Barack Obama wants to run for re-election by dividing the country along economic lines.
In what might be the most explicitly class-warfare oriented campaign since Truman’s 1948 come-from-behind win against Thomas E. Dewey, Obama clearly intends to pit rich against poor and Main Street against Wall Street in ways that allow him to play the role of the hero, standing up for the little guy.
It’s a trite if not exactly “tried and true” strategy that plays into the current cultural ethos and the media’s fascination with the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent, Occupy Wall Street, and, buzziest of buzz words, “income inequality.” The GOP, involved as it is with choosing its next presidential nominee, has been slow to catch on.
In the current debate over extending the temporary cut in the employee portion of the payroll tax, Obama is presenting himself as being on the side of the working man, favoring tax cuts for those “who really need them” while the GOP, he says, only want them for the rich. It’s a populist argument that is politically powerful even if the economics are all wrong.
Reducing the flow of money into the Social Security Trust Fund, which is already on shaky ground, puts it that much closer to insolvency. Raising taxes on the people who are best positioned to get the U.S. economy up off its back and on its feet pushes an economic recovery that much farther down the road. And yet Obama, who is actually proposing to cut the rate even further down to 3.1 percent, seems to be winning the argument.
Part of this is the result of the general state of the economy. Joblessness, while apparently down according to the latest government figures, is actually up. The recent dip in unemployment, it is now acknowledged by most economists, came only because so many people gave up looking for work completely, not because they found jobs. In fact, according to a recent survey by pollster Scott Rasmussen, a heart-stopping 82 percent of the 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed “know someone who is out of work and looking for a job.”