Out of power, Democrats celebrate America's system of checks and balances. In power, they bemoan it. Woody Allen's comment from a few years back that Obama should enjoy dictatorial autonomy and that the "Republican Party should get out of his way and stop trying to hurt him" more or less summarizes the Democrats' position in the fiscal cliff debate.
Barack Obama is our "lord and savior," says actor Jamie Foxx. His wife is "superwoman," according to actor Samuel Jackson. And so the left expects Republicans to bow down to them. They find it troubling that the party in charge of the chamber most responsive to the people would deign to speak for them, and that individual citizens, such as that "nobody" Grover Norquist, as pundit Chris Matthews calls him, get to influence the debate.
For all of its recent prattle about the glories of democracy, the left would prefer to see democracy suspended and Obama granted Morsi-like emergency powers. Almost nothing has changed in four years. All of Obama's failures have been conveniently forgotten. He remains, according to the left, a uniquely transcendent figure who shouldn't have to bother with dissent. Even the ludicrous Lincoln comparisons are recycled from four years ago. "Somehow Lincoln has worked himself into Obama's heart and mind, and it's a good thing to have Lincoln as your mentor," said Doris Kearns Goodwin in 2008. Encouraging this talk, Obama said that Lincoln made "my story possible."
The left's Lincoln nostalgia has nothing to do with democracy but its wish for a progressive dictatorship under Obama. "So I threw the Lincoln analogy at a close aide to the President last week, and he said, 'You know, with this Republican -- with the way politics of Washington are today, there'd still be slavery,'" recounted reporter Chuck Todd recently. In previous impasses, the White House called Republicans hostage-takers. Now it is likening them to slaveholders. Maybe Chuck Todd picked up his morsel from Joe Biden, who said the Republicans would put Americans "back in chains."
This isn't the first time the White House has injected race into an economic debate. In his first term, Obama would use race to try and break Republican resistance to his budgets, saying once, apropos of nothing, "This country was founded on compromise. I couldn't go through the front door in this country's founding. And if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn't have a union."
The only species of servitude relevant to the fiscal cliff is the economic kind. Americans are looking at many years of involuntary labor as the debt mounts. Obama has no intention of erasing it. All his posturing is just an exercise in symbolic socialism: he wants a tax hike on the rich that wouldn't end up making the slightest dent in the debt. He is egging members of the middle class into joining him in this pointless politics of envy, but it will only backfire on them. The Democrats will raise taxes on the middle class once they get the chance. Though the Democrats now act like they authored Bush's middle-class tax cuts, they didn't support them at the time.
Federal taxation could turn into "continual plunder," warned the Founding Fathers. Even Alexander Hamilton, who downplayed such warnings in The Federalist Papers, would probably agree with that characterization were he alive today. Hamilton tried to reassure early colonists, who had seen their taxes used for the "vainglorious" pursuits of King George III, that federal taxation would never become a "hideous monster." But it has, and its claws will only grow sharper as China demands payment on the debt.
And as the economy sags, there will be less money for the government to take. Obama's tax hike is sure to hurt the economy, despite his aides' breezy predictions that it won't affect behavior. "The increases in the top two income tax brackets would put a drag on consumption," Michael Brown, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities, has told the press. But Obama, said Brown, thinks the other parts of his proposal would offset that drag on consumption. That is why he has stuffed it with $200 billion in "stimulus," including a $50 billion infrastructure bank to fund transportation projects.
So we are back to shovel-ready jobs as his envisioned economic catalyst. More taxes and more spending -- that is Obama's "compromise" position. It is no wonder Mitch McConnell laughed. Obama's olive branches look more like thorn bushes, which is what Republicans should expect from a community organizer who learned his economics and negotiating tactics from Saul Alinsky.