WE INTERRUPT our regular programming to go to the White House for a live broadcast of a presidential press conference. It is now in progress.
Mr. President, have you decided how high a tax increase for the rich you will accept?
"I will not increase the tax rate for the rich."
You say you will not?
Increase the tax rate for the rich.
"Yes, I will accept an increase in that rate."
But you just said you wouldn't.
"Oh, back then. Well, that was quite a while ago. Situations are fluid. Got to keep up with change."
So you definitely will accept a higher rate for the rich.
"Of course I won't."
But you said you would.
"No, I said I won't."
But I have it right here in my notes. You said you won't. Then you said you would. And now you say you won't.
"That's right. You see, two won'ts is more than one will. So my two won'ts outnumber my one will. Therefore, the won'ts win, 2-1."
But how do you think the nation's hard-pressed middle-class will react to your refusal to increase the tax rate for the rich.
"Who says I've refused?"
A moment ago.
"Conditions have changed since then."
Since only a moment ago?
"Fast-paced world. Got to stay flexible."
Then you are not going to refuse?
"I didn't say that. I ask you who says I've refused? You're the one who said I refused. I didn't. Words in my mouth. Don't put them there."
Then you are not going to refuse?
To raise the tax rates for the rich.
"I thought we settled that."
No, Mr. President, your position isn't clear.
"Not clear to who?"
It's not clear to me.
"Are you rich?"
"Then what are you worried about?"
I'm not worried, Mr. President, but a great many taxpayers would like to know where you stand.
How many what?
"You said a great many taxpayers want to know where I stand. How many is a great many?"
I don't know, sir, but I would assume that it would be a considerable number.
"You just said a great many. Now you are saying a considerable number. How can I make a decision based on such vague data?"
Well, the polls show that more than 75 percent of those polled want the rich to pay higher taxes. So I would assume that this represents millions of people.
"In that case, the answer is that I will."
So we can say that you will support a tax increase on the rich.
"No, I might."
But you just said you would.
"Yes, but remember, I had said I wouldn't twice, so now I've said I will twice. That's two I wills and two I won'ts. We have a 2-2 tie. So that means it's a maybe."
Is that a definite maybe?
"Words in my mouth again. You're putting them there. A maybe is a maybe."
But won't people think you are vacillating?
"No reason to think that when I've taken a firm stand with a maybe."
Doesn't a maybe mean that you don't know if you will or you won't?
"Will or won't what?"
Raise the taxes on the rich.
"Back to that again? Read my lips: m-a-y-b-e I w-i-l-l, m-a-y-b-e I w-o-n-'t."
I'm sorry to press you on this, Mr. President, but do you know if you will or you won't?
"Maybe I do and maybe I don't."
Is that a firm maybe?
"Maybe it is and maybe it isn't."
You can't say if it is a firm maybe?
"Maybe I can and maybe I can't."
Mr. President, aren't you waffling on this issue?
"Maybe I am and maybe I'm not."
Some people might get the impression that you are indecisive.
"Maybe they will and maybe they won't."
Doesn't the possible political fallout from this worry you?
"Maybe it does and maybe it doesn't."
Aren't some of the leaders of your party disgruntled?
"Maybe they are and maybe they aren't."
But many of them have said they are.
"Maybe they have and maybe they haven't."
Mr. President, can't you be more precise than that?
Just about anything. Isn't there something?
"Something? Yes, I'm definitely in favor of something."
Could you tell us what that is?
Could you elaborate on that?
"Yes. I'm definitely in favor of strong leadership."
Thank you, Mr. President.
"You're welcome. Maybe."