Non-credible threats

From the front of the Post on-line right now:

Liberals worry Obama has given up ground

Zachary A. Goldfarb and and Peter Wallsten 9:28 PM ET

Key groups are raising concerns that the president has given up political ground to Republicans and threatened to sit out the 2012 presidential campaign if the president goes too far with cuts.

Really?!  They’d just sit out and give us a President Pawlenty, or heck, President Bachman? I don’t think so.  Ironically, though, the anger with Obama is that he is lately appearing to be uniquely bad at bargaining/negotiating with Republicans.

Afghanistan– no news = good news?

For some reason I subscribed to Gallup poll daily updates.  A recent one touted the fact that Americans’ belief that things in Afghanistan are going okay is the highest in a long time.  Here’s the graph:

2006-2011 Trend: In general, how would you say things are going for the U.S. in Afghanistan -- very well, moderately well, moderately badly, or very badly?]

Anyway, it occurred to me that there’s basically been almost no news at all of the American military in Afghanistan of late.  Much of the public is clearly making the assumption that if we’re not hearing things, they must be going well.  I don’t know about “well” but it does probably at least tell us they’re not going “very badly.”  We’d definitely hear about that.

Distaff murder mystery television

So, I’ve really been enjoying AMC’s new murder mystery series, The Killing.  Really good stuff.  I noticed during the credits last night during episode 3, that not only is the creator a woman (that, I knew) but the co-writers and the director of the show were also women.  One of the notable features of the show is that in addition to the police trying to find the killer (the main plot, obviously), there’s really a disturbing amount of time spent on the family of the murder victim as they deal with their grief.  It’s really good stuff, but very painful to watch.  I just had to think that there’s no way these scenes air– certainly not to the same extent– in a series created, written, and directed by men.  Not a judgement, just an observation.

Is Obama a pathological compromiser?

I’m starting to wonder if Obama simply values compromise, in and of itself, too highly.  When compromise helps you achieve a political goal you otherwise would not have been able to, that’s a great thing, but compromise simply for the sake of compromise, most certainly is not.  Especially when that compromise only serves to strengthen and embolden people who want to do dumb things.   If Republicans started saying “we want life sentences for possession of marijuana” you wouldn’t want Democrats to compromise and claim a victory in filling up our prisons for marijuana users with 10-year sentences instead of life sentences.  That would be nuts!  You’d want Democrats to totally fight against such an absurd policy.  The Republicans budget ideas, while not exactly life sentences for marijuana possession, aren’t all that much smarter (or humane).  Thus, that’s why it’s so frustrating to see Obama ever so ready to compromise. Jon Cohn had a really nice piece on this yesterday:

Exactly right. But then Plouffe said something else:

But what’s clear is, like on any issue in Washington, we have divided government. So we’re going to have to bring leaders together and figure out where we can find compromise.

Uh oh. It’s true we have divided government. And it’s true that, at some point, Democrats and Republicans will have to compromise in order to agree on legislation to keep the government running. But does that mean Obama and his surrogates need to preach the virtues of compromise right now?

Ryan has proposed something truly radical. He wants to end to Medicare and Medicaid as we know it, while taking health insurance away from more than 30 million people. And, by simultaneously calling for tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, Ryan has made his proposal politically vulnerable. It’s no stretch to say that Ryan is squeezing seniors instead of squeezing health care costs–and that he is taking from the poor in order to give to the rich. Even relatively conservative Democrats see the plan as a non-starter, with none other than Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus vowing “not on my watch.”

I realize that merely calling for bipartisan cooperation, as Plouffe did on Sunday and Obama presumably will on Wednesday, isn’t tantamount to giving ground. It’s the kind of thing politicians say all the time, whether or not they mean it. And, on Sunday evening, a senior administration official assured TNR that Obama wouldn’t be negotiating with himself or making a detailed, pre-emptive offer to the Republicans. Instead, the official suggested, Obama will be establishing some principles that should guide deficit reduction efforts as the discussion moves forward. (Hopefully they’ll look like this.)

But I feel like I’ve seen this play before. Obama starts off with a flexible, center-left position. The Republicans start off with a rigid, far-right position. Obama’s commitment to bringing people together seems absolutely sincere; the Republicans’ interest in shredding the welfare state seems absolutely sincere. The two go back and forth, eventually reaching a compromise that is somewhere between the two ideological starting points–which is somewhere on the right.

There is a time to bring opposing parties together. And there is a time to choose sides. I hope Obama realizes this is one of the latter.

I hope so, too.  I’m not exactly holding my breath, though.

Republican hostage-takers

So, yesterday I used “terrorists” and Republicans in the same sentence.  Not that Republicans are terrorists, but there’s a certain similar political logic to what they are doing.  Both Chait and Yglesias settle on the much more subtle, “hostage takers.”  Both posts were really smart.  Chait:

Congress has been voting to raise the debt ceiling for years. The minority party typically uses the vote to embarrass the majority. They have never previously considered using such a vote to win substantive concessions.

So why is this happening now? I think it’s pretty clear that the Obama administration’s approach to hostage-taking is to blame. Last December, Republicans expressed their willingness to let something they at least claimed not to want happen — expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income under $250,000 — unless they received additional concessions. Obama shrugged and said, “the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”

When it came to approving the budget resolution, the same situation occurred. John Boehner’s official position was that a government shutdown would be bad. But he’d do it if he didn’t get some concessions. Obama paid up once more.

Why wouldn’t Republicans try it again? And again, and again, and again? It’s normal in politics to hold your opponent’s priorities hostage — I’ll oppose your nominee unless you give me this bill. But when you can hold mutually-held priorities hostage, then you have almost unlimited power.

I.e., obviously Boehner wants to raise the debt ceiling as well, he’s just not actually saying so.  Or he is, but insisting that Democrats need to make concessions for Boehner to do what he actually wants to do.  And Boehner does want to raise the debt ceiling because all reasonable (yes, grading on a curve Boehner is definitely in that category) understand that it’s really bad for us not to, and the overlords of the Republican Party, i.e., big Business, damn sure don’t want this creating any economic trouble.

Yglesias lays out a strategy that seems awfully sensible to me, but maybe I’m missing something:

It’s a two pronged strategy. The first one is a credible, repeated commitment not to surrender anything in exchange for getting congress to agree to the debt ceiling being increased. After all, why should anything be given up. Everyone knows that increasing the debt ceiling is the right thing to do. If the government were operating under uniform Republican control, the GOP would be increasing the debt ceiling. There’s nothing to bargain over. If some members of congress genuinely think that no increase in the debt ceiling is a superior options to raising it, then they’re entitled to be wrong. But there’s no reason that Obama should be trading votes with guys like John Boehner who know perfectly well that an increase is in order. This frames the issue correctly as one of whether or not Republicans who think an increase is warranted will nonetheless refuse to allow one in order to extract unrelated concessions.

Prong two?  Keep the government paying for things Democrats value and stop paying the bills due for things that Republicans value.

I’m going to be really curious to see how Obama plays this.  I still believe Obama is a very capable and smart politician, but I am starting to doubt him a bit in matters such as this.

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