We’re all redistributionists now


With the Romney campaign running into quite a bit of trouble over the last week, it was probably inevitable that Republicans would try to unveil a new shiny object. And right on cue, one came along yesterday in the form of an audio clip of Barack Obama speaking in 1998.

Mitt Romney was eager to bring it up during an interview on Fox News.

For those who can’t watch clips online, Romney, hoping to draw a contrast with Obama, said, “[F]rankly, we have two very different views about America. The president’s view is one of a larger government. There is a tape that just came out today where the president is saying he likes redistribution. I disagree.”

Yes, we’re back to talking about redistribution of wealth. Again. To put it mildly, the right was very excited about this yesterday, hoping a 14-year-old comment would become a massive scandal, overshadowing Romney’s disdain for nearly half the country, whom the Republican considers lazy freeloaders.

But this new “revelation” offers more heat than light. If you listen to the 1998 remarks, you’ll notice that Obama, at the time, acknowledged the legitimacy of some conservative criticism of government – he was pragmatic and even-handed, even 14 years ago – before saying, “I believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody has got a shot.”

The “r” word, in conservative circles, is synonymous with some kind of radical communism. I’d like to think adults having a reasonable conversation can get past this nonsense.

Indeed, the right doesn’t want to hear this, but they “believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level,” too. Few concepts are as interwoven into the American fabric as the notion of redistributing wealth. As Jon Chait noted, “It sounds scary, even though highly popular programs like progressive taxation, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and many others are explicitly designed to foster redistribution.”

Most of modern society involves redistribution. When we tax homeowners to pay for schools, that’s an example of redistributing wealth. When workers give up some of their income to the state to pay for law enforcement and roads, that’s wealth redistribution, too.

The Paul Ryan budget plan is arguably the most ambitious “redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history.”

And yet, by some accounts, this will be the new Romney/Ryan plaything in the coming weeks, even though it didn’t work four years ago, in large part because the Republican campaign doesn’t think highly of Americans’ intellects.

Wealth, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama

We're all redistributionists now