Thursday, December 09, 2010

What Price Leadership

Why are progressives blaming President Obama, asked the caustically obnoxious “socialist” Lawrence O’Donnell. Simple. President Obama isn’t just the titular leader of the Democratic Party; he is the leader of the Democratic Party and most significantly the leader of our nation as its highest elected official.

Some people, O’Donnell included, may find all this redundancy a distinction without a difference. The President himself said he had to think of what was best for the country in reaching his craven compromise with Republicans, in which the still-majority Democrats were left out of the negotiations, in the cold. That by itself is bush league politicking that calls into question the competence of the President’s political advisers.

The White House negotiators included Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who had actually enabled the Bush trickle-down policies which got us to this place. In another ironic twist, Obama’s economic pied piper Larry Summers, another Clintonian facilitator of our current economic woes, issued an Olympian pronouncement that failure to capitulate to his Bush-era tax policies will result in a double-dip recession.

Joan Walsh of Salon said, in effect, we are “enshrining” the Bush tax cuts, George W. Bush’s signature legislative accomplishment. More than that, we are enshrining three decades of disastrous Reaganomics 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. It’s a big deal. And for the President to negotiate it all away behind closed doors with Republicans, then tell his Democratic Congressional allies, ‘you have no choice but to swallow this deal, hook, line and sinker' is a HUGE political blunder of Jimmy Carter proportions. Part of the test of successful presidential leadership is navigating the political waters with competence.

The White House’s failure to anticipate the reaction of House Democrats is baffling. Rep. Peter DeFazio said the entire Democratic House Caucus, not just the Progressive Caucus, voted “with near-unanimity” to reject the President’s deal. Even if it’s a nonbinding resolution, this united front by House Democrats is a shade more serious than what the White House might expect.

Interesting how those who stand to get a tax cut windfall will presume to lecture progressives on our motives. And while the Lamborghini red “socialist” proffers to speak for the lowest bracket from his perch atop the highest, the dispossessed of this society, the armies of the 99ers, give or take seven million, stand to gain nothing. What about them? Has anyone asked a 99er whether he or she supports the craven compromise, the Bush-Obama tax cuts?

The answer might be different: Let’s end this trickle-down madness right here, right now and course correct. The alternative is crushing debt to foreign creditors China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, slashing entitlement programs, defunding healthcare before it has even had a chance to take hold, and spiraling poverty among all demographic groups, including seniors, in the middle to lower classes.

For what — not enduring short-term economic pain, but at least shared sacrifice? Because the true measure of leadership, FDR- or Truman-style, would be to ask the American people to sacrifice in the short-term for the nation’s long-term health and prosperity and take this fight to the ballot box. The President’s “preferred option” however, is Clintonian triangulation.

Different times. For Americans who suffered through a Great Depression and a world war with casualties not in the thousands but in the millions, taking a tax bracket hit (back to the days of our greatest boom cycle economic expansion, the Clinton years) or a short-term cut in unemployment insurance is pain that can be endured.

Americans do not support this deal. Most polls show this and the President has conceded as much. Standing on principle and asking all Americans to share in the sacrifice to put our economic house in order is not playing an economic game of chicken with Republicans. This is not something FDR or Truman would have shied away from.

Interestingly, the President became publicly angry for the first time in his presidency, not at Republicans or the Tea Party, but at progressives. What an honor, however dubious and unfulfilling. We know the history. Gibby grousing about the “professional left” and before that Rhambo’s lovely parting shot. But even if the anti-progressive outbursts of locos like Lawrence O’Donnell take on the character of a barroom brawl — the fact is, we were right all along.

Our advice to the President was right, on the politics and on principle. Recalling the President’s indifferent support for the public option, the Nation’s Ari Berman said, “The Obama administration’s posture on the tax cuts is eerily similar to its stance on the public option during healthcare reform — the president says he wants the policy, but does absolutely nothing to fight for it, either through his own bully pulpit or on Capitol Hill.” Bingo.

Mr. President, please cut to the chase. Instead of pretending to “pick a fight” with a Republican Congress and dysfunctional Senate, just make your tax cuts for the rich permanent. Period. Take ownership of them: The Obama Tax Cuts. Then you won’t have to force a Republican veto override of permanently ending the Bush-Obama tax cuts for the rich. No theatrical reelection gambit. Run a ‘I told-you-so’ campaign blaming Republicans, having caved to every single one of their “hostage-taker” demands. The American people are an understanding bunch.

And should your modest tax stimulus for the middle class work, you might want to embrace the Frank Luntz talking points and just go with the Republican party line that the filthy rich “job creators” ultimately drove this recovery all along. They might even give you that cherished second term to play War Chief. As long as you agree to a little Republican-style infrastructure spending: erect a statue to Ronald Reagan on the capital mall. And of course, relegate that distant slogan — “change we can believe in”— to the dustbin of history.

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