Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Same Old, Same Old

Filling in for Lawrence O'Donnell last Wednesday on MSNBC's The Last Word, Christopher Hayes held a fascinating discussion (transcript here, video, from Ari Berman's herdingdonkeys.com, below) with Ari Berman, Adam Green, and Roger Hodge, author of “The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism." Midway through, Hodge commented

But, I think that, again, going back to what made his candidacy special, it was so cynical. I mean, looking back, I just think there‘s no question that he identified his gift, he identified his angle. He came up with this beautiful rhetoric, but it was ultimately empty.

And if he does pick a fight on the tax cuts, I will be blown out of my chair. I just don‘t believe he will do it.

It looks like Hodge won't need to get up off the floor. Arthur Delaney writes in The Huffington Post

Obama first asked lawmakers to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits at the beginning of October, but Congress has failed to prevent the benefits from lapsing at least temporarily. Now it looks as though a deal crafted by the four members of Congress tasked with compromising on tax cuts may be the only way to save the jobless aid....

Many observers expect Democrats to attach the benefits to a reauthorization of the expiring tax cuts, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has said that he wants the benefits on the table during tax negotiations.

"Compromise" with the 44th President being another word for capitulation, it's fairly obvious what's coming next. According to The Huffington Post's Sam Stein

Both Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) indicated little to no willingness to move off their perch of opposing any reversion of tax rates (for any income bracket) to pre-Bush levels. They and incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor did, however, stress that the President admitted he had not kept up enough dialogue, to date, with his GOP critics.

"I was encouraged by the president's remarks regarding his, perhaps, not having reached out enough to us in the last session and that this meeting was the beginning of a series in which he hoped we could work together in a [good] fashion for the benefit of the American people given the problems we face," said Cantor.

As Hodge understands, President Obama easily could have stood firm on opposing tax cuts. Journalist David Cay Johnston suggested last week that

Obama should call their bluff.

I don't think the Republicans are so stupid that they would let all the Bush tax cuts expire if they cannot continue tax cuts for billionaires and the affluent on all of their income. But let's assume that the Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are that dumb, or so beholden to the antitax billionaires funding their campaigns, that they would force universal tax increases.

This is a fight that Obama can win, and win handily, if he has the backbone to stand up for the vast majority and sound tax policies, and to take on the antitax billionaires who are piling up huge gains while unemployment, debt, and fear stalk our land.

A sudden reduction in take-home pay in January would seriously damage our fragile economy, not to mention provoke widespread anger and fear. The economic news would be so awful that a president half as eloquent as Obama could easily focus attention on the Republican all-or-nothing tax policies as the cause of this universal pain.

Obama could have called their bluff- or let the Republicans off the hook. Unsurprisingly, he chose the latter course, perhaps because, as Hodge explained

I think that Obama is taking care of his real constituency. He‘s taking care of the people who voted for him in the only way that counts. The only way that counts is monetary. How much are you putting into the game? How much—are you paying to play? If you‘re paying to play, your interests will be served. If you‘re just voting, there‘s nothing, you‘re not going to get anything.

The President evidently is taking a different course, Stein finding "a senior administration official confirmed to CNN that the president did say he had not done enough outreach to the Republicans during the past two years." Obama's recollection, however, conflicts with objective reality. Adam Green recalls:

When someone, like Olympia Snowe from Maine, a state that Obama won by 18 points, says that she would kill the public option which her constituents supported, if it was proposed in the health care bill, he could have flown to Maine, held a campaign-style rally, commanded local media attention, tell everyone to pick up their cell phones and call their senator—he didn‘t do that. He invited her and Joe Lieberman to a backroom and said, what do you want?

Still, the President can make a deal here, one in which the GOP gets almost all it wants, after which it will complain that it deserves more, and Obama can yield more. But the content of the "compromise," as the media will term the deal reflecting right-wing principles, little matters. Hodge, having observed the Obama Way since 2/20/09, notes

I think it‘s just conventional. He just wants to succeed. He doesn‘t—at least that‘s the way I see it. Doesn‘t really care what it is that gets passed as long as he gets the mark on the board.

It has worked on the stimulus, health care, financial reform- all "accomplishments," meager in light of a heavily Democratic House and Senate. President Obama will get his "mark on the board," earning plaudits from the mainstream media for the "compromise" he works out with the other party, which also will benefit. Marginalized will be only the Democratic Party, another plus for the guy from Hawaii by way of Chicago.

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