"Do you think a millionaire should pay more taxes than a bus driver?" says... Reagan

New pro-Obama ad attacks Republican tax cuts for the wealthy by quoting an unexpected source.

What do Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have in common? You might not think that much -- but a new ad by a pro-Obama group uses the Republican icon's words to hammer home a point about the GOP's dedication to tax cuts for the wealthy.

The 30-second Youtube video by Super PAC, Priorities USA features Reagan stating that taxing a bus driver 10 per cent of his salary, while not taxing the "truly wealthy" is "crazy".

The video opens with a man as a news anchor. "So far the Republicans support taxing the middle class instead of the wealthy; one Republican disagrees."

Video footage of Ronald Reagan giving a June 6, 1985 speech at Northside High School in Atlanta, Georgia follows. Reagan says in the speech:

We are going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that have allowed some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. They sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing when a bus driver was paying 10 per cent of his salary and that's crazy. Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more taxes than the bus driver?

Priorites USA and Priorities USA Action were formed by Bill Burton, Barack Obama's former deputy press secretary and Sean Sweeney, a senior adviser to Rahm Emanuel, Obama's first chief of staff. The SuperPAC which started airing television ads in early July as a response to $20 million SuperPAC Crossroads GPS ads, has fervently criticised GOP candidates on issues such as tax cuts and deregulation.

A statement on their website reads: "At Priorities USA Action, we believe the stakes for protecting our country's core values have never been higher as the far right pursues an agenda that rewards only the wealthiest few at the expense of middle class families."

The SuperPAC's favourite target seems to be Mitt Romney. They have a released a series of ads criticising his policies including: "Mitt Romney's America", where they paint a picture of what would happen, in their opinion, if Romney got elected president, and "Portraits", that criticises the Republican GOP candidates' ads blaming President Obama for the economy as "politics at its worst".

The latest video appears to be taking a shot at a recent Romney campaign ad titled "The right answer", in which he says: "I'm in favour of cutting spending capping federal spending as a percentage of GDP at 20 per cent or less and having a balanced budget, amendment. The right answer for America is to stop the growth of the federal government and to start the growth of the private sector."

 

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Emmanuel Macron's power struggle with the military

Reminding your subordinates that you are "their boss" doesn't go as far as listening to their problems, it may seem.

This is the sixth in a series looking at why Emmanuel Macron isn't the liberal hero he has been painted as. Each week, I examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read the whole series.

It had started well between Macron and the army. He was the first president to chose a military vehicle to parade with troops on the Champs-Élysées at his inauguration, had made his first official visit a trip to Mali to meet French soldiers in the field, and had pulled a James Bond while visiting a submarine off the Brittany coast.

It’s all fun and games in submarines, until they ask you to pay to maintain the fleet.

“Macron wanted to appear as the head of armed forces, he was reaffirming the president’s link with the military after the François Hollande years, during which the defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had a lot of power,” Elie Tenenbaum, a defence research fellow at the French Institute for International Relations, told the New Statesman. The new president was originally viewed with distrust by the troops because he is a liberal, he says, but “surprised them positively” in his first weeks. Olivier de France, the research director at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, agrees: “He sent good signals at first, gathering sympathy.” 

But the honeymoon ended in July, with what Tenenbaum describes as Macron’s first “real test” on defence: the announced cut of €850m from the army’s budget, despite Macron’s (very ambitious) campaign pledge to rise the defence budget to 2 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2025. A row ensued between the president and the French army’s chief of staff, general Pierre de Villiers, when the general complained publicly that the defence budget was “unbearable”. He told MPs: “I won’t let him [Macron] fuck me up like that!”

Macron replied in a speech he gave to military troops the day before Bastille Day, in which he called soldiers to honour their “sense of duty and discretion” and told them: “I have taken responsibilities. I am your boss.” After the general threatened to quit and wrote at length about “trust” in leadership, Macron added a few days later that “If something brings into conflict the army’s chief of staff and the president of the Republic, the chief of staff changes.” That, Tenenbaum says, was the real error: “On the content, he was cutting the budget, and on the form, he was straightening out a general in front of his troops”. This is the complete opposite of the military ethos, he says: “It showed a lack of tact.”

This brutal demonstration of power led to de Villiers’ resignation on 19 July – a first in modern French politics. (de Villiers had already protested over budget cuts and threatened to quit in 2014, but Hollande’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had backed down.)

Macron did his best to own up to his mistake, assuring the military that, although this year’s cuts were necessary to meet targets, the budget would be rised in 2018. “I want you to have the means to achieve your mission,” he said.

But the harm was done. “He should have introduced a long-term budget plan with a rise in the coming years right away,” says de France. “It was clumsy – of course he is the boss, everyone knows that. If he needs to say it, something is off.” The €850m will be taken out of the army’s “already suffering” equipment budget, says Tenenbaum. “There are pressures everywhere. Soldiers use equipment that is twice their age, they feel no one has their back." The 2 per cent GDP target Macron set himself during the campaign – a “precise” and “ambitious” one – would mean reaching a €50bn army budget by 2025, from this year’s €34m, he explains. “That’s €2bn added per year. It’s enormous.”

Read more: #5: On immigration, Macron's words draw borders

Macron has two choices ahead, De France explains: “Either France remains a big power and adapts its means to its ambitions” – which means honouring the 2 per cent by 2025 pledge – “or wants to be a medium power and adapts its ambitions to its means”, by reducing its army’s budget and, for instance, reinvesting more in European defence.

The military has good reason to doubt Macron will keep his promise: all recent presidents have set objectives that outlast their mandates, meaning the actual rise happens under someone else’s supervision. In short, the set goals aren’t always met. Hollande’s law on military programming planned a budget rise for the period 2018-19, which Macron has now inherited. “The question is whether Macron will give the army the means to maintain these ambitions, otherwise the forces’ capacities will crumble,” says Tenenbaum. “These €850m of cuts are a sign than he may not fulfill his commitments.”

If so, Macron’s row with the general may only be the beginning.  It didn’t help Macron’s popularity, which has been plummeting all summer. And the already distrustful troops may not forgive him: more than half of France’s forces of order may support Marine Le Pen’s Front national, according to one poll. “It’s hardly quantifiable and includes police officers,” Tenenbaum cautions. All the same, the army probably supports right-wing and hard-right politicians in higher numbers than the general population, he suggests.

James Bond would probably have known better than to irritate an entire army – but then again, Bond never was “their boss.”