Strategy 101: Obama, taxes, and political fault lines

On fiscal grounds, the Buffet Rule falls short on delivery. According to Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation, it would collect a mere $47 billion over 10 years – very little compared to the projected federal deficits of $7 trillion over that same period.
 
Alongside this millionaire tax, the president also renewed his call for ending tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000. Enacted during President George W. Bush's first term, those cuts are due to expire at the end of this year.
 
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Obama’s tax increase calls capped a week filled with unwelcome news about another form of tax rate – corporate tax. The United States now leads the developed world with the highest corporate tax rate, overtaking Japan just on Sunday.
 
On this backdrop and amid a slow recovery, one must wonder why Obama is pushing for higher tax rates and expending political capital that is unlikely to yield any legislative return.
 
The answer lies in the president’s campaign strategy. It has nothing to do with actually getting any of these tax increases passed any time soon. Or, for that matter, reducing the budget deficit. In fact, if this was about the deficit, why focus on a mere $47 billion reduction over 10 years when the Bush-era tax cuts repeal alone could account for $600 to $900 billion over that same period?
 
Obama is outlining the presidential election’s ideological battleground. With about eight months left until election day, and with Mitt Romney as his likely Republican opponent, President Obama is drawing the political fault lines between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
 
The strategy is simple: draw clear political and ideological fault lines between you and your opponent, shake the electoral ground, and hope for a landslide in your favor and one which buries your opponent.
 
In his radio address, Obama said it was time "to stop giving tax breaks to people who don't need them." By people, he meant Romney – a multi-millionaire who pays a lot less in tax than he allegedly should. Sure, he is also a successful businessman, but one who is depicted as out of touch with everyday, hard-working Americans.
 
To Obama and his White House, it is the national conversation around tax increases that matters. With a likely opponent in Romney who struggles to identify with average Americans – and amid gaffes in trying to do so – Obama hopes to leverage the class warfare-rich political discourse to alienate voters away from his opponent. It is an age-old approach that this president believes it will work.
 
Unless, of course, Republicans and likely-nominee Mitt Romney and his campaign team can craft and deliver a message that exposes and exploits inherent flaws in Obama’s campaign strategy and message.
 
The reality when it comes to taxes, particularly without meaningful action on reducing spending, has to do not only with the size of government, but much more. It is about shifting investment decision-making from the private sector to the government. It is no longer just about income redistributive programs. It is about whether to invest in one specific industry as opposed to another – or even investing in one company and not another. It is, in other words, governing à la socialiste – politicians and bureaucrats decide the fate of private industry.
 
But these can appear lofty ideological goals in times of economic hardship. It will be no easy task for Republicans to explain them to voters. That task can only be achieved through a clear and precise message and an impeccable and flawless delivery. All of which seem to be lacking in this GOP presidential primary race.

Nino Saviano is a Republican strategist and consultant.

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