I Guess it Depends on the Meaning of "Absolutely not a tax increase"


If you only glanced at Jesse Walker's one-sentence description this morning of the Obama administration stating that the health care mandate is indeed a tax, and did not click through to the New York Times article, you are missing out on some seriously stinky White House propaganda. Here is the core five-paragraph lie; seems that the mandate is "absolutely not a tax increase"…unless you have to defend it in a court of law:

In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is "a valid exercise" of Congress's power to impose taxes.

Congress can use its taxing power "even for purposes that would exceed its powers under other provisions" of the Constitution, the department said. For more than a century, it added, the Supreme Court has held that Congress can tax activities that it could not reach by using its power to regulate commerce.

While Congress was working on the health care legislation, Mr. Obama refused to accept the argument that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was equivalent to a tax.

"For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase," the president said last September, in a spirited exchange with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program "This Week."

When Mr. Stephanopoulos said the penalty appeared to fit the dictionary definition of a tax, Mr. Obama replied, "I absolutely reject that notion."

This bit of brazen bullshittery has retroactive implications on the 2008 presidential campaign. Back then, according to the political science thumbsucker The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election, John McCain–surprisingly–had some momentum in mid-October that threatened to put him within striking distance. The proximate cause? Obama's "share the wealth" comment to Joe the Plumber, and the resulting suspicion that the Democrat was a "tax-and-spend liberal." How did Obama rebut what turned out to be a prescient charge? The book identifies three ways:

1) By "consistently stat[ing] that only those couples and businesses making more than $250,000 would see a tax increase."

2) By "hammer[ing] home the misleading assertion…that, if elected, the Republican presidential contender would raise most people's taxes by making employer-provided health benefits taxable for the first time."

3) By leveraging Obama's massive fundraising advantage to broadcast a series of reassuring messages to the nation that made him look presidential and reiterated his many soon-to-be-broken economic policy promises. The two- and 30-minute spots were called "Defining Moment," and if you have a strong stomach, you can watch the shorter version below:

The Obama campaign also was able to take advantage of what the book almost charitably describes as "McCain's uneven performance during the early days of the Wall Street meltdown."

So to sum up: McCain accurately dings Obama for being a tax-raiser. Obama responds by reiterating tax pledges he wouldn't keep, while specifically (and "misleadingly") attacking McCain for raising taxes with his health care plan. The ruse works–for most of the campaign, opinion polls showed that more people believed McCain was likely to raise taxes than Obama. Then, after the election, when Obama's successfully passed health care plan imposes a new tax, he denies this fact in literally absolutist terms, until his administration is challenged to defend it in court.

It's breathtaking. And not in the good way.

A final note about the book I'm taking this stuff from: The authors, Kate Kenski, Bruce W. Hardy and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, are altogether credulous when it comes to defending Obama against McCain's charges. For instance, they state that "McCain's messages magnified public belief in the false argument that the Democratic ticket would raise taxes on more than those specified in his plans." It is perhaps not surprising, then, that when Jamieson was invited by The New York Times to give the president some advice over the weekend, the title on her squib was "Explain Broken Promises."

Reason has been all over the mandate/tax propaganda; start here.