Humor vs. Contempt: Obama and the Question of Character

Much has been made of Barack Obama's claim to have been "amused" by the nationwide tea party demonstrations on Tax Day last week. Really, he told acolytes at a Democratic fundraiser (expected haul: $2.5 million), "they should be saying thank you."

Applause. Cries of "Thank you." Laugh track?

I believe that the editorialist for Investor's Business Daily got it exactly right about the second part of Obama's response to the rallies: "Thanks for What?" he asked.

Why should they [the tea partiers] be thankful? As the president himself said on his weekly radio address a week ago, "one thing we have not done is raise income taxes on families making less than $250,000; that's another promise we kept."

In fact, that wasn't his promise at all.

Here's what candidate Obama really said in September of 2008: "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."

Got that? "Not any of your taxes." The claim of no tax hikes on those below $250,000 as a result of the current administration's policies is completely and utterly false.

A report from the House Ways & Means Committee's GOP members notes that, since January 2009, Congress and the president have enacted $670 billion in tax increases. That's $2,100 for each person in America. At least 14 of those tax hikes, the report says, break Obama's pledge not to raise taxes on those earning less than $250,000. Roughly $316 billion of the tax hikes -- 14 increases in all -- hit middle-class families, the report says.

This comes in addition to recent data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office showing U.S. spending and indebtedness growing at an alarming rate. Government spending now totals 25% of GDP, a quarter above its long-term average. By 2035, it will hit 34% of GDP at current trends — a 70% increase in the real size of government in just 25 years.

Ha, ha, ha. Very amusing, what?

What should we make of Obama's merriment? What does it tell us about his sense of humor? What does it tell us about what an earlier age would have called his "humor," his character?

The first thing to notice about this moment of hilarity is how consonant it is with other Obama rhetorical eructations. For example, how similar in spirit it is to his challenge to Republicans after Nancy Pelosi managed to ram the presidential health care legislation through Congress. Instantly, there were calls to repeal the law. "My attitude is," Obama told a crowd in Iowa, "go for it" -- as if it would get them anywhere!