that President Obama can lose or the congressional Republicans can win.If your only rooting interest is for the country at large, well, that also doesn’t look good.
For those who have been blissfully unaware of the goings-on in Washington, the fiscal cliff is what the country will fall off of if the Bush-era tax rates are allowed to expire at the beginning of next year. This would mean a tax increase for nearly everyone who actually pays federal income taxes, which almost every conservative economist believes would result in a severe recession, and it would also cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, which every liberal economist believes would not only cause a recession but also push the earth out of its orbit and send it hurtling into the sun.
With such near-unanimity of opinion that the fiscal cliff is not something any sane nation would want to go over one might expect a quick agreement on the matter, but alas, this nation is insane. The original sticking point was on taxes, with Republicans preferring to retain the current rates for everyone and Democrats absolutely hell-bent on a tax hike for the hated top 2 percent of earners, but now comes word that the president’s list of demands has grown to include $255 billion in “stimulus” spending and no more congressional authority over the government’s credit limit. Although the demands might seem outrageous, if you consider the president’s personality and political position it is more surprising he didn’t insist on an immediate repeal of the twenty-second amendment and a new constitutional arrangement along the lines of what his pal Mohamed Morsi has decreed for himself in Egypt.
Why not? If the Republicans capitulate, always a distinct possibility, Obama will enjoy unprecedented spending power to buy all the votes needed for that third term. If the Republicans resist even at the price of going over the fiscal cliff, they’ll be widely blamed for the dire economic consequences.
That the Republicans would lose in the court of public opinion is a foregone conclusion. Not because of Obama’s vaunted rhetorical powers, which have proved wildly overrated, but because the still-powerful Washington news media and their colleagues on the comedy shows will constantly reiterate that Republican intransigence forced the country into an avoidable recession. The newly unemployed will get louder and more sympathetic than at any time in the past four years, with every sob story conveying the familiar message that Republicans care only for the rich. What little there is of conservative media will argue on the Republicans’ behalf that it would have been irreparably disastrous to hand Obama an unlimited line of credit, but they made the same sensible argument during the election and the result is what has led the country to its current sorry condition.
Nor should the Republicans doubt that Obama is entirely willing to take the country over the fiscal cliff, a destination that looks quite acceptable from his unique perspective. Taking the fiscal cliff dive would allow Obama to raise taxes on everybody, a Democrat’s dream, and do so without political consequences, something beyond the Democrats’ wildest dream. The automatic budget cuts will come mainly from national defense, which Obama has always wanted to gut anyway, and the rest of the spending can quickly restored by the Democratic House that is installed 2014. Spending cuts can always be rectified, but the tax money will never be returned.
The estimable Charles Krauthammer has argued that Obama won’t want his second term marred by a deep recession, but we fear that on this rare occasion he gives the president too much credit. A lousy economy that persisted through his first term didn’t prove sufficiently harmful to Obama’s political standing to prevent his re-election, and he has no reason to believe that his uncanny luck will change now. What’s more, a second recession will give him the same opportunities that the first afforded to push pork-laden stimulus spending and extraordinary money-printing to pay off his loyal constituencies.
There are the millions of Americans who will suffer greatly from the loss of jobs and wealth if the fiscal cliff recession comes to pass, but we doubt their plight will trouble Obama much during his upcoming multi-million dollar vacation. If their suffering helps the president achieve his dream of expanding the welfare state even further he can always console himself that it was well worth the price. We realize this is a very harsh assessment of an American president, but four years of watching his actions, rather than just listening to his lofty speeches, have led us to this conclusion.
No matter the outcome of the current negotiations, the country will continue its headlong rush toward financial insolvency. If the government can’t stop short of this relatively shallow fiscal cliff, don’t expect it will avoid that grand canyon.

— Bud Norman

The Chicken Run to the Fiscal Cliff

Those who share our fondness for the cinema of long ago might recall a certain scene in “Rebel Without a Cause.” James Dean’s crazy mixed-up kid character was challenged by a snooty rich guy to a “chicken run,” a test of teenage bravado in which the contestants hurtle their parents’ automobiles toward a cliff at top speed and whichever driver hits the brakes or bails out first is deemed the lose, and the result was predictably tragic.
That harrowing contest is brought to mind whenever we read about the “fiscal cliff” that has lately dominated the economic news. The tax rates enacted during the George W. Bush administration are set to expire early next year, and barring action by the congress and the president the country will revert to higher rates for nearly every taxpayer while a slew of automatic budget cuts simultaneously go into effect. Although most economists agree that the results would be catastrophic an agreement is by no means a certainty, as the Republicans who control the House of Representatives are adamant that the tax cuts be retained for everyone while the Democratic president and his allies who control the Senate are just as determined that the top 2 percent of be hit with the old higher rates. Both sides have indicated they are willing to drive over the fiscal cliff rather than relent to the opposition.
The Republicans have the better argument. Sticking the top 2 percent with the higher rate will only add $22.35 billion to the federal coffers next year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, and that’s a hopeful projection based on the assumption that the hike won’t have any effect on economic activity, so it won’t make a dent in the projected $1.1 trillion deficit, much less than $16 trillion of accumulated debt. Sucking that same amount of money out of the moribund private sector, especially through the investing class, will likely make a bigger dent in economic growth, and even if there were no economic consequences at all we would still prefer to start making cuts from an ever-expanding government that treads ever further upon the liberties of the people.
Alas, the better argument often has little to do with the way things are done in Washington. It certainly has little effect on the Democrats, who regard it as a matter of sacred principle that the government should take money away from rich people regardless of the economic consequences. Liberals we know are so embittered about the current tax rates for the rich, and the hated Bush administration that brought them about, that we have no doubt about their willingness to inflict a massive recession on the country rather than endure them further. There is no reason to believe that Obama and the Democrats in the Senate are any less reckless, and they have every reason to believe that they will not be held accountable if the country does go over the cliff.
Many conservative commentators have been urging that the House Republicans refuse to relent on the matter, but we prefer that at some point just before the fiscal cliff they be willing to hit the brakes. As much as we hate to see anybody’s taxes increased, even a wealthy class that for some reason or another voted mostly for Obama, tactical retreat is probably the best option. No matter how harmful the tax hikes on the rich might be, the effects of a tax increase for the rich and everybody else would certainly be far worse, and the Democrats’ intransigence does not permit the best solution. Worse still, the Republicans would be widely blamed for the resulting recession and less effective in staving off the inevitable further attempts for more taxation and spending.
Some pundits cite polls showing that a majority of Americans do not wish to impose taxes on any of their fellow citizens, even the rich ones, but those polls don’t reflect the choice most Americans would make between a severe recession and “asking the rich to give a little more.” That it is the Democrats who are forcing that choice will be overwhelmed by all the same media noise that has so successfully obscured their role in all of the nation’s economic woes, and any Republicans who doubt this would be advised to check the recent election results. What’s left of the establishment media will still be able to portray the Republicans as the snooty rich guy who wound up going over the cliff in “Rebel Without a Cause,” and Obama can be typecast as the crazy mixed-up kid who bailed out of the car just in time and became the epitome of cool.
Even if the inevitable debt crisis brings the American economy to its knees within the next four years, the Democrats and their media allies will argue that it was all the Republicans for hobbling the country with low tax rates and preventing Obama from spending even more. The Republican party will need to be standing strong enough to refute such nonsense, and they won’t be able to make that stand from the bottom of a cliff.

— Bud Norman