Obama on the Economy At The University of Michigan

One reason Republicans are often successful in getting people to vote counter to their interests (as well as counter to the interests of the United States) is by promoting a false impression of the views of others.  Republicans have been mischaracterizing Democratic objections to their policies to transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy as class warfare, when it has actually been the Republicans who have been practicing (and winning at) class warfare. Therefore I was happy to see that Barack Obama is directly responding to these false Republican arguments, such as at his recent speech at the University of Michigan.

After a call out to Denard Robinson and going for the easy applause line (“Go blue”) Obama talked about education and reviving the economy. The end of his speech presents a strong response to all the nonsense on the economy we have been hearing at the Republican debates:

THE PRESIDENT: Now, in the longer run, we’re also going to have to reduce our deficit.  We’ve got to invest in our future and we’ve got to reduce our deficit.  And to do both, we’ve got to make some choices.  Let me give you some examples.

Right now, we’re scheduled to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was intended to be a temporary tax cut for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  That’s not fair.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s not fair.  A quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households.

AUDIENCE:  Booo –

THE PRESIDENT:  Not fair.  Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.  I know because she was at the State of the Union.  She told me.  (Laughter.)  Is that fair?

AUDIENCE:  No!

THE PRESIDENT:  Does it make sense to you?

AUDIENCE:  No!

THE PRESIDENT:  Do we want to keep these tax cuts for folks like me who don’t need them?  Or do we want to invest in the things that will help us in the long term — like student loans and grants — (applause) — and a strong military — (applause) — and care for our veterans — (applause) — and basic research?  (Applause.)

Those are the choices we’ve got to make.  We can’t do everything.  We can’t reduce our deficit and make the investments we need at the same time, and keep tax breaks for folks who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them — well, some of them were asking for them.  I wasn’t asking for them.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got to choose.

When it comes to paying our fair share, I believe we should follow the Buffett Rule:  If you make more than $1 million a year — and I hope a lot of you do after you graduate — (laughter) — then you should pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent.  (Applause.)  On the other hand, if you decide to go into a less lucrative profession, if you decide to become a teacher — and we need teachers — (applause) — if you decide to go into public service, if you decide to go into a helping profession — (applause) — if you make less than $250,000 a year — which 98 percent of Americans do — then your taxes shouldn’t go up.  (Applause.)

This is part of the idea of shared responsibility.  I know a lot of folks have been running around calling this class warfare.  I think asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes is just common sense.  (Applause.)  Yesterday, Bill Gates said he doesn’t think people like him are paying enough in taxes.  I promise you, Warren Buffett is doing fine, Bill Gates is doing fine, I’m doing fine.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Koch Brothers.

THE PRESIDENT:  They’re definitely doing fine.  (Laughter.)

We don’t need more tax breaks.  There are a lot of families out there who are struggling, who’ve seen their wages stall, and the cost of everything from a college education to groceries and food have gone up.  You’re the ones who need that.  You’re the ones who need help.  And we can’t do both.

There have been some who have been saying, well, the only reason you’re saying that is because you’re trying to stir people up, make them envious of the rich.  People don’t envy the rich.  When people talk about me paying my fair share of taxes, or Bill Gates or Warren Buffett paying their fair share, the reason that they’re talking about it is because they understand that when I get a tax break that I don’t need, that the country can’t afford, then one of two things are going to happen:  Either the deficit will go up and ultimately you guys are going to have to pay for it, or alternatively, somebody else is going to foot the bill — some senior who suddenly has to pay more for their Medicare, or some veteran who’s not getting the help that they need readjusting after they have defended this country, or some student who’s suddenly having to pay higher interest rates on their student loans.

We do not begrudge wealth in this country.  I want everybody here to do well.  We aspire to financial success.  But we also understand that we’re not successful just by ourselves.  We’re successful because somebody started the University of Michigan.  (Applause.)  We’re successful because somebody made an investment in all the federal research labs that created the Internet.  We’re successful because we have an outstanding military — that costs money.  We’re successful because somebody built roads and bridges and laid broadband lines.  And these things didn’t just happen on their own.

And if we all understand that we’ve got to pay for this stuff, it makes sense for those of us who’ve done best to do our fair share.  And to try to pass off that bill onto somebody else, that’s not right.  That’s not who we are.  (Applause.)  That’s not what my grandparents’ generation worked hard to pass down.  That’s not what your grandparents and your great-grandparents worked hard to pass down.  We’ve got a different idea of America, a more generous America.  (Applause.)

Everybody here is only here because somebody somewhere down the road decided we’re going to think not just about ourselves, but about the future.  We’ve got responsibilities, yes, to ourselves but also to each other.  And now it’s our turn to be responsible.  Now it’s our turn to leave an America that’s built to last.  And I know we can do it.  We’ve done it before and I know we can do it again because of you.

When I meet young people all across this country, with energy and drive and vision, despite the fact that you’ve come of age during a difficult, tumultuous time in this world, it gives me hope.  You inspire me.  You’re here at Michigan because you believe in your future.  You’re working hard.  You’re putting in long hours — hopefully some at the library.  (Laughter.)  Some of you are balancing a job at the same time.  You know that doing big things isn’t always easy, but you’re not giving up.

You’ve got the whole world before you.  And you embody that sense of possibility that is quintessentially American.  We do not shrink from challenges.  We stand up to them.  And we don’t leave people behind; we make sure everybody comes along with us on this journey that we’re on.  (Applause.)

That’s the spirit right now that we need, Michigan.  (Applause.)  Here in America, we don’t give up.  We look out for each other.  We make sure everybody has a chance to get ahead.  And if we work in common purpose, with common resolve, we can build an economy that gives everybody a fair shot.  And we will remind the world just why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)