There’s not much point in being a Democrat, and none at all in being a liberal Democrat, if you don’t want to redistribute wealth and opportunities from richer to poorer people. Liberal Democrats want richer people to have less so that poorer people can have more. That’s why Democratic presidential candidates typically portray raising taxes on the well-to-do as a regrettable necessity, without which poorer people would be worse-off than they need to be. (And saying even that little is enough to provoke Republican charges that Democrats are fomenting class warfare.)
The way Obama campaigned in 2008 is a case in point. He never missed an opportunity, for example, to argue that it’s more important that everyone have access to affordable health insurance than that people with annual family incomes above $250,000 pay a marginal tax rate of 35% rather than 39%. Obama always went out of his way to leave the impression, however, that he thought it would be better still if you could finance universal health insurance coverage without raising anyone’s taxes. He wanted you to know that he wasn't just trying to stick it to the rich for the fun of it.
Take a look (via TPM) at this anti-Romney spot coming from the Super Pac run by Obama’s ex-Assistant Press Secretary Bill Burton:
Notice anything unusual? We’re being told, first, that Romney is a very rich man, and second, that very rich people can, and last year Romney probably did, pay a lower effective tax-rate than most middle-class people (presumably because most of their income comes in the form of capital gains and dividends). But we’re not being told anything at all about what added tax revenue from people in the top brackets would pay for. The people who made the spot don’t even bother to say that if rich people were taxed at a higher rate, middle class people could be taxed at a lower rate. The message can only be that making Romney pay more isn’t a regrettable necessity, but an end-in-itself.
I’m not the guy to tell you whether this makes for an effective campaign spot. But I can’t recall ever seeing this message coming from a source closely associated with a major Democratic presidential candidate, much less a Democratic incumbent, before. It looks like Democratic insiders are betting that economic hard times have changed the political culture in a pretty fundamental way.