The fiscal-cliff deal settled nothing in terms of the desperate, ongoing struggle to bring Washington’s devastating deficits under control, but it should put an end, once and for all, to a bitter debate that’s damaged the conservative movement for the last four years.
With the president participating in successful last-minute efforts to prevent crushing, automatic, across-the-board tax hikes that would have done disastrous damage to the U.S. economy, it’s time for Barack Obama’s angriest critics to finally give up the paranoid fantasy that he’s some sort of alien agent with a secret agenda to wreck capitalism and weaken the United States.
If the president really did nurse a deep-seated desire to ruin the free enterprise system (and the Republican Party along with it), he just missed his golden opportunity.
Had he pushed the nation off the fiscal cliff (as many conservatives feared he would), he could have gained a precious two-fer—savaging the American business community with nightmarish new tax burdens, crushing 30 million new households with the impact of the Alternate Minimum Tax, and blaming stubborn, unyielding Republicans for all the resulting wreckage.
Obama’s willingness to make a deal doesn’t mean that his policies count as wise or far-sighted or beneficial. But his readiness to compromise should prove to anyone but the most deluded nut-case that those policies are not deliberately destructive.
Had the president stood firm on his endlessly re-affirmed determination to raise rates for all households earning more than $250,000, then John Boehner and the rest of the GOP would have refused any deal, taxes would have gone up automatically on every household and business, and the nation would have fallen into severe double-dip recession. Instead of forcing that outcome, the president agreed to exempt the big majority (70 percent) of those well-off families he originally had targeted, freezing tax rates for households majority with reported income between $250,000 and $450,000. Even taxpayers above the $450,000 line will pay far less than they would have paid if the tax system had gone off the cliff—because of big savings on all income earned below that line.
This deliverance from destruction should put to rest—forever—the toxic notion of the populist right that the president of the United States harbors the secret goal of destroying the country he’s been (twice) elected to lead. That idea often connects with idiotic claims about President Obama’s concealed Kenyan birth, hidden Muslim affiliation, radical Communist commitments, descent from Malcolm X or Frank Marshall Davis, control by demonic puppet-masters like George Soros, and so forth and so on ad infinitum (or insane-item).
At its most sophisticated level, the theory of Obama’s destroy-America agenda links to his father’s undeniable anti-colonialist and Third World socialist outlook. In bestselling books like The Roots of Obama’s Rage and his smash hit movie 2016: OBAMA’S AMERICA, my friend Dinesh D’Souza advanced the idea that the president consciously desired to reduce the nation’s prosperity and power in order to make up for the sins of racist colonialism and to foster a more balanced, multi-polar world order. No less a figure than Newt Gingrich, often hailed as the most influential intellectual in the Republican Party, embraced D’Souza’s analysis as “brilliant” and suggested that it accurately assessed the true motivation of the most powerful political figure on the planet.
In the world of conservative media, Rush Limbaugh has promoted similar arguments since Obama’s earliest days in office, insisting that his famous hope for the president to “fail” meant only failure for the new chief executive’s malevolent nation-wrecking aims. On countless occasions, this most influential (and generally insightful) voice in right-of-center commentary has explained the economic setbacks of Obama’s first term by insisting that the president meant to damage capitalism “on purpose.” On one memorable occasion Limbaugh suggested that if a hound gets whacked by his master once or twice he might write it off as unintentional, but if the abusive owner punishes the pet every single day then even a dumb dog knows it’s no accident.
The fiscal-cliff crisis may have accomplished almost nothing in settling our most serious policy disputes but it should put to rest the illogical notion that the presiding chief executive somehow advances his own interests through economic devastation. For 99.4 percent of all U.S. households, the president ended up agreeing to permanent consecration of the same Bush tax cuts he formerly blamed for all the economic reverses of the last decade. He accepted only a third of the new revenue he had demanded as absolutely essential to deficit reduction as recently as a month ago. In the aftermath of the agreement, Democrats seem not only surprised at the scope of the president’s concessions to the GOP, but utterly amazed that most Republicans appear unable to assess the significance of their own gains in the negotiations.
In part, that blindness stems from the lingering fear that any perceived success for Obama involves inevitable harm to America’s prospects for prosperity, because the president yearns to crash the economy as step one of imposing a new socialist system. Abandoning this delusion will not only allow the GOP to improve its political prospects but will foster a more realistic and constructive role in governance.
Barack Obama remains a standard- issue big-government leftist with dysfunctional assumptions about Washington’s limitless power to solve every problem. Huge fights remain as principled Republicans seek to curb his free-spending excesses and the Democratic Party’s unstoppable instinct to expand federal power.
But those fights will go better when conservatives acknowledge that the president qualifies as a typical, vote-buying Democratic politico in the tradition of FDR, LBJ, Teddy Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Dick Daley, seeking power, popularity, and prosperity by spending other people’s money. It’s never helped the cause of limited government or fiscal sanity or effective leadership in Washington for the right to flirt with the inane, offensive idea that Barack Obama is a kamikaze—or commie-kaze—bent on a political suicide mission to steer the most powerful nation on earth toward fiery destruction. With the economy-saving fiscal-cliff compromise now a done deal, that dark vision looks more ridiculous than ever.
This column appeared first in THE DAILY BEAST.