TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, August 29, 2008

Tax Portions of Barack Obama's Acceptance Speech

Here are the tax portions of Barack Obama's amazing acceptance speech at last night's Democratic Convention:

  • Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under $5 million a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies, but not one penny of tax relief to more than 100 million Americans?
  • How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement? ...
  • Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.
  • You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.
  • You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America. ...
  • I will -- listen now -- I will cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95 percent of all working families, because, in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class. ...
  • Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime: by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. ...
  • I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer, and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected, because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters.

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The $5 million comment wasn't a high point; it was actually the biggest misstep in the speech. IMHO, Obama had too much of a partisan edge for middle-of-the-road viewers, and this was the clearest example. It is normal for candidates to attack straw men, but a nomination speech is a bad place to present an obvious distortion. Without the partisan edge the speech would have been absolutely brilliant.

In case you didn't see the Rick Warren "debate", below is what McCain actually said, from the transcript at

McCain predicted that his humorous remark would be distorted, and Obama proved him right about that:

REV. WARREN: Okay, on taxes, define "rich." Everybody talks about, you know, taxing the rich but not the poor, the middle class. At what point -- give me a number. Give me a specific number. Where do you move from middle class to rich? Is it $100,000? Is it $50,000? Is it $200,000? How does anybody know if we don't know what the standards are?

SEN. MCCAIN: Some of the richest people I've ever known in my life are the most unhappy. I think that rich should be defined by a home, a good job, an education, and the ability to hand to our children a more prosperous and safer world than the one that we inherited.

I don't want to take any money from the rich. I want everybody to get rich. (Laughter.) I don't believe in class warfare or redistribution of wealth. But I can tell you, for example, there are small businessmen and women who are working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, that some people would classify as, quote, "rich," my friends, and want to raise their taxes and want to raise their payroll taxes.

Let's have -- keep taxes low. Let's give every family in America a $7,000 tax credit for every child they have. Let's give them a $5,000 refundable tax credit to go out and get the health insurance of their choice. Let's not have the government take over the health care system in America. (Applause.)

So I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million? (Laughter.) So, no, but seriously, I don't think you can -- I don't think, seriously, that -- the point is that I'm trying to make here, seriously -- and I'm sure that comment will be distorted -- (laughter) -- but the point is, the point is, the point is that we want to keep people's taxes low and increase revenues.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Aug 29, 2008 10:49:34 AM

How does he expect to do all this and lower taxes?

Posted by: Shawn | Aug 29, 2008 3:27:19 PM

From a logic perspective, Obama was right. I read the McCain transcript and he *did* say that $5 million income was the number that answered the interviewer's question, namely: was number divides the rich from the middle class? So, Obama was correct.

Posted by: Gautam Saxena | Sep 6, 2008 5:56:00 PM

Has Obama actually thought about what the trickle down effect will be by taxing the "rich" in America? He is talking about raising taxes to 50% for people making over $250,000 a year. As someone who falls in that bracket, I can tell you that I will then fire my housekeeper, yard man, and babysitter. I will also not eat out as much, therefore, hurting the "waitress" he is supposedly supporting. I, along with other members of my group, which all make over $250,000 a year, have discussed just working less so as to not make enough to fit in that tax bracket. He is hurt the "lower" class Americans who are all being paid by the "rich" Americans and in turn help promote more government dependence. He is rewarding mediocrity, and punishing success. Why would people go to school for 4-12 years after high school and make huge sacrifices, work lots of hours, take risks, start businesses, invent things, etc., if they can get the same pay or result by just working an unskilled job, or for that matter, not working at all. Why would I work 60 and 80 hours a week and have half my paycheck taken away, if I can basically sit at home all day and make nearly the same by cashing a government check? It's dangerous and it's socialism - and it's been proven to not work.

Posted by: A. Stewart | Sep 11, 2008 9:15:45 PM