Monday, August 27, 2012

No Concession Left Behind

The Christian Science Monitor noted in May

President Obama says he had already decided to endorse gay marriage sometime before the Democratic National Convention in September, but Vice President Joe Biden forced the issue last Sunday when he spoke out in favor of marriage equality.  
“He probably got out a little over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit,” Mr. Obama said in an interview that aired Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way on my own terms without, I think, there being a lot of notice to everybody? Of course. But all’s well that ends well.”

Obama’s declaration of support for gay marriage on Wednesday, when the ABC interview took place, capped a series of events that appeared to corner the president on a hot-button social issue. On Sunday, Mr. Biden stated, in response to a question, that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage – though making clear that he was speaking for himself and not the president. On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who is close to Obama, also said for the first time publicly that he supports gay marriage.

It was an easy call for Obama to support the concept of same-sex marriage once his Vice-President and his loathsome Education Secretary came out for the idea (yes, pun intended).He had, after all, been "evolving" (isn't that just precious?) on the issue.   Not so on other issues.

On August 14, Vice-President Biden was speaking to a mostly over 60-crowd at The Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart, Virginia when a patron, as NBC News reported it, "expressed his relief that the Obama campaign wasn't talking about changing the popular entitlement program." Biden responded "Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security.  I flat guarantee you."

But when it comes to income maintenance and health care for the elderly, Obama is not so easily swayed.  On August 7, The New York Times reported (emphasis mine)

The news media have played a crucial role in Mr. Obama’s career, helping to make him a national star not long after he had been an anonymous state legislator. As president, however, he has come to believe the news media have had a role in frustrating his ambitions to change the terms of the country’s political discussion. He particularly believes that Democrats do not receive enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security, while Republicans oppose almost any tax increase to reduce the deficit.

Following a presidential press conference on August 20, we read in The Huffington Post

the biggest thing Congress could do for the economy is to reach a deal on "a sensible approach" to reducing the deficit, he said. Obama specifically urged congressional leaders to revisit the revenues and spending cuts that were on the table during last year's negotiations on the debt.

"I continue to be open to seeing Congress approach this with a balanced plan that has tough spending cuts, building on the $1 trillion worth of spending cuts we've already made, but also asks for additional revenue from folks like me, folks in the top 1 or 2 percent," said the president. That would give more "certainty" to families and small businesses.

Whether reducing the deficit would profoundly improve the economy in the long-term is plausible, though hardly certain. "Tough spending cuts" clearly are not the way to pull the U.S. economy out of the pit of a slump, notwithstanding Obama's perspective.  

Just so there is no confusion and the voters understand where he is going with this, the President in an interview on August 25 with the Silicon Valley Mercury News stated

I don’t think it would be a good idea to pursue an approach that voucherizes Medicare and raises taxes on middle-class families to give wealthy individuals a tax break. So if that’s the mandate that Republicans receive, then there’s still going to be some serious arguments here in Washington.

But what I’m offering the American people is a balanced approach that the majority agrees with, including a lot of Republicans. And for me to be able to say to the Republicans, the election is over; you no longer need to be focused on trying to beat me; what you need to be focused on and what you should have been focused on from the start is how do we advance the American economy—I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises, some of which I get criticized from the Democratic Party on, in order to make progress. But we’re going to need compromise on your side as well. And the days of viewing compromise as a dirty word need to be over because the American people are tired of it.

The President suggests if Republicans "pursue an approach that voucherizes Medicare," he will recognize it as a "mandate that Republicans receive."   Therefore, he is not "poised to oppose their dangerous scheme" nor will he tell them to "hit the road."   Instead, Republicans beware:   we will hit you with "some serious arguments."

And Barack Obama will pursue a "balanced approach."    Congress approves the Budget Control Act of 2011, in which sequestration would provide a cut in spending of $917 billion in ten year, $487 billion in defense, the rest in non-discretionary social spending.    The GOP, not surprisingly, is fine with the reduction for the middle class and the poor but is squealing about the defense cuts.  But surveying the landscape, the President tells the Mercury-News his "message" will

resonate not with every Republican, but I think with a lot of fair-minded Republican legislators who probably feel somewhat discouraged about having served in one of the least productive Congresses in American history.

And I hear—not in public, but in private—that many of them would like to go ahead and get some stuff done because they recognize that our children and our grandchildren have a stake in us being able to get this work done.

Following the President's press conference of August 20, Digby commented

I don't have a clue how to stop this train.  Having the zombie eyed granny starver on the ticket hasn't changed their view that the Grand Bargain to slash 4 trillion in government programs in the middle of an epic slump is still great policy and even better politics.  But don't worry.  They'll ask millionaires to "pay a little more" so it's all good. I'm feeling more "confident" already.

Basically we have a choice between the Republicans dystopian hellscape or the Democrats' long slow jobless recovery with even more insecurity for the poor and middle class. Or actually, it's more likely to be a "compromise" between the two.  After all, these are the opening bids.

Barack Obama is either being dragged, kicking and screaming, into accepting the GOP agenda or he really aims to be a transformative President, like the 40th President he so admires.    And this is the better option in November.

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