A Speech for Obama

Recently, David Brooks called on Obama to take up the mantle of reformer, leading a charge to make government “simple, elegant and user-friendly.” Though his column was directed at liberals, Brooks suggested a program designed to appeal across ideological lines. Since my purpose here is to articulate a moderate politics dedicated to a better practice of government, I’ve taken a shot at writing a speechlet for the president along the lines Brooks has suggested:

When I first ran for president in 2008, my opponents criticized me for lacking experience. And it is true that no job can fully prepare you for serving as President. But I have learned a few things while sitting in the Oval Office. I have learned how unwieldy government can be, especially when your opposition is united for your defeat. I have learned that it is easier to tear down good proposals than to offer your own. And I have learned how much pressure there is to abandon your principles in order to achieve even minor political victories.

But in learning these lessons, there are some things I have not forgotten. I remember the principles of hope and change that motivated voters to take a chance on me. I have done my best to live up to the principles that make this country great. I have done so despite continuing economic turmoil and political opposition. And I still believe that government can be a force for good in our lives, the embodiment of the best ideals of the citizens.

Before that can happen, though, we need to do some housecleaning. Our government, founded by wise men in the years after the revolution, cleansed in the purifying fire of civil war, revitalized in response to the Great Depression and World War Two, has again become bloated with the detritus of the decades. If we are going to revitalize our nation, we need to renew our government.

Today and throughout this campaign, I will be proposing areas where I believe we should act now and over the next five years to bring government in line with our highest ideals. Because I will be offering specific plans, my opponents will have an easy time finding things to criticize. But I invite them to make their own clear counter-proposals so we can work together to find the best solutions for this nation.

These matters are too significant to be brushed aside because of imperfect solutions or partisan grandstanding. They cannot be put off another year, to wait for a new president or a new Congress. We won’t finish all of them this year, but if we start now we can be well on the road to a stronger, more prosperous nation by 2013.


The tax code is a great example of the need to reset the way government works. Loopholes, exemptions, and giveaways have distorted a basic relationship between citizens and their government. Instead of promoting the values of honesty, hard work, and entrepreneurship, the tax code rewards those businesses and individuals who invest in the best lawyers, accountants, and lobbyists, who find ways to skirt or bend the rules to their benefit. We need to strip down the tax code, making it simple and transparent.

Here is what I propose as a starting point for reform: For individuals, we should begin by stripping away all but the most basic deductions. Rick Santorum recently proposed five that are worth keeping – health care, housing, pensions, children and charities – and I’m willing to adopt his suggestion.

But I have one requirement: any housing deduction should apply equally to the renter and the homeowner paying a mortgage. Under an equitable tax system, the millionaire in a mansion should not get more help from the government than a family living paycheck to paycheck.

Next, we should set the rate for each tax bracket to reflect the average amount paid last year, reforming the rate system in a revenue neutral way. It is about creating a tax code that is simple and effective, not solving the deficit.

Finally, we need to do away with the special case of capital gains. Yes, we value investment. But do we really want to be a country that values the income generated by investment more than the income from other types of work? I think the American people are ready to ask everyone to pay their fair share. Will this change be a burden on the wealthy? Yes, but no more than the burden already born my middle-income and lower-income Americans whose hard work is taxed as income.

As for corporate taxes, it’s time to get wipe away all of the loopholes, incentives, and deductions that have accumulated over the years. Where government has an appropriate role to play in the economy – in funding infrastructure, in aiding the poor among us, in promoting vital business sectors – it should do so directly, not through a byzantine tax code encrusted with the work of lobbyists past.

Once all those exceptions are removed, we should set a fixed rate for corporate taxes that reflects the average rate paid last year. Again, the goal is not to soak the corporations or close the budget deficit overnight at the expense of the economic recovery.

But small businesses already struggling to grow during these challenging economic times should no longer be at a disadvantage in competing with the armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and accountants working for larger, established firms. If we want the American economy to once more lead the world in innovation, we need to begin by leveling the taxation playing field. If firms are to compete, they should do so in the marketplace, not in the halls of Congress by seeking the best special favors.


In the days to come, I will outline additional changes that must be made to renew our government. These proposals will not be easy. Partisanship will likely impede progress. But it is time to cut through the political gridlock and return to a system of government that reflects our highest ideals. Americans deserve a government they can be proud to call their own.

And so I call on Americans across the political spectrum to join me in this endeavor. Leaders in government and candidates for office; activists and voters and citizens throughout this nation; Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and members of other political parties; join me in declaring, in clear and understandable language, the changes that need to be made so that this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people, will once more reflect the best character of the American people.

As always, I will be thinking of more proposals (especially moderate ones) in the coming days and weeks. But I’m curious how you would respond to such a call from the President. First, do you agree with Brooks and I on the need for fundamental reform to our federal government? What do you think of the reforms to our tax system which I have proposed here? What areas of government do you think are most in need of reform? What changes should be made?

2 Responses to A Speech for Obama
  1. Grant
    January 16, 2012 | 1:19 pm


    Can you elaborate on how you would calculate the rates based on the average of last year – I’m unfamiliar with that idea or how it would work.

    I’ve often thought that in order to actually accomplish revamping the tax code, you’d have to run the two systems in parallel for a few years & let people/companies choose the old system or the new system to give everyone involved time to adjust (and time for the CPAs & Tax Attorneys to rewrite their business plans…sorry) before the new system takes over. What do you think about actual implementation?

    As for reform in other areas, I would be very curious to hear what you think can be done to remove $$ from politics so that:

    1) Influence in the political system doesn’t depend on how much $$ you can spend directly to be heard by politicians, or indirectly through lobbyists

    2) Our elected officials (particularly in the House) can focus on doing the job they’ve been elected to do, instead of immediately starting the campaign for their next election in 2 yrs.

    • Jason
      January 16, 2012 | 10:19 pm


      I’ll start with the tax rate question. I haven’t found an elegant way to say this in a speech, but what I mean is this: Stripping away all the loopholes, exemptions, etc. will raise many tax bills. So I think that for this initial reform we should (a) keep the brackets as they are and (b) peg the new rate for each bracket to reflect the average in paid by people in that bracket before the reform. The result would be a reform that was revenue neutral for each tax bracket. Of course, those who previously took more deductions will see their taxes go up a bit and those who took fewer deductions will see their tax bill decrease. But the only way to avoid that would be to keep the current system and freeze everyone’s income.

      I think your suggestion of overlapping plans has some merit. We’ll certainly need some transition time. (And,yes, I too worry about the accountants and tax attorneys whose business will be disrupted. Not so much the lobbyists, who will find other reasons to lobby government.)

      I’m just still considering what I think is the best route for implementation. Starting the new system immediately so the bugs can get worked out while the old system is still in place will cost the government a lot of revenue and increase the deficit in the short term. But putting off the beginning of the new system for a year or two to a date when the old system will simultaneously end means a lot of uncertainly about implementation (not least because of the time it leaves for the government to change its mind).

      The other two questions probably require their own post, so I’ll put those off for a bit.

      Thanks, as always, for your thoughts, questions, and feeback.