Barackrobatics 101: It's a Tax, Max

For some reason, Pun Salad has long been fascinated with the rhetoric of President Obama and his minions. One of our early catches was his use of the word "dime", on which we blogged here, here, here, and most recently here. It's safe to say that when the President says "dime", it's a signal that the truth content of his speech is about to plummet.

And the indicator remains reliable: Obama was in Boston on Sunday, trying to resuscitate the Senate candidacy of Martha Coakley. Somewhere in the middle, he switched on Demogogic Populist Mode:

It was your tax dollars that saved Wall Street banks from their own recklessness, keeping them from collapsing and dragging our entire economy down with them. But today, those same banks are once again making billions in profits and on track to hand out more money in bonuses than ever before, while the American people are still in a world of hurt. Now, we've recovered most of your money already, but I don't think "most of your money" is good enough. We want all our money back. We're going to collect every dime. (Applause.) That's why I proposed a new fee on the largest financial firms -- to pay the American people back for saving their skin.
[Emphasis added.]

I didn't watch the speech, but Byron York deemed it "lackluster", also "halting, wandering, and humorless." But at least one blogger (who, darnit, I can't recall) noted that the above bit was where the President actually seemed to come alive. Others noted that Obama didn't want to talk much about an actual supposedly-important issue: the increasingly-unpopular Obamacare. Instead we're being treated to a sneak preview of Barackrobatics, version 2010.0: phony populism.

We've already pointed to the WSJ critique of the substance of this proposal: the entities tasked with "paying the American people back" are the ones who have already repaid the TARP money with interest. GM, Chrysler, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac: all exempt, and will never pay back their TARP funds.

But it's worth pointing out another dazzling feat of Barackrobatics: calling it a "fee", avoiding (for some reason) the dreaded word "tax".

Obama went on:

But instead of taking the side of working families in Massachusetts, Martha's opponent is already walking in lockstep with Washington Republicans, opposing that fee, defending the same fat cats who are getting rewarded for their failure. Now, there's a big difference here. It gives you a sense of who the respective candidates are going to be fighting for, despite the rhetoric, despite the television ads, despite the truck. (Laughter.) Martha is going to make sure you get your money back. (Applause.) She's got your back. Her opponent has got Wall Street's back. (Applause.)
Emphasis added. Nope, can't call it a tax. Especially when Coakley's opponent, Scott Brown, has been painting her as anxious to increase taxes; it would be inconvenient to have Barack Obama enthusiastically agree with him.

Jim Harper has an invaluable post that debunks this nomenclature. If I may paraphrase "Yes, it's a tax. You're not fooling anyone, Mr. President."

Harper was once responsible for making this distinction for legislative purposes; it's more subtle than one might think. And, he notes, that even the NYT isn't fooled by the Administration's "fee" misnomer:

President Obama laid down his proposal for a new tax on the nation's largest financial institutions on Thursday, saying he wanted "to recover every single dime the American people are owed" for bailing out the economy.
Yup, there it is again: "dime".

(Also worth reading: Prof Althouse's analysis of the Obama speech. She is not kind.)