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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Ask

Our chapter on the presidency discusses the rhetoric of chief executives. Yesterday, President Obama said that his deficit plan "asks the most fortunate among us to pay their fair share, just like everybody else."

He borrowed this phrasing from President Clinton. A few examples:
  • Remarks to OMB, 2/3/93: "Before I ask working Americans to work harder and pay more, I will ask the economic elite, who made more money and paid less in taxes, to pay their fair share."
  • Radio address, 2/6/93: "Then we'll ask the people who have benefited most from the eighties to give something back to their country. While most Americans paid higher taxes on lower real incomes, the privileged few paid lower taxes on much higher real incomes. We're going to ask them now to pay their fair share, along with corporations whose tax burden has been dramatically reduced in the last 12 years."
  • Remarks at Detroit town hall, 2/10/93: "I have also said that before I ask the middle class to pay, I'm going to ask the wealthiest Americans and companies who made money in the eighties and had their taxes cut to pay their fair share."
  • Radio address, 5/29/93: " We also asked the wealthy to pay their fair share because they are able to pay more and because in the last 12 years taxes have gone down on the wealthy as their incomes have gone up."
In all of these passages, the key verb is "ask." In his 1994 book, The Agenda, Bob Woodward quoted a 1993 comment by Robert Rubin, then director of the National Economic Council (and later Treasury Secretary): "And you can't say, we're going to make the rich pay more taxes. That sounds like it's coming out of the barrel of a gun. You've got to say, we will ask the well-to-do to pay their share."