Friday, December 10, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Playing By Different Rules



To somewhat follow up on my previous post and expand on a few observations, the tax cut battles clearly show that the two parties are clearly operating on a very different set of rules and have very different goals. It's no longer about different philosophies or policies, it's now about different tactics and standards. "Winning" and "losing" have very different definitions for the two parties.

As a clear starting point for this rant, it's important to look at and understand the use of the 'filibuster' in the senate, which is the barrier that Obama has been unable to overcome in this battle. The republicans have used their 41 seats in the senate to block any and all bills until their demands are met, and they've been unwavering in this "lame duck" session. Given that the filibuster rule cannot be changed until the beginning of a new congressional session, it's a very effective tactic. Different rules.

Which is why I sort of break from my fellow liberals who say they want Obama to "fight" against the republicans on the tax cuts for the rich. I've read the analogy that Obama "brought a knife to a gunfight", but the reality is that the republicans brought a nuke. The republican line in the sand was "give to the rich, or we'll blow up everything" and with the looming Christmas deadline it was a very credible threat. If anybody can show me where Obama could have gotten even one republican to back down and cross over, I'd be happy to support the "fight" idea. But last weekends votes on the tax cut proposals showed that the republicans were firm in their unity. Different rules.

Which clearly illustrates the difference in the two parties agendas. While Obama and the democrats were attempting to engage in "governing" the republicans were clearly focused on "winning" at any cost. The democrats tried to do what they felt was "good for the country and the economy" whereas the republicans only wanted to help the rich and weaken Obama. Very different priorities and behavior. Different rules.

If Obama had "stuck to his guns" to "fight" the republican obstruction, the results would be disastrous. I don't say this lightly. The tax cuts would end for all, and the resulting economic mayhem would be blamed (unfairly, but loudly) on Obama and the democrats. Everything else would be blocked: no extension of unemployment benefits, no debate on START, DADT, food safety, budget, or anything else. The republicans would merely run out the clock and wait for the new congress in January. Different rules.

This is why I find the "outrage" toward Obama so misplaced. It is the republicans, who in their craven desire to "win", were willing to sacrifice the well being of the majority of Americans to grant the wishes of the rich few. Remember that the republican leadership has clearly and repeatedly stated that their only goal is to "defeat Obama" regardless of how it impacts the American people. That is where the real outrage should be focused: one party has put the desire for power ahead of governing for the people. Different rules.

Last evening, during a discussion at a bar, I was told "both parties do it" but that is demonstrably factually false. I asked the person to show me even one example during the past forty years where the democrats threatened to (or actually did) shut down the government for political gain. Believe me, the media would have been screaming about it if the democrats had engaged in such a maneuver. The media clearly has different rules.

It's time to confront the false equivalency of the "both parties" paradigm, because reality now shows clearly and starkly the difference in the two parties philosophies. The democrats believe in "governing" (no matter how ineptly or incompetently they actually are at engaging in it) while the republicans only believe in "power" (or "wealth" if you prefer). That may sound harsh, but I cannot draw any other conclusion based on the republicans behavior. This wasn't done for some "grand principle"; it was obstruction merely for the sake of obstruction. Call it "extortion" or "blackmail" or, as I did in my previous post, "terrorism", but you certainly can't call it "governing" for the American people.

The republicans forced Obama in to a lose/lose situation, and he chose the "least bad" option. We all wish that he had been a better tactician and been more forceful earlier in the tax cut debate (should have fought prior to the midterm election, IMHO), but at this time that is pure unicorn farming. It's time to direct the outrage, and all your pitchforks and torches, at our true enemies. And that isn't Obama; it's the republicans who forced this upon us.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ransom Paid, Hostages Freed



What a great day! "Bipartisan" compromise on tax cuts achieved! Everybody's happy!

Or maybe not...

Obama and the Democrats are getting lambasted from the left for conceding on tax cuts for the rich, which is quite fair but is only half of the story. I wish I was reading as much screaming about the total venality of the Republicans agenda.

In a nearly perfect terrorist operation the Republicans were able to hold the middle class, poor, and indeed the entire national economy hostage for the sake of tax cuts for millionaires. They were truly ready to destroy everybody in the service of the rich. Priorities. Give the millionaires even more, or we'll start killing the poor. Might just be the clearest ransom note in the history of political terrorism. Perhaps we should start calling them the "terrorist" party.

The democrats tried a 'rescue operation' in the form of last weekends senate votes on tax cuts for the non-millionaires. It failed. Thanks to the Republicans standing in lockstep and the senates arcane filibuster rules, the hostages remained held. The class war is over; the rich have won.

It's easy to criticize Obama and the Democrats for their weakness, and perfectly valid. Obama is a lousy negotiator and the Dems lack the spine (or unity) to truly fight effectively. They caved.

But...

Let's be really clear who the villain is here, rather than forming a circular firing squad. It was the Republicans who took the hostages. It was the Republicans who greedily put the rich ahead of the good of the country. It was the Republicans who chose the terrorist hostage taking tactic in order to get their demands met.

Not that the political media, or the majority of voters, will notice.

So Obama caved in and paid the ransom. That's certainly not something to be proud of. But there weren't any real alternatives (despite what some liberal blogs are saying on their unicorn farms) that wouldn't be worse. The Republicans were perfectly willing to prolong the recession, shut down the government, and kill (literally) the unemployed in the service of millionaires. It's easy to say that "you don't negotiate with terrorists" until the dead hostages (likely children) appear.

So I want to be perfectly clear: Yeah, Obama caved. But the true crime was perpetrated by the Republicans. They are the party that put the wishes of millionaires ahead of the well being of the country. The Republicans are the party that chose to engage in the terrorist tactic of holding the country hostage until their demands were met. That is the crime. They are the criminals.

Added: For better or worse, Obama seems to be on the same wavelength that I am. During todays press conference:

"I've said before that I felt that the middle class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers unless the hostage gets harmed. Then, people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed."

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2010/12/not_a_winning_message.php?ref=fpblg

Not sure how well that will work, but at least he said it.