Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Se Puede

Tom Tomorrow
Barack Obama's campaign was inspiring on so many levels, but there was really nothing about his prior record to suggest that he would govern from the left.  I am not surprised or disillusioned, therefore, about his failure to push for a more progressive agenda.  What is so utterly frustrating about Obama is not his ideology -- if he has one -- but his willingness to compromise on everything without a fight due to what seems to be an unshakable belief that partisanship is intrinsically a bad thing.  Obama's passivity is particularly infuriating -- and counterproductive -- in the face of a unified and vitriolic opposition who refuse to concede anything they care about and whose avowed goal is to crush him.

 I agree with Greg Sargent, who argues that the case against Obama from the left isn't ideological, it is that he "is too quick to signal that compromise, even at great cost, is his paramount goal," which puts the Democrats at a disadvantage and "emboldens Republicans to hold out for more than they otherwise might be able to secure."  As David Corn put it, "bipartisan compromise is often necessary. But it ought to come at the end of a political fight -- not before one."

Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, frustrated by Obama's capitulation on tax cuts, explained that "governing is more than a series of transactions, [it] is a competition of ideas on how we make the country better."  Democrats are getting trounced in this competition despite the far stronger argument.  David Corn again:  "At a time when middle- and low-income Americans are struggling, government deficits are a worry, and the corporate class is reaping tremendous profits, Obama and the Democrats were well-positioned to assail the Republicans for insisting that the well-to-do need a continuation of the Bush tax cuts and for blocking an extension of the cuts for the rest of the public."

Instead of using his remarkable, but strangely under-utilized, oratorical skills to skewer the Republicans for paying lip service to the the deficit while holding the extension of unemployment benefits -- and other critical legislation -- hostage to tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, Obama negotiates.  And, he negotiates badly.  First, he repeatedly adopts Republican talking points by asserting that focusing on the deficit is an immediate problem that can only be solved by the government tightening its belt.  On the eve of negotiations with Republicans he announces a freeze on civilian federal wages without obtaining anything in exchange.  Soon thereafter, he signals a willingness to give in on tax cuts thereby undercutting the position of the Senate Democrats who oppose the extension.  Oh, and did I mention he also agreed to cut the estate tax for estates worth up to $5 million (I'm not exactly sure how this helps the economy or reduces the deficit).

And, it isn't just bad politics, the "compromise" is bad policy that will do little to help the economy.  Ezra Klein points out that the various aspects of the deal will worsen the deficit substantially, and they do not do enough and are not targeted well enough to spur real economic recovery (although he concedes it could have been worse).  Indeed Paul Krugman argues the Democrats should eschew any deal that includes extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy.

Rather than hammer at Republican hypocrisy and greed, Obama announced the tentative deal last night in his typically understated manner, conceding that the "compromise" was not "perfect."  And thus, the Republicans, who got near everything they wanted, have demonstrated once again that their unprincipled obstructionism works -- at least for them, if  not for the Country.  There is no doubt, however, that when the economy continues to sputter it will not be Republicans that American voters will blame.  Jamal Simmons is right:  "The time has come for the president to give voters his vision for reclaiming the American Dream and to draw a few lines in the sand. Then he needs to marshal his allies for a good fight the moment the Republicans cross them."
[Related posts:  Holy Pointless Gimmick, Batman, Growth is Good, This Should Be Easy, Let 'Em Eat Catfood, Greider on Obama, Must Read: Paul Krugman]


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