It hasn't even been a week since President Obama has been re-elected, and the freakout prognosticators the Professional Left have already started going nuts over the potential that the President might be going for the jugular over this so-called "fiscal cliff." Fear is setting in that - oh, no - the President might be willing to compromise - the horror of all horrors, even though as you just saw on the video, the president is holding a principled line on protecting our investments in the future and asking the wealthy to pay more.
As usual, leading the "ZOMG Obama is betraying us again" pack is none other than Paul Krugman, a brilliant economist but as I described in the wake of the 2011 debt ceiling deal, a political rookie with terrible instincts. And I imagine the release of the outlines of the grand bargain the President was willing to strike had Speaker Boehner cooperated back in 2011, including entitlement reform and payment reforms within health care systems, will set many more Left ideologues' hair on fire.
Shocking, but hardly surprisingly, Krugman sets out a mentality over this "fight" that is far less about doing what is right for the country and more about inflicting wounds on the political opposition:
More important, however, is the point that a stalemate would hurt Republican backers, corporate donors in particular, every bit as much as it hurt the rest of the country. As the risk of severe economic damage grew, Republicans would face intense pressure to cut a deal after all.Translation: go ahead and hurt the country if it also means hurting the Republican backers. This is eerily reminiscent of what the Republicans did in their scorched earth move with the debt ceiling deal and throughout the last four years - hurt the country if it means hurting their political opposition. Krugman's position in this regard is really no better than the Tea Party caucus of the House.
Paul Krugman's political ... uhh, let's say "brass" ... may be leading this sentiment, but he's certainly not the general of an army without soldiers. Just over the weekend, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation on ABC's This Week was all over this, claiming the election to be a mandate for the president to cowtow to the Professional Left - a faction that has done more than anyone to derail the president's agenda, except possibly the right wing nutjobs in the Republican party. Vanden Huevel demanded that Democrats stop talking about the debt and the deficit, and pretending as though the Democrats were failing to talk about investing in our country (a patently false idea and a ridiculously idiotic dichotomy).
You see, their complaint is not that the president isn't demanding a balanced deal; he is. Their problem is that the president is signaling his willingness to work with the other party if they work with him in good faith, even while he holds the line on his principles. And in the ideologue circles, a willingness to compromise, to find common ground, is the cardinal sin.
Luckily, the president's stated willingness to hold the line on this - while making it clear that he will work with Democrats and Republicans who want to work with him for the best of this country - is not about hurting his political opponents. It's about helping the American people. I mean, should the Left really be going for broke if there's a deal to be had that, for example, leaves the tax rates where it is but counts "capital gains" income the same as income from work? Should we really claw the chalkboard if corporate tax rates are reduced but we actually collect more taxes from the richest corporations by eliminating tax breaks (for say, outsourcing jobs and offshoring profits)?
In my piece back in 2011, I outlined exactly what is now being called the "fiscal cliff" would look like: facing the automatic cuts included in the debt deal itself, and the expiration of the tax cuts. Right now, Medicare providers only face a 2% cut should the "sequestration" go into effect, while benefits are protected. But on the other side of it, the Defense budget is set to take a hatchett, and taxes - including the capital gains rates - are set to go up, leaving Republicans with a leverage rather close to zero.
This isn't checkers. It's chess (yeah, eleven dimensional chess at that). It took the extensions after the 2010 elections along with unemployment benefit extensions, and the debt limit deal to end up at the 2011 - both of which Krugman characterized as "surrenders"- to get us to this point where the urgency to act will finally outweigh the national Republicans' propensity to wreck havoc on the nation in order to protect the special tax treatments of the select few, or to defeat President Obama (a dream that now has been decimated).
At the end of 2010, we were facing serious economic challenges that required unemployment benefit extensions, and it presented an opportunity to enact the Payroll tax cut. In 2011, the Republicans held a fair amount of bargaining chips in their willingness to let the government go into default. Both times, the President came out ahead despite the Republican leverage.
Fast forward to today, and we have a re-elected President Obama, an expanded Democratic majority in the Senate, and a House which is Republican despite the fact that the popular vote overall for House races went to the Democrats. That's the political leverage. In terms of policy, we have the cliff. Both President Obama on Friday, and Congressional leaders this weekend reiterated that avoiding the cliff must include raising taxes on the rich, and a good amount of revenue in a balanced deal. Sen. Patty Murray put it most succinctly when she stuck by her guns that unless the Republicans agree to a balanced deal, we will go into next year, over the cliff, and then re-enact the middle class tax breaks along with preventing the automatic cuts.
So, what's the problem? What's all this condescending, patronizing "advice" being offered to the President by the ideologues on the Left flank about? It's about starting another freakout that the president is somehow "selling out" should he use the threat of the fiscal cliff (and that of a veto pen) to reach another (and this time successful) grand bargain with the Republicans before the end of this Congress. This is about - God forbid - the possibility of a deal that includes components of tax reform and entitlement reform that the Simpson-Bowles commission proposed, which would cease or reduce preferential tax treatments for the rich as well as make modest adjustments to Social Security and Medicare (while ensuring an above-poverty minimum benefit) that will make them stronger in the long run.
This is about an ideological opposition to "touching" the social safety net (even to make them stronger). This is about ideological attachments to tax rates over question of what actual taxes are collected and from whom. But really, this is about the whiny, self-proclaimed "progressive" Left's distrust of this president, and frankly, their open contempt for him. More importantly, this is about blood-letting in politics, rather than addressing the needs of the country.
Let me be clear to all the political prognosticators on the Left: The President won re-election by ignoring your calls for ideological warfare, and he owes you nothing. This election was a resounding victory. But it was a resounding victory for the President, for the values that guide him, and for the governing approach he has taken - i.e. pragmatism. It was not a victory for ideological warfare, because frankly, Mitt Romney was a far better ideological warrior than President Obama.
Paul Krugman wasn't just re-elected by a landslide despite an avalanche of attack ads, lies, racist sentiments and an obstructionist opposition hell bent on stopping American progress; Barack Obama was. We do not need a repeat of the apoplectic whinefest on the Left that we have seen over the last four years. The president's re-election was a mandate for action. It is time Republicans moved off of their talking points and ideological posturing, and it is time for the prognosticators on the supposed Left to start trusting our president. It would nice if for once, our policy wonks stuck to policy and stopped giving political advice to the most gifted, most brilliant politician in this country since FDR.
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