Editor's Note: Tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. ET for Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
After months of meandering, it seems President Barack Obama's re-election campaign has settled on a theme. The problem is - it's the wrong one.
The "Buffett Rule" tax on millionaires has become Obama's bumper sticker. The proposal is reasonable - but it does not deserve the attention Obama is showering on it. It raises a trivial sum of money - $47 billion over the next 10 years - during which period the federal government will spend $45 trillion. It adds one more layer to a tax code that is already the most complex and corrupt in the industrialized world.
The focus on the Buffett Rule is also bad politics in the long run for Obama. While polls might momentarily show that it works, Americans are generally aspirational, not envious. Over the years voters tend to support a government that focuses on creating opportunity rather than one that tries to reduce inequality. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair's great feat was to position themselves as pro-market, pro-growth, pro-opportunity progressives. Obama should not fritter away that asset.
Ironically, Obama has been pivoting at the very moment events in the real world are providing him with the perfect campaign issue. We are four years into the financial crisis. In the United States, the government acted speedily and massively to stimulate the economy, using monetary and fiscal measures. In Europe, by contrast, governments quickly turned toward austerity programs, cutting spending across the board to reduce budget deficits.
Well, the results are in: The U.S. economy is expected to grow 2 to 3 percent this year. The euro zone is expected to contract by 0.3 percent this year; Spain and Britain have officially entered a double-dip recession, the first time major economies have done so in 40 years. IMF projections show that even Germany's average growth rate over the next five years will be only 40 percent of America's.
President Obama started the year speaking of "an economy built to last." He should return to this theme and frame this campaign as a choice between investments on the one hand and budget cuts on the other. And he has substance behind his rhetoric.
Obama has proposed several important investment initiatives: a $476 billion infrastructure plan; a 5% hike in research and development spending; a job-training program to help dislocated workers; incentives for manufacturing; funds to expand the pool of college graduates and to increase science and engineering students. So, he should ask Americans to choose between these investments to create long-term growth versus massive budget cuts.
In the midst of the economic crisis, Warren Buffet said that his strategy was to invest in America. That's the Buffett Rule Obama should follow.
Tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. ET for Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.