The Obama Rule: Pandering is just so much easier than doing math, especially when it concerns the nation’s debt

by Ryan Streeter on January 30, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Robert Samuelson supports the Buffett Tax. He also thinks Obama is pandering to popular sentiment with it rather than dealing with the future.

Samuelson highlights the silliness of Obama’s State of the Union remark that we have to choose between raising taxes on the rich or cutting programs. He writes:

In September, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the 10-year deficit at $8.5 trillion. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation estimates that a Buffett Tax might now raise $40 billion annually. Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal group, estimates $50 billion. With economic growth, the 10-year total might optimistically be $600 billion to $700 billion. It would be a tiny help; that’s all. “The purpose of the Buffett Rule is not to close the deficit gap,” Buffett has said.

Obama’s either-or choice between taxes for the rich and cuts is just plain silly. The reality is that even with the Buffett Tax, we have to make some serious cuts and changes if – in Obama’s own words – “we’re serious about paying down the debt.”

Samuelson points to the recent Pew poll in which 66 percent of Americans see “strong conflicts between the rich and the poor” as the obvious basis for Obama’s pandering.

The sad thing about Obama’s exploitation of this issue isn’t that he was shameless in the State of the Union, but that he’s been doing this for so long. Here’s a column from April 2011 in which I pointed out that the mathematics of Obama’s schtick about higher taxes don’t raise nearly enough revenue – unless he’s prepared to raise taxes on the middle class. Many others have been making similar points for a year now. None of this changes a thing for Obama. He just motors along, banking on the hope that enough Americans won’t do the math between now and November.

Samuelson supports a Buffett Tax out of principle. That’s fine. Let’s have a debate about the moral and economic merits of raising taxes on the highest earners. But let’s hope the President of the United States of America can grow up just enough to have a debate like this instead of living in the land of pretense, which even his supporters like Samuelson think is bad form.