Political Animal


April 16, 2012 1:00 PM It is About Redistribution

By Jesse Singal

It’s a little bit frustrating that President Obama feels the need to talk in these sorts of terms:

CARTAGENA, Colombia—President Barack Obama argued Sunday that his calls for wealthier Americans to pay a greater share of taxes aren’t about sharing the wealth, but about getting the American economy on a path for solid growth.
“That is not an argument about redistribution. That is an argument about growth,” Obama said in response to a reporter’s question at a news conference in Colombia. “In the history of the United States, we grow best when our growth is broad based.”

A major purpose of government is taxation and redistribution (not just from the rich to the poor). That’s just a fact. I know the term has now been dragged through the mud for awhile by the GOP, and I know that the campaign is heating up. But is Obama really ready to give up on a rather basic reality which, when deployed with forethought, can be politically effective?

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.


  • SadOldVet on April 16, 2012 1:06 PM:

    But is Obama really ready to give up on a rather basic reality which, when deployed with forethought, can be politically effective?

    Why not? He did not earn his title as Capitulator-In-Chief without cause.

  • RalfW on April 16, 2012 1:08 PM:

    Sorry, Jesse, but that's the sort of one-sided disarmament that has gotten Democrats creamed in about 62-bazillionty elections.

  • Foobar on April 16, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Ever since the origin of a progressive tax system in the US -- starting in January 2009 apparently -- that the country has ANY type of tax proves that the current Admin is implementing its marxi-commi-kenyan power grab.

    I understand the admin's desire to "distance" itself from redistribution language considering the Joe TheLiar Plumber intentional misread by the Right (and the meedeeuh) that got so much traction. The sadly funny point there was that BHO & Joe were not talking about taking Joe's earnings and "giving it" away. They were talking about a lower tax rate for those that earned less so that more people could save so that more people could open/grow businesses so that there would be more Joe The Plumber companies hiring more people.

  • RP on April 16, 2012 1:19 PM:

    I strongly disagree. In a perfect world most americans would understand taxation and redistribution wouldn't be a dirty word, but that's simply not how things are. As a result, arguing in favor of redistributing is accepting GOP framing. I've been hoping for a long time that Dems would take control of the tax debate by reframing it exactly as Obama is: this is about helping the economy, not about punishing the wealthy or redistributing wealth just for the fun of it.

  • zandru on April 16, 2012 1:28 PM:


    I can't conceive of ANY way that "redistributing the wealth" is going to catch on, with anyone. Better phrases:

    * each of us paying our fair share
    * each of us contributing fairly to this nation and its needs, its growth
    * "Americans need to know that their tax system is fair" (the esteemed Ronald Reagan)
    * building and re-building America takes everyone pitching in, not just the middle class and poor

    When you say "redistribute", it literally means taking from some to give to others. It translates politically as taking from those who have (the hard workers) to those who have been too lazy to support even themselves. This is just a fact. So, in talking about increasing revenue, it's critical - absolutely critical - to harp on the shared benefits we all derive from a nation where children are educated, a modern infrastructure makes commerce efficient, products - including banks - must meet minimum standards of safety and disclosure, etc.

    This is NOT "redistribution" - it's rebuilding and maintaining the nation as a whole.

  • Terp on April 16, 2012 1:41 PM:

    Totally disagree. For one thing, it's terrible politics to use a term that is associated with communism by the average voter. But it isn't even accurate. "Redistribution" suggests taking from one person and giving to another. What a progressive tax system does is take according to the ability to pay and providing for services everyone (defense, law enforcement, health, education, etc.).

  • Mitch on April 16, 2012 1:56 PM:

    I've given up all hope for true progressive taxation. Hell, at this point I would be happy if the plutocracy were only paying the same percentage of taxes as myself.

    How can ANYONE defend people like Mitt Romney paying his 15%, while cubicle monkeys like me pay double that or more? How can ANYONE defend the massive corporations (especially in the oil industry) who pay NOTHING—and in many cases are given cash by the truckload of taxpayer dime?

    IMHO Obama would be better off if "...his calls for wealthier Americans to pay a greater share of taxes aren’t about sharing the wealth," but about getting wealthier Americans to pay at the same percent as the struggling middle class.

    It's not Redistribution; it's playing fair.

  • Steve on April 16, 2012 2:00 PM:

    Part of "deploying an argument with forethought" involves having the forethought to avoid buzzwords that can be easily caricatured.

  • FlipYrWhig on April 16, 2012 2:32 PM:

    Giving up on the "reality" is entirely different from giving up on the _rhetoric_. When people opposed to abortion decided to call themselves "pro-life," were they giving up on stopping abortion, or were they giving up on the clear phrase "anti-abortion" to fight a murkier but more appealing fight for "life"? This item is willfully obtuse.

  • June on April 16, 2012 2:37 PM:

    For goodness sakes, Jesse Singal, put down the grad student textbooks long enough to breathe in some real-world air. Re-framing an issue does not by any stretch equate to meaning one is "ready to give up on a rather basic reality." Who has pushed the Buffett Rule? Who has brought this whole conversation to the forefront in the first place? And as others here have asked, in what world would the meme of "re-distribution" successfully play out in 2012 America?

  • Cha on April 16, 2012 3:00 PM:

    Thank you, June! It's about everyone paying their FAIR SHARE OF TAXES.

    SadOl'vet... really? Your cheap shots at our President are really just pathetic.

  • Joe Buck on April 16, 2012 3:01 PM:

    We live in the world of Citizens United, and it's one dollar, one vote. Obama isn't talking to us here, he's talking to the billionaires, trying to convince them that letting a bit more trickle down to the non-wealthy is good for their bottom line. The investor class cares only about the growth of their investments and nothing else, because noblesse oblige went out with Nelson Rockefeller.

  • Kathryn on April 16, 2012 3:01 PM:

    June said it best.

  • Cha on April 16, 2012 3:03 PM:

    P.S. I Miss Steven Benen!

  • rk on April 16, 2012 3:23 PM:

    If the argument is made on terms of redistribution or deficit reduction it fails. The first ultimately plays into the hands of the Fox News crowd where complete confiscation of the wealth of a few is required to support the nation. The second fails on arithmetic; the rich simply don't have enough money to fill the hole bequeathed to us by George W Bush and crowd. The argument succeeds on economic growth and has history to support it. We have 80 years of macroeconomic data, we need to use it.

  • Texas Aggie on April 16, 2012 9:39 PM:

    The basic question is who will better use a particular wad of cash to help the nation grow and advance by investing the money in the country's future. On one side, the filthy rich who would sock the money away in an off-shore account in the Bahamas, or on the other side, the government that would spend the money to provide roads, sewage systems, electrical distribution systems, teachers, cops, fire fighters, food inspection, and all the other things that make our country work.