Did Mr. Obama Lose His Way Last Summer?

Jonathan Chait wrote a disturbing—no, very disturbing—piece on the so-called Grand Bargain deficit-reduction talks last summer. The piece was titled:

How Obama Tried to Sell Out Liberalism in 2011

Chait’s commentary was based on a Washington Post story—also disturbing—allegedly detailing President Obama’s failure—yes, unbelievably, that is the way the story frames it—to get a budget deal with Boehner and the Republicans, as the debt-ceiling limit was purposely and purposefully expiring.

Remember all that senselessness and stupidity we went through? Remember how Republicans yet again held the country hostage and engaged in economic jihad to protect the wealthy and cut entitlements?

It turns out that our man in the White House—who a few months earlier had made a very courageous decision to kill Osama bin Laden—may have been just as courageous in his willingness to send liberalism to the bottom of the sea.

That is, if the Post story is completely accurate. There is a weaselly “appeared to accept” at a crucial place and the story does include a pushback from the White House, most notably a denial that it ever agreed to the Republican economic fiction—a piece of trash conservatives never tire of peddling—that reducing tax rates stimulates economic growth and thus increases revenue.

The whole Post narrative is hard to believe, mainly because I don’t want to believe it. But admittedly there does appear to be a large amount of truth to it, a truth rooted in another truth we liberals have to keep relearning: Mr. Obama, for all the good he has done—and there has been a lot of good—is not Bernie Sanders.

As Jonathan Chait points out,

It has previously been reported that Obama had offered to John Boehner to make a series of cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and the domestic budget, to reduce top-end tax rates, and to prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, in return for increasing tax revenue (over current tax levels) by about $800 billion over ten years.

What we didn’t know until the Post story, was,

that even the $800 billion in tax revenue offered by Boehner was not, in fact, $800 billion in tax revenue..

That $800 billion, the Post reported, “came with strings attached,” including lowering the tax rate paid by wealthy Americans. That’s right. I said lowering the rich’s tax rates. But there’s more:

Much of the $800 billion  would have to come from overhauling the tax code — not from higher tax rates. The Republicans believed lower rates and a simpler code would generate new revenue by discouraging cheating and spurring economic growth. If the White House would agree to count that money, the Republican leaders said, then they might have a deal.

As Chait points out, any agreement based on Republican tax philosophy would insure,

that the burden of any higher revenue would fall on the non-rich.

Let that sink in. Let it permeate your progressive pores. Then absorb this:

Obama, incredibly, agreed to that — he agreed to a debt reduction plan that would exempt the wealthy from any sacrifice, and indeed protect them from the possibility that their tax rates would rise when the Bush tax cuts expire.

Now, never mind that even this sellout to conservative teapartyism wasn’t enough for conservative teapartiers, as Chait emphatically notes. They want a total rout. What we should be concerned about—particularly should there be a second term for Obama—is that the President did not tell the tea party hacks to get the hell out of his office, taking their oversize teabags with them.

Jonathan Chait put the matter in about as succinct terms as possible:

The central fiscal issue in American politics is the Republican Party’s insistence on cutting taxes for the rich everywhere and always with no compromise possible. The Post’s story suggests that there was zero progress on this impediment, and Obama wanted a deal so badly he wanted to proceed as if this could be ironed out in the details.

No. There is no ironing out differences with these people. There is no compromise possible with them. They are on a mission from a very strange God and nothing short of complete capitulation can be offered to them that they will feel compelled to accept. A compromise involves concessions on both sides. It means the other side has to move your way, accept things it doesn’t want to accept. But these tea party and tea party-ish folks are willing to hold out until our side completely submits, even if it means The End.

The way to combat these people, as Mr. Obama seems to have lately learned, is expose them. Hold up their regressive and regrettable ideas to the light—the American people—and let everyone see what fanaticism looks like, what unadulterated zealotry would beget if given the fertile ground of surrender.

But having said that, I am forced to confront the most frightening line in the Washington Post story about the Grand Bargain—and one I adamantly refuse to believe is true:

White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table.

If that is true—and I won’t believe it until I hear it from Mr. Obama himself—then the leader of the Democratic Party has not only lost his way, he has lost his political mind.

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