The Unbearable Lightness of Being Barack Obama

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So my favorite part of the entire Georgetown poverty discussion was when the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks- alone against the President of the United States, a leading public intellectual/academic and a moderator sympathetic to their point of view- nevertheless took their best shot and then put them on the canvass.

President Obama laid out an indictment about a tax-dodge for hedge fund managers, how he had sought to close this loophole in order to tax hedge fund managers at the normal rate, and that he had planned to invest the additional revenue in high-return fashion to advantage poor children. Sounds pretty damning, unless you can think. Arthur Brooks can think:

MR. BROOKS:  Yes, sure.  Fine.  These are show issues.  Corporate jets are show issues.  Carried interest is a show issue.  The real issue?  Middle-class entitlements — 70 percent of the federal budget.  That’s where the real money is.  And the truth of the matter is until we can take that on — if we want to make progress, if the left and right want to make progress politically as they put together budgets, they’re going to have to make progress on that. 

Now, if we want to create — if we want to increase taxes on carried interest, I mean, that’s fine for me — not that I can speak for everybody, certainly not everybody on the Republican side. 

So if we want to make progress, I think let’s decide that we have a preference — I mean, let’s have a rumble over how much money we’re spending on public goods for poor people, for sure.  And Republicans should say, I want to spend money on programs for the poor, but I think these ones are counterproductive and I think these ones are ineffective, and Democrats should say, no they’re not, we’ve never done them right and they’ve always been underfunded.  I want to have that competition of ideas.  That’s really productive.

But we can’t even get to that when politicians on the left and the right are conspiring to not touch middle-class entitlements, because we’re looking at it in terms of the right saying all the money is gone on this, and the left saying all we need is a lot more money on top of these things — when most people who are looking at it realize that this is an unsustainable path.  It’s an unsustainable path for lots of things, not just programs for the poor.  We can’t adequately fund our military. 

I think you and I would have a tremendous amount of agreement about the misguided notion of the sequester, for lots of reasons, because we can’t spend money on purpose.  And that’s what we need to do.  And when we’re on an automatic path to spend tons of money in entitlements that are leading us to fiscal unsustainability, we can’t get to these progressive conversations where conservatives and liberals really disagree and can work together, potentially, to help poor people and defend our nation.

I’m forming the Arthur Brooks fan club over here by the way. Obama, Putnam and Dionne are no match for him.

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