By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Wow. And we thought Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday night ("oh, and by the way, we're going to cure cancer") was audacious. Now we've had a look at the Audacity budget.
Holy Reagan and Roosevelt, Batman! Before this guy is done, we're gonna need new synonyms for "bold."
You wanted leadership, America? You wanted a change from the cramped, crabby, selfish Clinton-Bush era of special-interest politics? You got it.
Truth be told, until yesterday, this new president was a bit of a mystery. Obama speaks with such eloquence that, since claiming the Democratic nomination, he's slid by without offering details. And it's in the details, in Washington, that ye shall be known.
Yesterday, we got details. And as somebody who has followed national politics since he had hair, and it was brown, I can tell you with authority folks, that this is a Moment.
Let's just, as one exercise, take that picky little problem called global warming, and see what Audacity wants to do about it.
Step One: Get Congress to enact a "cap and trade" system that will auction off a selective right to emit carbon dioxide into Earth's atmosphere. If Audacity keeps us safe, brings back the economy and does only this in the next four years, he will probably go down in history as a successful president.
Step Two: Take most of the $645 billion raised by the capping and the trading and give working- and middle-class families a permanent tax cut, thereby addressing the socially destabilizing problem of excessive income inequality. It turns out that Audacity was just being honest with Joe the Plumber: he really does intend to spread the wealth.
Step Three: Use another $15 billion a year from the cap and trade pot to fund research for clean, alternative energy—the kind that could breed a new "green technology" industry in the US of A, create jobs, and set the stage for an economic boom.
Step Four: Use this response to global warming, in our dealings with other nations, as evidence of U.S. good will and cooperation abroad, thereby ending our "cowboy" image, stifling critics, and getting our allies to support other American initiatives.
Now that is the kind of four-cushion shot that you don't see everyday, folks. And it's just one of such plays contained in the budget. Health care insurance for all Americans: Check. Replace high school diploma with post-secondary degree as the benchmark of American education: Check. Begin entitlement reform: Check.
Who is going to pay for all this? Well, don't say he didn't warn you, rich guys and gals.
The New Yorker published a famous cartoon back during the (first?) Great Depression. It showed a collection of Manhattan swells, in minks and tuxedos, heading for a night at a local theater known for showing newsreels.
"Come along," read the caption, "we're going to the Trans-Lux to hiss Roosevelt." The magazine's editors may want to update it. The rich are going to take a hit if this budget is adopted. It won't be as bad as in Roosevelt's time, but this is class warfare for sure.
Yet here's the good part: the tax hikes and lost deductions and repealed tax credits are particularly aimed at the nitwits who got us into the current economic mess.
Yes, Audacity means to get back some of the ill-gotten gains of those wizards of Wall Street who, as this morning's Washington Post informs us, are spending their six- and seven-figure bonuses in such arduous duty as snowboarding the Alps, mountain-climbing in Nepal, touring the Amazon and lolling on the beaches of Brazil—"taking surfing lessons and dancing in throbbing nightclubs amid Carnival revelers" and "barely clad Samba dancers."
Enjoying the "bacchanalian festival," one hedge fund operator "paraded by in a costume somewhere between Roman gladiator and giant chicken," the Post reported. Another was looking forward to taking helicopter tours of the Columbian jungle, cruising to the Gallapagos Islands and "drinking Argentine wine" in Buenos Aires.
If the Democrats in Congress keep their nerve, we'll be getting some of that plunder back, and the rest of us might yet be able to rent that condo in Ocean City this summer, buy a hybrid Chevy or not have to put that hard-won college acceptance letter, and all the hope it represents, back in the envelope.
My advice to the Democrats: Go for it. You're not going to have these majorities forever, maybe not even for long.
And if the country needs anything right now, it's a big, confident, showy, brassy bandwagon to ride.
Especially one that will patch a lot of potholes, repair bridges, buy computers for school kids and free us from the grip of petro-tyrants along the way.
The deficits? Yeah, I hear you. But if Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush could shrug off years of making debt to fatten the wallets of their wealthy supporters, why should Team Audacity hesitate now?
Worried about debt? Then tax the bastards. Soak them now before they spend it all. Given what they've done to Wall Street, I cannot imagine that their personal portfolios will be plump forever.
Politically, this won't be easy. (Now there is an understatement.) Yet the breath-catching magnitude of what Obama proposes could actually serve to help him. Members of Congress may get used to casting big, tough votes. And the ability of any one special interest to raise fears amid the cacophony may be diluted.
Looking ahead, I'm thinking about the gang of twenty moderates in the Senate, and especially the conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House this morning—from districts in Indiana or North Carolina where their constituents may or may not be supportive of "New Deal: the Sequel."
For the next eighteen months, boys and girls, you will be the most important, wooed and envied folks in town. And what you do will make history.
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