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In their columns today, both Charles Krauthammer and Mike Gerson cite Obama’s claim in a 2008 debate that he would favor raising capital gains taxes, even though doing so would reduce federal revenues, out of “fairness.”
A most revealing window into our president’s political core: To impose a tax that actually impoverishes our communal bank account (the U.S. Treasury) is ridiculous. It is nothing but punitive. It benefits no one — not the rich, not the poor, not the government. For Obama, however, it brings fairness, which is priceless.
Obama’s record so far, Krauthammer argues, shows that the President has been fully committed to this retributional type of justice all along and has been willing to run up the deficit in its service.
Now Obama has offered his response to the fiscal crisis: maintaining unreformed entitlement commitments with a higher, more progressive tax burden in the name of fairness. This, he claims, is the only rational, disinterested choice — leaving Republicans to be mocked as unfair, irrational and self-interested. All reasonable people, it seems, are egalitarians.
Gerson writes that Obama’s Rawlsian liberal view of fairness – confiscation and redistribution for its own sake rather than its effects – has a philosophical opponent: the view embraced by leaders ranging from Lincoln to Reagan that understands justice as opportunity. This view, perhaps best articulated among Republicans by Jack Kemp over the years, holds that what is truly fair is a society in which economic mobility is open to all.
Republicans are still searching for a leader, both in the 2012 race and also in Congress, who articulates this view of the world in a compelling way.
And finding such a leader is important. Repeatedly defending lower taxes for high earners won’t work. Public opinion is on Obama’s side on this issue. “Fairness” is an a priori principle for most people, something Obama knows. Republicans need to change the debate, and it takes leadership to do that. They need to talk about how Obama favors an environment that is unfair for young workers. They need to talk about a just society as an opportunity society. They need to point out that Obama’s tax policy, however good it sounds, reduces resources for the safety net that those who can’t pursue opportunity depend on. In short, they need to show that Obama doesn’t really care about people. He only cares about sticking it to a class that’s easy to hate, even if everyone else doesn’t benefit.