In an interview on Tuesday, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell demanded to know how Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, could “justify going along with a larger tax cut, for those who really don’t need it.” Gregg replied: “Well, my view is: It’s their money.”That would be my view, too — and the view of most Americans, who are not conditioned to equate wealth with dispossession, and have not been raised to resent the rich. It’s their money. Congress doesn’t have to “justify” letting them keep it; it has to justify taking more of it away. The premise of Mitchell’s question — that government has the strongest claim on money the affluent “really don’t need” — strikes most non-liberals as not just wrong, but pernicious.
To the left, the opposite is true. “We have so many people who can’t see a fat man standing beside a thin one,” Ronald Reagan, a recovered liberal, said in a famous speech , “without coming to the conclusion the fat man got that way by taking advantage of the thin one.” As long as there are have-nots, therefore — and there will always be have-nots — it is pernicious for government not to confiscate more wealth from the haves.
This envy and resentment, which liberals think of as sensitivity and compassion, are at the very core of the liberal conception of good government. That is why “tax cuts for the rich” gets them so emotional and angry — and it only deepens their outrage that most Americans don’t think the way they do. Hence the Democrats’ apoplexy. And hence their unbridled fury at Obama for agreeing to a compromise that a majority of voters seem to like.
It doesn’t help, as Mickey Kaus writes, that unlike the former president who blew him off the stage on Friday, Obama is such a poor triangulator in the first place:
1. Since Obama’s not in the center because he believes in being in the center, but because he has had to compromise, he’s congenitally vulnerable to the charge of wimpiness, at least from Democrats. “He agrees with us,” they can think—”but did he get all he could? Did John Kyl take him to the cleaners?” What under triangulation is a policy dispute becomes a manhood issue. 2. Meanwhile, because Obama never tells the left it’s wrong on policy, the larger public doesn’t get a very clear idea of where he’d want to take the country, given the chance. He’s managed to piss off the base without necessarily winning over the middle. Many mainstream voters come to suspect, not without reason, that he’s a left-winger at heart, constrained only by reality—especially political reality. They must be very happy they added some new constraints on November 2.
As Mickey adds, “Triangulation is better than what Obama is doing. But the light bulb has to want to triangulate.”
When the presidential equivalent of Don Draper loses his ability to sell, he alienates both his potential clients (us) and the boys in the home office at Sterling Cooper (his base). A man can’t be whatever room he is in, unless all of the people in that room trust that he belongs there with them.
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