President Obama went on the political offensive Wednesday by reviving the old class warfare enmity he hopes will excite the liberal base of his party, while accusing Republicans of playing politics with our nation's economic future.
But who was really playing politics in Washington this week? The Republicans, who believe we have to get deadly serious about a national debt approaching $15 trillion and cut spending? Or Obama, who thinks now is the time to start bashing American corporations, owners of private jets, mutual hedge funds, the oil industry, and just about anyone who happens to be wealthy?
First, let's get several things straight, if only to put the president's desperate, election-cycle outbursts into some kind of political context:
The Gallup Poll earlier this week said Obama's job approval score had dropped to 43 percent, with nearly 50 percent saying they disapproved of his performance. Several polls showed that about six in 10 disapprove of his handling of the economy, and 75 percent of Americans think the country is still in a recession.
Both Gallup and voter exit polls have shown that Obama has lost the support of independents who helped elect him, and many Democrats aren't as enthused about him as they once were. The party's base is dispirited. There are reports that his once-mighty fundraising prowess is now a struggle among the big-money people who backed him in 2008 and that he will need again if he is to raise the $1 billion his advisers say it will take to win a second term.
As he nears the halfway mark in the third year of his presidency, the U.S. economy remains -- choose your own description -- anemic, weak, fragile, mediocre. The Federal Reserve says this economy is not growing at the rate it had hoped, slowing down to a crippling 1.9 percent, the economic equivalent of virtually standing still.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, like Herbert Hoover, keeps saying stronger growth is just around the corner, but now he sounds less certain of that.
This snail's-pace growth translates into a bleak, recession-like jobs environment (only 54,000 jobs created in May) that has pushed unemployment up to more than 9 percent nationally and into the double-digit range in states both large and small.
The Conference Board Consumer Research Center reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index fell to a seven-month low of 58.5 in June, down from 61.7 in May, a 3.2 drop. A score of 90 is considered healthy, but the index hasn't been in that range since 2007 under George W. Bush.
In other words, things aren't going well for Obama, and he knows it. But he thinks he can shift the blame to the House Republicans, ignoring the fact that the Senate is controlled by the Democrats, and that his big-spending policies and failed stimulus scheme are responsible for the country's lethargic economy and shrinking job market.
So, with the economy heading south, his presidency turning sour and his re-election prospects in doubt, he is playing the only political hand he has left: class warfare.
He is insisting that any deficit-cutting deal on raising the debt limit law must come with higher taxes on businesses, investors and all upper-income Americans, policies the Republicans believe will only further weaken an economy that is struggling to get back on its feet.
Bear in mind, this isn't an economic argument to spur job-creating private investment, capital formation and the level of risk-taking that is at the core of a growing economy. It's a political attack, pure and simple, on the Republicans.
"He accused Republicans -- no fewer than six times -- of favoring corporate jet owners over average folks in the party's refusal to consider tax increases as part of a deficit deal," The Washington Post notably pointed out on its front page Thursday.
Company jets are a tax-deductible business expense just like any other cost of doing business, but denying corporations that tax benefit will not make a dent in the government's massive public debt.
This isn't intelligent-growth economics. It is demagoguery of the worst kind, charging that any tax break that benefits big business -- among the nation's largest employers -- is bad for average, middle-class Americans, 14 million of whom are looking for a job.
Obama's budget-cutting commission last year called for ending a number of loopholes and tax breaks in the tax revenue code in order to broaden the tax base and bring down corporate tax rates that are the second-highest in the industrialized world.
But he isn't calling for any permanent reduction in business tax rates to boost economic expansion and higher employment. He's flogging a politically divisive class-war issue in an attempt to rescue his faltering presidency.
Even more hypocritical, Obama is criticizing House Republicans for taking too many recesses when the country is looking for action to get America moving again, something no one can disagree with. But the Democratic Senate was taking next week off, something he did not mention, until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid canceled the recess Thursday, and he's been on the fundraising circuit virtually nonstop to build his bankroll for the 2012 election.
Meantime, the economy is sputtering, millions of Americans are jobless, poverty and homelessness are rising, and the president is playing politics.