An election clarified by secret videos

White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama holds a conference call with advisors aboard Air Force One during a flight to Portland, Ore., July 24, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • Do Americans prefer a president who divides them into makers & takers or one who divides them into haves & have nots?

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  • Just as Obama’s declaration that he believes in redistribution was revealing, so was Romney’s comment dismissing the 47%.

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  • Americans must decide between an inarticulate champion of smaller gov’t & an eloquent champion of redistributive gov’t.

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The choice for president has crystallized in recent days: Do the American people prefer a president who divides them into “makers” and “takers,” or one who divides them into “haves” and “have nots”? Do they want a president who sees a nation of moochers and wants to reduce dependency and the size of government — or a modern-day Robin Hood who wants to expand dependency and dramatically increase the size and scope of government?

That, we now know, is the choice Americans have this November, thanks to dueling secret videos of the candidates telling us what they really think. Americans have now heard Barack Obama say what many long suspected: He believes in the redistribution of wealth. Some have tried to argue that Obama didn’t really mean it. Post fact checker Glenn Kessler gave the Romney campaign “four Pinocchios” for seizing on the future president’s declaration as an Illinois state senator that “I actually believe in redistribution” — because the Romney campaign took his remarks “completely out of context,” leaving out what Obama said next: “How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities?” This proves, Kessler claims, that “Obama is not talking about redistributing wealth at all.”

Nonsense. The context simply shows that he wants to redistribute wealth more efficiently. Obama said the words “I actually believe in redistribution.” Which part isn’t clear? The “I”? The “believe”? Or the “redistribution”? Let’s give the man some credit for saying what he means and meaning what he says.

The reason Obama’s 1998 comment is so revealing is because it is a more explicit declaration of the themes and policies he has pursued as president. This is the same candidate who told Joe the Plumberin 2008, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” This is the same president who declared at a 2010 campaign rally “I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” This is the same president who is demanding massive tax increases on those who he thinks have “made enough money” (a.k.a. job creators) while increasing government spending to the highest levels as a percentage of the economy since the end of World War II.

Just as Obama’s declaration that he believes in redistribution was revealing, so was Mitt Romney’s comment dismissing the 47 percent of Americans “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. . . . And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” This, too, is consistent with what Romney has said in the past. Romney has a troubling tendency to write off entire segments of the population, as when he declared in February, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”

But here are two crucial differences: First, unlike the reaction on the left to Obama’s defense of redistribution, Romney came under sometimes withering criticism on the right for his comments. That is because, while most on the left do believe in redistribution, most conservatives do not believe that nearly half of all Americans consider themselves victims, prefer to be dependent on government or don’t want to take personal responsibility for their lives.

Second, Romney has been busy backtracking ever since the video came out. We have yet to see President Obama disavow his support for the redistribution of wealth — because to do so would be to disavow the organizing principle of his entire presidency.

So Americans must decide between an inarticulate champion of smaller government and an eloquent champion of larger, more redistributive government. On this question, surveys suggest most Americans side with Mitt Romney. According to a Post poll last month, “The debate isn’t even close. Nearly six in 10 registered voters pick a ‘smaller government with fewer services’ while just over a third want a ‘larger government with more services.’” Voters also understand exactly where the two candidates stand: Nearly three-quarters say Obama wants bigger government, while almost the same number say Romney wants smaller government.

In other words, Americans already knew that Barack Obama supports the redistribution of wealth before they heard it from his own lips last week. Yet despite this fact, almost 30 percent of those who want smaller government still support Obama. Romney needs to find a way to connect with that 30 percent between now and Election Day. If he doesn’t, Obama will get a second term — and we’ll quickly discover just how deeply this president believes in the redistribution of wealth.

Marc A. Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, writes a weekly online column for The Post.

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