You don't fight an election with the wedge issues you want. You fight an election with the wedge issues you have.
That saying surely describes President Obama's decision to make such a big deal out of the difference between the 36% top marginal income tax rate of today and the 39.6% rate he'd like to see imposed next year.
From a policy point of view, it seems a ludicrous molehill to struggle over.
If what you want is revenue, you'd raise far more—and with not much more struggle—from an additional 25 or 50 cents on the gasoline tax.
If what you want is to soften income disparities, again it won't accomplish much. In a society where the distribution of wealth is such that the top 400 taxpayers pay more than the bottom 150 million added together, extracting some extra dollars from high-income professionals won't much alter anything.
The measure is symbolic mostly, a whack at the American economic elite at a time when the president is campaigning against a member of that elite.
Well, nobody said that wedge issues have to make sense.
But here's what ought to be concerning, even to the president's most ardent supporters: Obama now goes into the climactic months of the re-election campaign burdened not only with a weak showing on the most important aspect of his record—economic recovery—but also with an uninspiring agenda for the future.
The Bush tax cuts will expire before a re-elected Barack Obama even takes a second oath of office. What then? What's the next plan for generating economic growth? For putting the unemployed to work and raising middle-income living standards? As far as I can tell, there really isn't one.
The closest the president has come was his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, last year—and really that wasn't very close.
It starts by making education a national mission – a national mission. Government and businesses, parents and citizens. In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the middle class. ...
In today's innovation economy, we also need a world-class commitment to science and research, the next generation of high-tech manufacturing. Our factories and our workers shouldn't be idle. We should be giving people the chance to get new skills and training at community colleges so they can learn how to make wind turbines and semiconductors and high-powered batteries. ...
Today, manufacturers and other companies are setting up shop in the places with the best infrastructure to ship their products, move their workers, communicate with the rest of the world. And that's why the over 1 million construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing market collapsed, they shouldn't be sitting at home with nothing to do. They should be rebuilding our roads and our bridges, laying down faster railroads and broadband, modernizing our schools – all the things other countries are already doing to attract good jobs and businesses to their shores.
Yes, business, and not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. But as a nation, we've always come together, through our government, to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed. ...
That's it. The second-term agenda. As Whittaker Chambers once quipped in a related context: "Would you storm the beach at Tarawa for that program? And neither would I."