Obama's Poverty Politics
Barack Obama's manifold failures over the last three years have left him in a political tough spot as we enter 2012. He will have a challenging time running on a record that has resulted in massive unemployment, stagnant income growth, a record number of people on food stamps, and a gargantuan level of debt that Americans will be paying off for decades after Obama has retired to the golf courses of Hawaii. As was clear from his recent speech calling forth the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, he will campaign on the idea that he will bring "fairness" to struggling Americans.
Of course, as was true of Obama's 2008 "hope and change" campaign, "fairness" has the political virtue of meaning whatever one wishes it to mean. However, there is plenty of evidence about what it means to Barack Obama: taking money from one group of Americans and giving it to another on a scale never before seen in America.
Americans should have comprehended Obama's redistribution agenda back in 2008. As is so often true of Barack Obama, one hears only rare flashes of truth from him when his teleprompter is Missing in Action. He has slipped more than once. There was his "spread the wealth" comment to Joe the Plumber. Before that widely noted revelation, there was his 2008 declaration that he would hike capital gain taxes even if it failed to raise revenues because of "fairness." He was -- and is -- willing to trade losses in jobs and wages to advance his leveling ideology.
But even before those admissions, a perusal of Obama's own writings and record would have revealed that he agreed with the man he called his "moral compass," Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Junior, that "white folks' greed runs a world in need." As president, again sans Teleprompter, he ad-libbed that "I do think at a certain point you've made enough money." At what point would Obama have cut off Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and other pioneers who have done so much to make our nation prosper? Probably at a point that would have prevented the growth of Apple, Microsoft, and other assorted companies that have propelled our economy over the years. But who cares about the economy when there is "fairness" at stake?
Now that he has been president for three years, we can discern a pattern that shows that Obama has been putting our money where his mouth has been and doing so in a very opaque way. There was a reason why one of Obama's most astute critics, Stanley Kurtz, characterized him as "Senator Stealth" in recognition of the very clever if not devious ways he was able to advance his agenda as a state senator. Illinois State Senator Barack Obama would often obscure the true impact of his legislation by burying it under language that would escape notice from other politicians and not even appear on the radar screens of the media. After practicing such ploys in the minor leagues, he has now perfected them as president.
How so? Where is the smoking gun?
One huge shift in wealth will happen courtesy of Obamacare. Taxes will skyrocket to pay for the expansion of medical care to people Obama considers underserved by the medical care industry. Medicare will be ransacked of tens of billions of dollars to pay for massively expanding Medicaid enrollment. In Obama's world, Democrat elitists pick the winners and the losers. If there were any doubts regarding the true intent of Obamacare, they should have been dispelled when Democratic Senator Max Baucus -- who was instrumental in shoving Obamacare onto our shoulders -- admitted that the goal of Obamacare was redistribution of wealth. Baucus spoke from the floor of the Senate when he declared that the bill was "an income shift, it is a shift, a leveling to help lower income middle income Americans ... This legislation will have the effect of addressing that mal-distribution of income in America."
There are other assorted elements of the legislation that also reveal the redistributionist agenda at work: hidden deep in the bill are racial preferences that have the added benefit of favoring people from lower-income areas. Of course, the public was kept ignorant of this agenda and these preferences as the bill was bulldozed through Congress through all sorts of bribes and tricks of the trade by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
Barack Obama and his allies in Congress all along had the intent of shifting income from one group of people to another. Of course, as Richard Lowry writes in the New York Post, the "federal government already runs a sprawling, massively redistributionist system of taxes and benefits. The top 1 percent earns about 17 percent of all income and pays about 37% of all income taxes."
But the scope is not large enough apparently to fulfill Barack Obama's boast that he would fundamentally transform America. After all, why should retirees in Florida benefit so much from Medicare when there are the urban poor, who not only are more "deserving," but also are Obama's core base of supporters? In Obama's own words, politics is about rewarding friends and punishing enemies. It is the Cook County way.
We were not told of this goal by the president who promised the most transparent administration in history. Weren't we also promised that the discussions regarding Obamacare would be televised for all to see and hear? But transparency transformed into stealth once in office.
The redistribution follies have continued in the world of welfare. Bill Clinton was prodded by a Republican House to reform welfare by imposing work requirements, time limits, and other measures that were geared towards helping those on welfare break free from depending on the government. And it worked -- millions of people left the welfare rolls and became productive and proud workers. However, Barack Obama is all about "change," and he has been busy rolling back welfare reform. He has been doing so through is preferred approach: stealth.
As we approached the holiday seasons, we may have been depressed by headlines that America's poverty rate has skyrocketed. However, if one wanted to wade through a morass of mind-numbing government documents (and who would do that during any time of the year, let alone winter?), one could learn that the Census Bureau has concocted a brand-new definition of poverty that threw millions of people unknowingly into those ranks. Quite a Christmas present. Talk about Scrooge!
When the White House tried to bring the Census Bureau under direct White House control early in 2009, there was an outcry that this was a political ploy to control congressional redistricting and the allocation of government spending. Critics may have missed one more reason why Barack Obama wanted more control of the Census Bureau: to redefine what constitutes "poverty."
Robert Rector writes in "Team O's Poor Trick" that "it was a surreptitious and dubious shift by the Obama administration, setting the 'near-poverty' income level very close to the median-household income in most communities" that led to the sudden addition of millions of people to the lower-income realm. Median income is the point at which half the households have more income and half have less.
Thus, it was foreordained that, using this new standard, the Census folks "discovered" that almost half the population is living in "near-poverty" conditions. That is, if you define "near poverty" as an income roughly equal to the median, that means that by definition nearly half the population will always be "poor" or "near poor" - regardless of any changes in actual living standards.
Obama's new poverty measure will produce very odd results. For example, if the real income of every single American were to magically double overnight, the new measure would show no drop in poverty or "near poverty," because the poverty- and near-poverty income thresholds would also double.
In other words, the president has introduced a statistical trick that gives new meaning to the saying that "the poor will always be with you."
The shift seems designed to promote Obama's obsession to "spread the wealth." By suggesting that many more Americans are poor or near-poor, the Census generates political pressure to raise taxes and expand the welfare state.
Of course, President Obama has already permanently increased welfare spending by nearly a third. This year, the government will spend more than $900 billion on means-tested aid, providing cash, food, housing, medical care and social services to poor and low-income persons. (This figure does not include Social Security, Medicare or unemployment insurance.)
This welfare spending comes to around $9,000 for each person in the lowest-income third of the population. And the new "poverty" measure is propaganda to raise the figure further.
No matter how wealthy Americans become, no matter how rising growth will benefit America, no matter how many material possessions lower-income people may own (and they actually own more than one may think -- we are not talking a Dickensian dystopia in America: 80% of poor Americans have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable TV, half have computers; the percentage of poor people with amenities would astound many people), the Obama team has found a trick to fudge the statistics in a way that will compel and justify calls for more redistribution of wealth.
The cycle will never end -- at least as long as Obama is president.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.