Wednesday, December 8, 2010

If a Tree Falls in a Forest…

One of the benefits of being under the weather is that it forces you to lay low and conserve your strength. You only have so much energy to go around and you have to be wise in how you spend it. For instance, last week, when I first heard of a potential deal between the Obama Administration and Congressional Republicans to continue the Bush tax cuts for everyone, I was, well, practically beside myself with disdain and proceeded to sit down to write a lengthy diatribe against old captain pragmatic for once again showing off his weak-kneed tendencies and bowing to his lesser angel.

It was to be titled, “Shut It Down.” In it I virtually implored the entire Democratic Party to take their ball and go home for the remainder of the lame-duck session and wait until January to resume “discussions” with the Republicans. That’s right, you heard me, go home and allow all the Bush tax cuts to expire. ALL OF THEM! Use the remaining leverage they have to “force” the Republicans to come to their senses and, perhaps, shame them into doing the right thing. After all, we all know how successful they’ve been at shaming the GOP in the past, right?

But then Providence, and a severe upper respiratory infection, did for me, what my passion and pride wouldn’t allow; it forced me to the sidelines to wait out the affliction. Amazing what a whole week can do for perspective, not to mention a runny nose.

And now that a deal has in deed been struck between the White House and Republicans, I have, to put it mildly, had a change of heart. Not because I believe that tax cuts – especially for rich people – are all that successful in stimulating the economy; they are in fact one of the poorest ways to stimulate an economy, not to mention bad fiscal policy. Nor do I believe that Republicans care all that much about the deficit; this deal, if it passes, proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the only thing they care about is making sure their cronies get to keep more of their money. Deficit reduction, my ass!

No, the reason for my change of heart should be painfully obvious. Whether anyone on the Left wants to admit it or not, President Obama struck the only deal possible, and not only saved his Party from a potential political disaster, but actually managed to walk away with a number of substantial concessions from the GOP, that, had he waited till January, when they take charge of the House, would’ve been far more difficult, if not impossible, to secure.

Let’s look at the facts, shall we? Two years of failing to construct a narrative that the American voter could follow plainly had cost the Democrats most of the political capital they had going in to 2009. Like it or not, the shellacking they took on election night wasn’t just a shot across the bow, it was a blow amidships and a resounding wakeup call. While I do not believe that mid-terms, in and of themselves, are barometers on ideology shifts, they are, nonetheless report cards from the electorate as to how they feel about what’s going on. And the report card, as far as Democrats were concerned, was coming up Cs, Ds and Fs. It was ugly and threatened to get even uglier. The mandate was delivered loud and clear: “Get your shit together or get out!”

Progressives may not want to hear this, but now is not the time to stand on principles; not with an unemployment rate holding at just south of ten percent. Obama was able to secure extended unemployment benefits for thirteen months, a reduction in social security taxes from 6.2% to 4.2%, and tax incentives for businesses. Next year they can write off 100 percent of new investments in capital goods, up from 50 percent this year. If Obama manages to get his START treaty through the Senate, it will be a slam dunk for him. The only casualty will be Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. That battle will have to wait until next year.

And yet, with reality hitting them in the face and the clock ticking, Congressional Democrats are absolutely incensed at the President for caving in to the GOP without a fight. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu has referred to this deal as the “Obama-McConnell Plan” and called it “almost morally corrupt.” Well I guess that’s about as intelligent as saying you’re a little pregnant. She then went on to add insult to injury by saying, “Why the president didn't think there were forty or fifty or sixty of us to defend him on this principle, I don't know, but he basically didn't think anybody of us cared much about it. Well, I want him to know I do care.”

Well, Senator, two things, if I may. 1. There weren’t sixty votes in the Senate; in fact there were only fifty-three votes to extend just the tax cuts for the middle class. Anyone with eyes and an ability to count knew that; and 2. If you felt so strongly about the “almost moral corruptness” of this deal, why then did you vote for the tax cuts in the first place?

No, the villain here is not President Obama; the bad guy here is the Democratic Party and the blame falls squarely on the backs of every single member of Congress who had every possible opportunity to put this matter to bed before the mid-terms, when John Boehner was ready to “cave” himself and grant permanent status to the middle-class tax cuts and allow the upper-tier tax cuts to expire. And then they punted, like they always do. This isn’t the seventh-inning, as Vermont Congressman Peter Welch has stupidly remarked. The seventh inning was back in October when Democrats had real leverage. No, Pete, this is the bottom of the ninth and the basses are loaded. In less than two weeks everyone goes home for a month. The only question that still begs to be answered is whether the burden of millions of unemployed Americans will be somewhat lessened or worsened come January. For all his faults, and he has many, Obama was not willing to play a game of chicken with so much at stake. Give credit where credit is due. Sometimes pragmatism has its advantages.

There will be plenty of battles that the GOP will wage against the President and the Democrats in 2011. They will attempt to repeal both the healthcare and financial reform laws. There is also the matter of raising the debt ceiling. That circus alone could prove the biggest mountain of all to climb. And don’t forget, Obama gets to present his 2012 budget to Congress in February. Get your tickets while they’re hot. For now, Obama has managed to take the lemons he was given, courtesy of a major-league ass whoopin, and make lemonade out of them. If his Party is smart, they’ll drink it.

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