Nothing that House and Senate Republicans and would be ex-officio Republican kingpin Rush Limbaugh have said or done to torpedo President Obama's program has worked. So why not try one more thing, red baiting. In quick succession South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, one time Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and the more loonier House Republicans, Michelle Bachman and Zach Wamp have lambasted President Obama as the second coming of V.I. Lenin. Their silly, discredited, and thoroughly desperate commie slur of Obama is not new.
Midway through the campaign, fast-fading Republican rival John McCain, egged on by the Fox Network hit team, grabbed at a horribly outdated interview in 2001 in which then-Illinois Senator Obama told a Chicago radio station that he favored "redistributive change." He tweaked the Supreme Court for not doing more to make that happen. McCain and Fox screamed red. Obama was making the point that breaking down the barriers of Jim Crow segregation was a pyrrhic victory without decent jobs and income for poor blacks and Latinos. Civil rights leaders for years said pretty much the same thing and that's that the goal of the civil rights movement revolution was incomplete without an economic boost to the poor. Mercifully, the red tar of Obama got no traction.
This didn't stop a swelling pack of bloggers, web pundits, and conservative talk jocks from launching a shrill campaign of Kremlin taunts and baiting of Obama. Obama's big spending plan to ratchet up the economy, pay for jobs, expanded education and health care, and to hit the rich harder to pay for these has sent them into hysteria.
The red taint ploy fell flat during the campaign and it will fall flat again. Recent reports on wealth and income show that the staggering gap between rich and poor has grown even wider in the near decade since Obama casually uttered the term "redistributive wealth." A recent poll by of all places the Fox Network found that by big margins Americans say that making the rich pay a bigger share of their income in taxes isn't a bad idea. They agree that the tax system is way out of whack and that those from the Wall Street fast buck artists to tax dodging corporate executives wallow in obscene wealth while the poor get poorer and the middle-class get soaked.
Even a majority of Republicans agree that the rich can and should pay more.
Still, the red baiting bunch have managed to get some media play. And that's no surprise. The American economic sacred cow is that laissez-faire wealth is tantamount to a divine right of kings, and any attempt to touch it is economic heresy. In the past anyway, politicians knew that's it was the kiss of death to be seen as an advocate for making the rich pay more.
GOP presidents and presidential candidates for decades ritually played the tax-and-spend card to brand their Democratic rivals as dangers to middle-class wage earners. This stoked fear that underneath the Democrat's supposed taxing and spending that not only would the rich be hammered but the poor would be the beneficiaries. The wealth taking scare has worked in the past because wealth and income iniquities are so great, and the notion that there's nothing wrong with those iniquities is so deeply entrenched in the tax policy, philosophy and politics of the GOP and many Democrats.
Any talk of putting more wealth into the hands of the non-wealthy in the way of tax cuts, a Social Security tax increase on upper income wage earners, capital gain increases, and closing tax shelter loopholes will always draw swift and long shrieks from more than a few wealthy individuals and corporations. This is plainly regarded as wealth redistribution downward.
Democrats and Independent politicians from Upton Sinclair to Huey Long to Ralph Nader have railed against the top heavy wealth of the relative handful. They have been routinely branded as crackpots or socialists, and then quickly politically marginalized. In his wink and nod hint that there was a red taint to Obama, McCain simply snatched at the formula that GOP contenders have typically used. DeMint, Huckabee, and the wacky fringe House Republicans Republicans are just doing more of the same now.
Obama ridicules all such talk that his economic program is out of the pale and mocks the GOP self-appointed de facto boss Limbaugh who has whipped up the pack against the supposed socialist leaning tax and spend Obama. However, President Obama must be mindful that as the tax battle heats up over how and who will bankroll his job, health, housing and education programs, he'll hear the smear again. The red red bait card is just too tempting and time tested not to play, especially by a party that doesn't have much else going for it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).