What Jed Bartlet Would Have Thought of Barack Obama

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Barack Obama is still all about message discipline these days. What was once “Win The Future” is now “Pass The Bill.” And when it comes to deficit reduction, the catch phrase is “Fair Share,” to be repeated at rallies, in formal addresses and in background comments from senior aides. Ain’t nothin’ new, of course, about “Fair Share,” a phrase that harkens back to old union organizing pitches. Bill Clinton used the phrase back in 1992, in one of his campaign brochures.

But there was a time, about a decade ago, when “Fair Share” fell out of the liberal-centrist canon. How do I know? Just watch this bit of footage from an episode of the West Wing, which first aired May 2, 2001, where Rob Lowe delivers lines written by Aaron Sorkin, rebuking the progressive radicals in his party. Ah, those were the days.

Another funny thing about this: Lowe’s character says “The top 1% of this country pay for 22% of this country.” How quaint. Income inequality is such that the top 1% today is far richer, relative to everyone else, than they were in 2001, which means they pay a greater share of the total income tax pie, even though their tax rates are lower. The current richest 1% now pay much more as a share of the total federal income tax pool–40% in 2007, for instance.

Another thing: Though Sorkin, an outspoken liberal, wrote the script to describe the position of his liberal fictional President, the storyline for this episode was written by Pat Caddell, the old Democratic consultant, who has since become a former Democratic consultant best known for criticizing Democrats on Fox News.

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