"It turns out Obama really is the black Kennedy—but he's not Jack, he's Teddy," is how one economic conservative, in a chat with me, riffed on the common description of Barack Obama as the "black JFK."
What did he mean by that crack? This: Despite Obama's impressive oratorical skills and tremendous likability, his actual policy proposals are pretty much what Democrats have been running on for a generation: higher taxes on labor, capital, and corporations. (Recall that JFK pushed for sweeping income tax cuts.) More government involvement in healthcare. More regulation of business. Skepticism about free trade.
Now for a while there, people were touting Obama as the "Democratic Reagan," a liberal candidate who could fundamentally change the direction of the country while also bringing in voters who might disagree with him on policy but liked his optimism and "American-do" attitude. Indeed, many Republican activists I talked to worried greatly a few months back that Obama could win a huge victory next fall if he captured the nomination this spring. Those folks still think John McCain has an uphill battle in the general, but fears of an Obama deluge have greatly dissipated.
And it's not just the Wright-Ayers axis at work here. It's more that there's nothing particularly post-partisan or post-liberal about Obamanomics. (A cheer goes up from the folks at the Daily Kos.) There are no economic policy proposals that would make you raise an eyebrow and say, " Whoa, did a Democratic presidential candidate really just propose that?" (McCainomics, on the other hand, might leave your face stuck in a permanently surprised state. A cheer does not go up from folks at Red State.)
For instance, it would be so easy for Obama to come out for a big cut in the corporate tax rate. America currently has the second highest in the world, and a surprising number of Democrats think it's a big problem. In a recent chat with me, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, declared that he was "ready to do lower corporate taxes." Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel has proposed a cut in the corporate rate as did John Kerry during the 2004 election. And here is what economic analyst Sherle Schwenninger of the New America Foundation, a center-left think tank, told me recently:
You are going to have to lower the cost of doing business in the United States first and foremost by cutting the corporate income tax and perhaps even slashing it to zero over a period of time to make the U.S. a more attractive location.
Indeed, liberals in other nations have pushed lower corporate taxes for international competitiveness reasons while relying on income taxes as the preferred way to redistribute wealth. Heck, Obama could even "pay" for the cut through the $100 billion a year the government stands to take in from the cap-and-auction system it wants to force on business as a way of dealing with carbon emissions. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if this is one potential area of compromise between the next president and Congress.