Spreading the wealth

SPREADING THE WEALTH…. Barack Obama’s tax plan must be pretty good, because the only attacks John McCain has come up with are fanciful nonsense.

To hear McCain/Palin tell it, Obama supports “socialism” and his plan to cut taxes on the middle class and lower-income families amounts to “welfare.” The idea of “spreading the wealth around,” the argument goes, is Karl Marx’s dream.

There are obviously multiple angles to this, not the least of which is the notion that the Ayers attack hasn’t had the desired effect, and the McCain gang needed a new smear, preferably one that a) sounds scary; and b) involves the economy in some way. A spectacularly stupid “red scare” fits the bill.

Josh Marshall noted, accurately, that the “welfare” talk is almost certainly driven by racial animus. Indeed, it almost has to be — both Obama and McCain are offering refundable tax credits as part of their economic plans. It’s pretty obvious McCain just wants to use the world “welfare” the way Republicans did throughout the 1980s — as a racially divisive code word.

For that matter, what’s the opposite of “spreading” the wealth? Concentrating it, which is effectively what McCain wants to do with his own economic plan — keep as much wealth as possible at the top, and wait for it to trickle down. Jonathan Cohn had a terrific item, explaining why “spreading the wealth” is a perfectly sound and reasonable approach to tax policy, and pointed to Adam Smith for support.

But to tie it all together, consider the speech Obama is scheduled to deliver in Fayetteville, North Carolina, today.

“Lately, [McCain] and Governor Palin have actually accused me of — get this — socialism. John McCain just repeated the charge again this morning. And you know why? Because I want to give a tax cut to the middle class — a tax cut to 95% of American workers. These are folks who work hard every single day and get payroll taxes taken out of their paycheck every single week. These are the teachers and janitors who work in our schools. They’re the cops and firefighters who keep us safe. They’re the waitresses who work double shifts, the cashiers at Wal-Mart, the plumbers fighting for the American Dream. John McCain thinks that giving these Americans a break is socialism. Well I call it opportunity, and there is nothing more American than that.

“If John McCain wants to talk about redistributing wealth to those who don’t need it and don’t deserve it, let’s talk about the $700,000 tax cut he wants to give Fortune 500 CEOs, who’ve been making out like bandits — some of them literally. Let’s talk about the $300 billion he wants to give to the same Wall Street banks that got us into this mess. Let’s talk about the $4 billion he wants to give oil companies like Exxon-Mobil or the $200 billion he wants to give the biggest corporations in America. Let’s talk about the 100 million middle-class Americans who John McCain doesn’t want to give a single dime of tax relief. Don’t tell me that CEOs and oil companies deserve a tax break before the men and women who are working overtime day after day and still can’t pay the bills. That’s not right, and that’s not change.

“I promise you this — not only will the middle class get a tax cut under my plan, but if you make less than $250,000 a year — which includes 98 percent of small business owners — you won’t see your taxes increase one single dime. Not your payroll taxes, not your income taxes, not your capital gains taxes — nothing. That is my commitment to you.

“Here’s the truth, North Carolina. This debate — and this election — comes down to what we value. In the America I know, we don’t just value wealth, we value the work and workers who create it.

“For the last eight years, we have tried it John McCain’s way. We have tried it George Bush’s way. We’ve given more and more to those with the most and hoped that prosperity would trickle down to everyone else. And guess what? It didn’t. So it’s time try something new. It’s time to grow this economy from the bottom-up. It’s time to invest in the middle-class again.”

I can appreciate the thinking behind McCain’s attacks. He wants to characterize Obama as some kind of extremist, and “socialist” is one of those tried-and-false smears Republicans have been using for decades. But it’s a foolish strategy, as evidenced by Obama’s remarks — McCain has put himself in a position where Obama gets to defend a middle-class tax cut that McCain is attacking. What genius on McCain’s staff came up with that idea?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.