Liberal columnist E.J. Dionne got it right when he recognized that the charitable deduction question was the most significant moment of the recent presidential press conference. (Now no one can say I never agree with a liberal.)
Like so many of President Obama's off-prompter remarks, his answer on charitable deductions exposes him for what he is: an ideologically driven man whose philosophy is based on falsehoods and whose public persona is merely a marketing scheme to acquire the power he really wants.
In the press conference, The Politico's Mike Allen asked: "Are you reconsidering your plan to cut the interest rate deduction for mortgages and for charities and do you regret having proposed that in the first place?"
No, I think it's the right thing to do; where we've got to make some difficult choices. Here's what we did with respect to tax policy. What we said was that over the last decade the average worker the average family have seen their wages and incomes flat; even at times where, supposedly, we were in times of an economic boom.
Without hesitation, Obama begins his answer with deception. Incomes are simply not flat. It is true that Household income (the statistic used to defend Obama's premise) has only risen slightly. But household size has declined. Income per person has increased significantly.
Obama has promoted "income stagnation" from a throwaway line in a campaign speech to the foundational basis of his tax policy.
As a practical matter [working families'] incomes didn't go up. And so what we said let's give them a tax cut, let's give them some relief; some help; 95% of American families. Now, for the top 5%, they're the ones who typically saw huge gains in their income. I fall in that category.
After setting the false premise of 95% of incomes stagnating, Obama begins to attack the "rich." To do so he makes the incorrect statement: the top 5% saw huge gains. The correct statement is: those who saw huge gains were in the top 5%.
This linguistically subtle change wholly invalidates Obama's philosophy. In Obama's mind, the top 5% exist independent of the world around them. They did have, do have, and will have more income than everyone else. In reality, there is massive turnover among the top wage earners. (For example, over half of the top 1% of wage earners in 1996 were in a lower category ten years later.)
And what we've said is, for those folks (top wage earners) let's not renew the Bush tax cuts. So let's go back to the rates that existed back in the Clinton era, where wealthy people were still wealthy, were doing just fine.
Do we elect the president to decide who is wealthy or when they have enough? Is it the president's job to take as much as is politically viable from citizens under the pretense they will still be "fine"?
Government's responsibility is not to decide how much each citizen needs but to protect what each citizen earns. Only after the government secures earnings (aka property), can we address needs without danger of arbitrary confiscation based political expediency or misguided moral crusades (both of which motivate Obama).
Obama persists (later in his answer):
People are still going to be able to make charitable contributions, it just means that if you give $100, and you're in this tax bracket at a certain point, instead of being able to write off 36 or 39%, you're writing off 28%. Now, if it's really a charitable contribution, I'm assuming that shouldn't be the determining factor as to whether you're giving that $100 to the homeless shelter down the street.
Here Obama seeks to obscure the fact that charities will be significantly hurt by this tax provision. To do so he refocuses on feelings of spite toward the high income earner, this time by questioning his motives for donating to charity. He claims:
And so this provision would only affect about 1% of the American people, they would still get deductions, it's just that they wouldn't be able to write off 39%.
This argument is both spurious and morally bankrupt. The provision he's referring to would affect 2-3 times as many people as he claims. But even granting that the provision applies to just 1%, are we to conclude that because of the smallness of a minority we are justified in reducing its property rights? We would be rightly horrified if a president curtailed the rights of racial minority under the pretense of its small population.
It is itself misleading to argue in terms of the number of income earners affected. Dick Morris points out that the top 3% of tax filers make 44% of all charitable contributions. This provision will not have the inconsequential impact the president would have us believe.
In that sense what it would do is it would equalize. When I give a $100 I'd get the same amount of deduction as when a bus driver who's making $50,000 a year or $40,000 a year gives that same $100. Right now he gets to write off 28%, I get to write off 39%. I don't think that's fair. So I think this was a good idea.
To summarize, Obama makes a persuasive case that a person should not pay higher tax rates based on that person's income level. I'm sure Obama wasn't intentionally endorsing a flat tax, but if his logic is applied generally we would all be paying an equal tax rate.
Inconsistency is typical of Obama's policies. On the tax side, Obama advocates ever higher rates for certain income groups. On the deduction side he argues unequal rates are unfair.
Though Obama's logic is cluttered, the results of his policies are not. Obama dependably advocates taking more and more from those he considers wealthy. His logical contradictions serve as cover for his ideological purity by allowing him to sound more reasonable from time to time.
There are many who maintain that Obama is not an ideologue. While there is no way to know for sure, his off-propter remarks seem to paint the most accurate picture. Since no one can read his mind, we are left to speculate as to his true intentions and ideas. As interesting as that debate is, it ultimately doesn't matter what he thinks, only what he does. What Obama is doing is advocating laws that confiscate and control more money, thereby affording him more power and tighter command over the country.