Well after all the bluster coming from the Democratic camp about President Obama’s “upper hand” leading into the sequester showdown, it turns out he had no game at all. The result: score another one for the Tea Party who got to take a hatchet to government spending and hold the line on taxes. As I wrote after the “Fiscal Cliff” showdown:
Grover Norquist is happy. After the fiscal cliff deal was passed in the House, he pointed out that Obama blinked on his $250,000 line in the sand on taxes and that, by locking in the Bush tax cuts for 98% of Americans, the Democrats’ ability to defend the legacy of the New Deal has been greatly diminished. He’s right.
And now Grover and company are even happier as the Republicans just said no to more taxes and let the ax fall indiscriminately on government spending. The “liberal media” may think badly of them and their national approval rating may be in the toilet but they simply don’t give a rat’s ass because they are winning nonetheless.
But fear not progressives, Obama is desperately courting Republicans outside of the party’s leadership in hopes of doing an end run to get to a “grand bargain” that will give us the manna from heaven that is austerity lite.
Kidding aside, it is a sad situation indeed when we hear defenders of the President pointing out that the Republicans are not giving Obama enough credit for having put chained CPI and other terrible ideas about entitlement reform on the table. Those bastards just won’t let him say uncle! And why should they, when they can keep giving him the bird with no consequences other than moving him closer to them as they continue to lurch rightward. There is no hell or fury coming from this spurned business Democrat, only a renewed effort to show the world how much more reasonable he is.
So, yet again, we have a scenario where the President is banking on his ability to get a rational response from enough Republicans to avoid yet more dire consequences to the economy as a whole and the most vulnerable Americans in particular.
At this point, however, Obama is beginning to look like the Coyote in his quest to snag the Road Runner, thinking his wily strategy is going to work only to be crushed by a boulder falling from above in the end—over and over again.
By now, it’s just not enough to decry the whack-job anti-government nihilists that compose the contemporary Republican Party. Team Obama should know better than to expect anything at all from them for the rest of his term. To think or act otherwise is political malpractice.
Indeed as a recent Frontline on the President’s first term revealed, Obama went into his dealings with the Republicans genuinely thinking he could do business with them while the GOP leaders were busy plotting his downfall through obstructionism on steroids. And it worked in many ways: it neutered the stimulus, blocked the public option from becoming part of healthcare reform, and got back the House for the GOP.
But when the right’s strategy failed to win the Presidency many commentators portrayed it as a crushing defeat for the Republicans. The results, however, say otherwise. What is now quite clear is that the Republicans don’t need to occupy the White House to win–they just have to gum up the works and watch the beast that is their hated big government, starve.
Hence, the sequester cuts were exactly what the Republicans wanted. And underneath all the controversy surrounding the Bob Woodward scandal is the uncomfortable truth for Democrats that the White House agreed to the sequester cuts as part of a huge miscalculation that it would move the Republicans to a deal. It didn’t. Now as we head toward yet another politically constructed crisis around the debt ceiling, we hear more reports about Obama chasing the “grand bargain.”
What is sad about this is that as Obama continually moves toward the right on this issue, the right keeps taking two steps further right, rejecting ideas that they once proposed and daring the President to inch closer their way. And he does every time.
Don’t look now: here comes the boulder.
And this time it will drop on all of our heads in the form of a bad compromise that puts the legacy of the New Deal on the table and asks progressives to feel good about it because it’s better than what the Republicans would do if they held the White House. After all, dear reader, wouldn’t you prefer to have your friend chop off your arm to having an enemy decapitate you instead? I thought so. Three cheers for bi-partisanship!
Meanwhile, last week the markets hit record highs as corporations and the rich continue to reap the profits of the recovery at the expense of the average American worker. Neoliberal austerity politics kick ass for the 1% but they leave the rest of us with the stark realization that both sides of our failing two party system are wedded to very bad ideas that hurt most of us.
Thus as we head into the heart of Obama’s second term, we can only hope for a victory for austerity lite over Tea Party insanity. Isn’t that funny–Obama is the worst socialist ever!
Insert the laugh track at MSNBC while the hard edge of economic inequality gets harder every day. Don’t look now, but here comes another boulder.
bob dorn says
On the other hand… The Great Reasoner in the White House might be doing the rope-a-dope, figuring that the Republicans have gone around the bend and taken the teabaggers with them, so that a big majority will turn out for the mid-terms, horrified by the freakshow and ready to elect… Democrats. We probably ought to fear that, too.
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman says
My version of “on the other hand” is that unprecedented military spending is being cut, a good thing that would never have occurred without the sequester. It IS passing strange the way the stock market has responded, though it may not last. Maybe we WILL get a Dem majority in the mid-term elections, thanks to the President’s new PAC, but then what?
It is all less than this liberal had hoped for.
Andy Cohen says
The question is WTF else would you have him do? Nothing can get passed in Congress–at least the House of Representatives–without the approval of a good number of Republicans, assuming House Speaker Boehner even allows any measure to come to the floor for a vote without majority Republican support (which surprisingly has actually happened in the last two major issues, admirably disposing of the “Hastert Rule”). By insisting that Obama not put proposals on the table plays right into the Repubs’ hands when they say that Obama has not negotiated at all (he has, unequivocally). By saying he shouldn’t negotiate with Republicans is basically advocating for government to completely grind to a halt.
The reality is that we have divided government. It would be far different if Democrats also controlled the House. Obama would have far more freedom to close tax loopholes and raise revenues. But that’s not the world we currently live in, and because of gerrymandering, it’s not likely to be the world we live in come 2015. So he has to give up something in order to at least try to entice the Republicans to move off of their absolutist stance. Everybody’s going to have to give a little, whether we like it or not. That’s how negotiating works.
The real test will be to see if he holds the line on his current positions. What we in the media need to do a better job of is to highlight the fact that the budget deficit has in fact been halved during Obama’s term, and that government spending is at near all time lows. This despite Repub protestations of “Big Spending Obama” and massive deficits. Republicans are being allowed to outright lie with impunity, even when the facts are thrown in their faces. That’s what’s hurting Obama’s position more than anything. People are not at all informed of the facts, and in the case of Fox News, willfully and deliberately so.
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman says
I want to agree with you, Andy, but I ‘m interested to see if Social Security is put on the block or materially diminished in the course of this “negotiating.” Getting people
informed is crucial and in this media climate it is a tall order.
A hero in this struggle is business columnist Michael Hiltzik who had a great piece in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times (3/10/13), entitled the “Five Biggest Lies About Entitlement Programs.” He begins by noting the way political language has been twisted by the Right:
“Never mind that the very word ‘entitlement’ is a lie. Social Security and Medicare got that name because workers became ‘entitled’ to those benefits by paying into the system. (Recently) the term has become distorted to signify benefits people are entitled
to without earning them.”
And then he skewers “Lie No.1 — The payroll tax hike is killing the retail economy;
Lie No.2 — ‘Entitlement’ benefits for millionaires and billionaires are a costly problem;
Lie No. 3 — Social Security and Medicare are $60 trillion in the hole; Lie No. 4 — You’re
paying too much (or too little) for your benefits; Lie No. 5 — Medicare, Social Security —
it’s all the same.”
This stuff is complicated and understanding it matters so much, but how can we learn unless we are taught?