Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 5, 2010

OF ALL THE ISSUES, WHY THIS ONE?.... I saw a tweet this morning that captured a fairly common liberal sentiment recently: "@BarackObama I am very afraid this one issue is the real make or break issue for you. You will NOT be re-elected if you compromise tax cuts."

I noticed a prominent progressive senator said something similar the other day. Just 24 hours after Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he could support a deal with an extension of all Bush-era tax rates, Harkin then said President Obama would be in huge electoral trouble if he supports a deal with an extension of all Bush-era tax rates.

"He would then just be hoping and praying that Sarah Palin gets the nomination," Harkin replied, insinuating that there would be few other Republicans that Obama could assuredly beat in 2012.

The left's frustrations are obvious and well-reasoned, but I'm curious: why has this one policy become the make-or-break issue?

Personally, I've been far from thrilled by how the president and his team have handled the tax debate, but if I'm making a list of things the White House has done lately that have annoyed me, I'd put the pay freeze for federal workers ahead of the likely deal on tax cuts.

In fact, my level of frustration over the tax debate is directed more at congressional Dems than Obama. The president wanted Congress to deal with this -- voting on the middle-class-first plan he championed all along -- before the midterm elections, which was good advice that Democrats ignored for reasons I still can't figure out.

As recently as early September, Republicans were prepared to cave on taxes and lose the larger fight -- right up until Dems on the Hill (not in the administration) got nervous. The caucus splintered, and the GOP took advantage, leaving Obama to try to make the best of a bad situation after Congress. Insisting that the president can't win re-election in two years because he's fighting for extended unemployment benefits in exchange for tax cuts seems like an overreaction.

In contrast, the president's call for a federal worker pay freeze is really annoying. It's a bad policy, executed in a foolish way -- the White House got nothing in exchange for a major concession to the right. It's the kind of move that Obama's made before, and I find it increasingly frustrating every time.

And yet, most of Obama's liberal detractors seem to find a tax deal far more infuriating.

The larger debate over tax policy went off the rails a while ago, but seems especially baffling to me now. For the president's progressive critics, $3.2 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade, all of which would be added to the deficit, is a good, sound policy, but a two-year extension of existing tax rates is a political fiasco that should end Obama's career? The president's the one that came up with the preferred tax policy in the first place, and would have preferred that Congress hadn't dropped the ball. Now he's trying to get something worthwhile out of the negotiations, and it's the deal breaker on his future?

There's a reasonable case to be made that we're looking at a cumulative effect. For much of the left, the concessions, many of which seemed wholly unnecessary, are just becoming intolerable. The party's messaging, tactics, and inability to compromise effectively are just exasperating, and the apparent fact that Republicans will get an extension of a failed tax policy has led some to throw up their arms in disgust and proclaim, "I've had it."

I get that. It's a sentiment that obviously makes sense. But I nevertheless think making the tax issue, in isolation, the "real make or break issue" for Obama's presidency is a mistake. He badly flubbed the pay freeze issue, but I'm not convinced the tax mess is his fault.

Steve Benen 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (123)

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He appears weak and not to have the right core principles, at least not regarding jobs and the economy (or a bunch of other issues).

He's also the leader of the democratic party. With the presidency, both houses of congress and strong public support we couldn't do the right thing on taxes. If we can't win this battle, what can we win?

The buck stops in the oval office.

Straw, camels back and all.

Posted by: foosion on December 5, 2010 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

"There's a reasonable case to be made that we're looking at a cumulative effect. "


Posted by: tommybones on December 5, 2010 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Not all liberals find this a make-or-break issue. Rather, we are TIRED of the almost complete lack of backbone on a winning issue. The Democrats should have just said let it expire and then propose cuts for the bottom 90 percent (see any irony in that term?) of the people. But time and time again, Democrats have offered up their plans and proposals on the alter of bipartisanship to a group of terrorists called Republicans. After ten long years of conservative economic doctrine failing BIG TIME, they are still pushing this ideology and people are buying it only because it's the only idea being sold.

The pay freeze is stupid and foolish. It does nothing to help and can only hurt the economy. Frankly, with what voters buy as serious thinking, the country is getting everything it deserves.

Posted by: Darsan54 on December 5, 2010 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

It's because we're still steaming at the way Wall Street gave themselves bonuses and otherwise have acted like masters of the universe after they brought the economy to its knees. And then, they didn't get punished.

Posted by: Kay on December 5, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

I think that the potential tax-cut-for-millionaires issue is kind of the last straw. Using a different metaphor, it's his third strike. The first strike was the cave on the public option. The second strike was the federal worker pay freeze, which is a completely symbolic act that is both craven and reeking of weakness. The tax cut cave would be the third strike.

I personally supported him with money. I went door to door for him. I have never done either of those things for any other Presidential candidate. He may go down in flames anyway due to the terrible economy, but I will be dammed if I will support another Democrat that is systematically giving in to the Republicans the way that he has. It's time for him to stand for something.

Posted by: Zappo on December 5, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

"It's because we're still steaming at the way Wall Street gave themselves bonuses and otherwise have acted like masters of the universe after they brought the economy to its knees. And then, they didn't get punished."

This. It's the last chance for Democrats and Obama to establish that our entire government isn't completely in thrall to the richest Americans.

Posted by: anon on December 5, 2010 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with foosion and tommybones. It plays into the larger narrative of him not seeming to want to fight for liberal issues. And I think it is a moral issue that people can easily grasp. For instance if he really wanted congress to vote on it before the election why didn't he raise a big stink about, get all of his team out there in public and force/shame them into the vote. He doesn't come across as a leader.

Posted by: Andrew on December 5, 2010 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Why won' the dems pass middle class tax cuts through reconciliation? The reason Bush's cuts are expiring this year is that they were passed through reconciliation in 2001. They had to evade the Byrd Rule which prevents from passage any bill that increases the deficit for a term of ten years. So what if Obama's cuts expire in 2019. Turnablut is fair play.

Posted by: oldbuffalo on December 5, 2010 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of liberals and lefties are coming to the conclusion that the plutocracy has taken over the country and is systematically destroying its institutions and looting its wealth. Giving in to such forces makes them stronger, wealthier, and bolder, leaving the rest of the country weaker, impoverished, and cowed.

This tax issue could be a tipping point politically, culturally, and financially. There is a point at which the country is unsalvageable, and a lot of us worry that we are pretty much at that point. So excuse us if we freak out a bit.

Posted by: Xenos on December 5, 2010 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

It's because it's the crowning piece on a string of events, including the fed pay raises, that make him look weak and ineffective -- Carter and Dukakis rolled into one and magnified.

Posted by: NoCal Liberal on December 5, 2010 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

First, I don't know how you separate the unilateral pay freeze from the tax cuts. They are both part and parcel of the same negotiation. Second, the reason why liberals are so mad about the tax cut deal is this deal essentially accepts as true the Republican view on taxes and the economy. Third, there is absolutely no reason why Republicans will not come around and do the exact same thing in two or three years that they are doing now. Democrats still control the presidency and the senate. To give up now, is to essentially give up generating enough tax revenue for a generation. We know republicans care not a wit if the government spends large deficits. Some even want a default on debt. For the liberal project to go forward, however, we need to show that government can be effective. Having sufficient funding to meet current obligation is part of that. For no known reason, Obama has decided to simply throw in the towel. Steve, you talk about the bad moves by congressional Democrats, but where was Obama saying, "I will veto any bill that includes tax cuts on marginal rates above 250k for families." That's the sort of leadership we need, and that can lead to positive feedback where more congressional players are willing to take a vote they see as risky, because the President and their party have their back. Obama has shown zero leadership on this issue, and seems to not really care either way about this policy.

Posted by: llama on December 5, 2010 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

"It's the kind of move that Obama's made before, and I find it increasingly frustrating every time."

This must be a 'Fringe' alternate universe.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on December 5, 2010 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with steve on this, it has been the intractible republicans who have done something no other president has ever faced. Of course he was bipartisan, he was elected on that, by the country.

Republicans knew , their only recourse, was to stall legislation from the moment he comes into office, and they did, in the most backstabbing cunning manner they could. People did not understand that , so the midterms went their way.

The compromise now, for one or two years, does not mean they get the full extent of 700 billion.But it clears the way for dadt, and many more important issues to come up while still lame duck,and not with a Gop, the deal should come with a promise , publicly , not to filibuster any more of the remaining session.

Posted by: Michael on December 5, 2010 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

1) The advantage of an unambiguously winning issue, inexplicably frittered away.

2) Tax policy is one of the levers for slowing the increase in economic inequality, a major progressive priority.

3) It is one of the Bush-era mistakes that can be at least partly reversed very easily due to the sunset provision. This is pretty much the time to do it.

And yes, the other reasons stated in this thread are good ones too. In the end, it seems like a salient moment when we see the ideals of the 2008 campaign contrast with who Obama actually is.

Posted by: Sam W on December 5, 2010 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with what everyone else has said. I too supported Obama to a high degree, and am sick of all the giving in to a party that wants to destroy the country for greed. The tax cuts are the last straw for me too.

Posted by: beckya57 on December 5, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

er not with a GOP majority

Posted by: Michael on December 5, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Steve that the performance by congressional Dems has been one disaster after another, but Obama as the leader of the party has to be held to some accountability for that too.

Posted by: beckya57 on December 5, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Be convinced, Steve. It Obama can't stand up to the right on this simplest of concepts - the rich don't need nor deserve a continuation of a tax cut and the middle class does - then he is a pasty president with no ability to stand up for 98% of the American people. If you can't stand up, he doesn't deserve to be president ...

Posted by: bigrenman on December 5, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

our combined household income is well below $250K and i have absolutely no problem with the tax cuts expiring and staying that way.
however, if that's what happens, the dems need to hammer the message that this is what the repulsivecans wanted when they wrote the law, passed it thru reconciliation, and sealed the deal when they killed a vote on extending them for "the bottom 90%."

Posted by: mellowjohn on December 5, 2010 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

There's a reasonable case to be made that we're looking at a cumulative effect.

More than reasonable, I'd say.

In fact, my level of frustration over the tax debate is directed more at congressional Dems than Obama. The president wanted Congress to deal with this -- voting on the middle-class-first plan he championed all along -- before the midterm elections, which was good advice that Democrats ignored for reasons I still can't figure out.

I put absolutely zero value on what Obama says he wants. Time and time and time again, he says one thing and then does the opposite. Don't make me cite examples because I'll just become more enraged...if possible. You, Mr Benen, have been carrying Obama's water for two years. I accuse you of insufficient outrage.

In fact, I'm beginning to wonder whether perhaps Obama is not capitulating, but rather pursuing desired goals..

Barring a major reversal in his conduct, I'm not going to vote for this scumbag in 2012. He's giving Republicans everything they want, which is bad enough, and destroying Democrats in the process. On that score, I'd rather McCain be in office right now.

Posted by: Monty on December 5, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

"In fact, my level of frustration over the tax debate is directed more at congressional Dems than Obama. The president wanted Congress to deal with this -- voting on the middle-class-first plan he championed all along -- before the midterm elections, which was good advice that Democrats ignored for reasons I still can't figure out." SB

And how did he impart to Congress, especially that will-o-the-wisp, Harry Reid, that he wanted them to "deal with" it? Did he assist them in understanding that this was a huge priority for the White House and that he would have their backs if things got hot and they they would all speak from the same page and sink or swim together on the issue?

There was a great opportunity to do more and better than the Congress and White House did in the first two years of the Obama presidency. There has been no coherent and focused message from the Dems, or from the White House. Just the opposite. The constant question is "what do they, (we), stand for". It's still a disaster that Harry Reid is the majority "leader" of the Senate. How the W.H. can expect Congress to "deal with it" with H.R. around is a mystery. He's as useless as a spittoon in there. A barf bag would serve more purpose. And what the White House will stand and fight for is anybody's guess.


Posted by: burro on December 5, 2010 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

I gave up on Obama months ago, and I will enthusiastically support a primary challenge to him from the left.

I have no idea what motivates Obama. I suppose that years after he's left office we'll be able to sort through the tell-all books by insiders and begin to piece together a true picture of how his mind works. But for now all we can do is compare what we are doing with what we need to be doing.

As I've said many times before, when your house is on fire you don't try to find a "middle ground" with the guy who says that the solution is to pour gasoline on the fire. As far as I can tell, Obama's political philosophy is that as long as the process is agreed to by both sides, then things will work out whether we use water, gasoline or both on the fire.

But he's wrong, as the anemic "recovery" demonstrates.

Supply-side economics has been a failure that has hurt both the American economy and American society. America's decline will continue until the Democrats unequivocably reject Supply-side economic's "Three Pillars of Faith" -- tax cuts for the wealthy, complete deregulation of corporations and "tort reform" that makes it impossible for anyone who can't write a check for $25,000 to file a civil suit.

If Obama is renominated, I will vote for him as the lesser of two evils. But I have no more "Hope" left.

Posted by: SteveT on December 5, 2010 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's just that time of year. Keep in mind this time last year everybody form Howard Dean to Ed Shultz was saying scuttle the health care bill over the public option. Whether you agree or not with the positions it does seem the angst comes to a head in December.

Posted by: markg8 on December 5, 2010 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

That you dont' get it is symptomatic of what's wring with the Dem. Party. Obama started caving from day one. he set up the damn catfood commission to give us a sham debate about cutting social security, and to make deficit reduction the primary issue instead of jobs. He froze the salaries of federal workers for purely symbolic reasons, AND GOT NOTHING IN RETURN.

I had high hopes for Obama, but he's been worse than inept.

Posted by: HC Carey on December 5, 2010 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Tax cuts for the wealthy are the heart and soul of what passes for The Big Idea on the Right.

So the-opposite-of-tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy becomes the non-negotiable position of the Left, even though it doesn't have to be,

Manichean politics.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 5, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

I've been debating (with myself, mostly) whether it would be a good deal to trade a temporary extension of tax cuts for the rich for the extension on unemployment, passage of START, etc.

What has been bugging me, though, is that if you do so, you're sending this message: the only way that we can progress in this country legislatively is by paying off rich people. Which some would call extortion:

"extortion: unjust exaction (as by the misuse of authority); 'the extortion by dishonest officials of fees for performing their sworn duty'"

You're sending the message the richest of the rich actually control this country, and in order to get a few crumbs for the common man, the rich need to be paid off with borrowed money - money that the common man (and woman), and their children, will be obligated to pay back, with interest. That does not bode well for the future of America.

Posted by: delNorte on December 5, 2010 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm so tired of people defending Obama by saying that he "wanted" Congress to deal with this prior to the midterm elections. Unfortunately, leadership isn't just about what you "want"; it is getting that thing done. I don't personally recall Obama making a strong push in public, and while I recognize that such a push may have been made in private, regardless of what he may have done, he didn't get them to follow his wishes. He's the President, possessing the largest bullypulpit in the country and he did not get this done. I certainly agree this should have been done prior to the midterms, but to absolve Obama of responsibility because Congress didn't act is to excuse his lack of leadership on this. Instead of just saying that this is something he wanted, the burden is on you to show that he did everything he could and getting Congress to deal with this prior to the midterms, but that getting so done with simply not possible.

Posted by: Egan on December 5, 2010 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Monty said "In fact, I'm beginning to wonder whether perhaps Obama is not capitulating, but rather pursuing desired goals."

Stop wondering. It was obvious that Obama wasn't interested in passing a public option when he sent Valerie Jarrett to the Sunday talk shows to discount its importance. Same M.O. with Axelrod on the tax cuts - signal you aren't going to "draw a line in the sand" let the Republicans run with the ball and then say, "gee, we have to face political reality." Steve, your continued and aggressive blindness to this is becoming and tiresome - so I don't come here as often as I used to it's all excuses, all the time. Wake up! He's one of them!

Posted by: Dan on December 5, 2010 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

It is time for the President to start ACTING like the President and tell the GOP he will veto a bill for cuts over $250K.

Posted by: JEA on December 5, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's a confluence of reasons: 1) It's a simple issue with little to no nuance. There is no good reason to extend the cuts to the rich (outside of politics). 2) OTOH, the bank bailout and the fin reg are/were very complex issues which did not satisfy anyone's sense of justice for holding responsible those to blame for the mess we're in.

Posted by: You Don't Say on December 5, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

I guess everything is all about perspective. The president has achieved more than any other President in terms of "liberal" accomplishments but because it was done at a price and with what some believe were too many (unnecessary) compromises, *some* democrats and liberals are frustrated and/or angry with the President.

I can't speak for everyone else. I can only say that I don't think it's wise to cut off your nose to spite your face. If Democrats/liberals want to make this a make or break issue, that's up to them. But my question to those people is, "and then what?" Are you going to find a Dem candidate to primary Obama in 2012? Yeah? Great! Who is it? What's going to be their platform? What specific things is this person going to do to get more "liberal" legislation passed through Congress that Obama didn't do? What specific things is this person going to do to get conservative Democrats to vote for this liberal legislation? What specific things is this Democrat going to do to force Democrats to take votes on tough issues before an election cycle? What specific things is this Democrat going to do to overcome Republic obstructionism, besides fruitless bully pulpit talk about how useless the Republicans are? How exactly will this Democrat be so vastly different than Obama and get elected?

I always thought voting for political candidates is like marrying someone -- it's the 80/20 rule. You'll will never get 100% of what you want from that person, and with politicos, it my be 60/40 given the circumstances.

And the pay freeze issue? Seriously? I'm a federal worker, so as someone who may be effected *if* this proposal is voted on by Congress, I have to say that I am so sick of all of the handwringing over this issue. It's not that deep. Democrats accuse the President of having a tin ear to those who are unemployed or who have had to deal with taking cuts in pay or benefits because of the recession, yet, when the President proposes a two-year (not indefinite) freeze on a small part of a federal workers' overall salary people are up in arms about it. And let's not forget, it was because of this administration that many federal agencies have been able to do more hiring after being underfunded and understaffed for the past ten years, but yes, let's throw a fit because again, we won't get everything that we want or think we are entitled to.

I have criticisms of this freeze not because I think that as a federal worker I should somehow be protected from what others in the private sector have to go through, but if the President is proposing this pay freeze as a deficit reduction measure, it doesn't make sense since we are now talking about adding to the deficit in terms of extending the tax cuts for everyone, including those in the middle class.

It seems that every one wants something for nothing.

Posted by: vts on December 5, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Apart from what has been mentioned (accumulation, lack of leadership)- I think the fissure has to do the with existing dissonance of deficit reduction and tax cuts. Logically you can't have both so we are force to ignore reality and think like a Republican- one suggestion would be to have first have deficit reduction and then tax cuts-Tax cuts by themselves cause enormous damage to government finances and even affect the legitimacy of government. Also, note the amount of credit that the administration got on the last round of tax cuts in the stimulus package. I doubt they will do better this time. Modify the plan next year- don't make so costly and call it Obama tax cuts and have deficit and have deficit reduction in the proposal. If this goes through he in big danger of losing. Progressives care more about governance than Start and temporary extension of unemployment benefits. I am unsure what Obama cares about it.

Posted by: Raoul on December 5, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

The Dems should let the Repubs extend the whole package and Obama should veto it.

Posted by: martin on December 5, 2010 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

oldbuffalo, they can't use reconciliation because there's no budget provision for it, because there's no budget. At least, my understanding of "reconciliation" - somebody correct me if I'm wrong - is that the authority to use it is granted in the overall budget, with a provision that says, essentially, Congress has the authority to reconcile individual spending bills to match this overall budget. Congress didn't pass a budget this year, therefore, there's no reconciliation authority.

As to Steve's larger question, I have to go, in part, with what others have said here: this is just the last straw. But I think it's more than that, too. Most Americans may not know all the details and the numbers, but they definitely "get" that the rich have made out like bandits in the last decade, courtesy of Republican policies. To let them continue their looting is just intolerable at a level that a pay freeze, or even the lack of a public option just doesn't reach.

Posted by: KarenJG on December 5, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

I count myself among those who feel that this is a make-or-break issue. I don't disagree that the pay freeze was idiotic on all levels, but to me it fell under the larger category of needless capitulation to GOP opposition, and the tax cuts are a prototypical example of the same thing. What makes the tax cuts bother me more is the political failure a compromise represents.

First, not continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest is a position for which the Dems have overwhelming popular support. Second, offering tax cuts to the wealthiest goes completely against the GOP and villager mantra of reducing the deficit. Third, rising income inequality is something that people can really feel, and it is again an issue that Dems should be able to use as a cudgel against the GOP.

So why blame Obama when it was the Congressional Dems that got wobbly on the tax cuts? Because he has not been interested in creating a climate where enacting his favored policies seems like the only reasonable course of action. I know this extends to lots of other issues, but unless he wants to be a one-term president, he has to address the economy, and allowing tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire is one visible and effective way to do it. It also cuts to the heart of what Democrats allegedly believe in: supporting those who have less.

Of all the players in this debate, Obama is the one who could most effectively and efficiently set the tone, a tone that would have made it much more likely that Dem caucus would have held both before the election and now.

But he didn't. He hasn't done it on any issue. His stump speech metaphor about the car was cute, but we needed urgency. We needed him to point the finger at the treasonous behavior of the opposition. We needed him to repudiate the misguided economic policies of the Republicans stretching back to Reagan. But he none of these things.

Perhaps it's more that the tax cuts are the proverbial last straw. But it's a big enough straw that it will make me lose faith in Obama and in the current crop of Dem representatives.

Posted by: Madlad on December 5, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

This has something to do with attacking one of the biggest issues attacking American prosperity: The further enrichment of the upper 2% at the expense of the nation. It is an existential issue because it has brought us to the brink of literal class war. Louis XVI didn't see it either. . .

Posted by: Sparko on December 5, 2010 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

If only...

"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me - and I welcome their hatred."

Posted by: tommybones on December 5, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Why this?

Because it proves, without a doubt, that our country is now governed by the rich, for the rich. These goddamn trillion dollar tax cuts did nothing to help the economy and nothing to help the middle class.

Meanwhile, the Republicans and the media are claiming that we can't afford to extend unemployment benefits, can't afford to improve health care, or our roads, or to work on pulling the economy out of this miserable recession. We keep being told there's just no money to help the unemployed, that we're going to have to make sacrifices, but suddenly there's a trillion dollars for tax cuts for the filthy rich?

This issue is so raw for so many of us because everyone I know has been making sacrifices this year...going without medicine, going without food, losing their homes when they were told they would receive help, taking menial jobs making just a percentage of what they used to make and being grateful for any job at all, and then a bunch of millionaires and billionaires, who already got bailed out by the gov't, get a tax cut? Heck yeah I'm mad.

Posted by: FoxinSocks on December 5, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Louis XVI didn't see it either. . .

Viva la Revolution!

Roll out the tumbrels!

Death to the Aristos!

Posted by: SteveT on December 5, 2010 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Since $3.2 trillion in Republican-style tax cuts are terrible progressive policy, it's pretty clear progressives don't actually care about policy.

Instead this is all about scoring political points, and extending the Bush tax cuts is terrible politics. (Bad policy too, but the $3.2 trillion is already bad policy.)

So caving in is a political and policy disaster. Progressives were happy with the policy disaster, but topping it with the political failure is too much.

Posted by: ferg on December 5, 2010 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK


30 years of supply-side trickle down economics has destroyed us.

It has put enormous amounts of money in the pockets of those that control real policy-making. Couple that with citizens united and the middle class is being relegated to 3rd class status.

The tax cut is an essential need not because it will solve deficit woes, but because it will finally be a first step in pushing back against the ultra-wealthy who truly control the country.

We keep being told that tax cuts are what are needed for economic development, when 30 years of statistics fail to show any support for the theory.

Its bullshit and they know it, but they don't care. They are going to keep robbing us blind.

Posted by: Simp on December 5, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

FDR knew a basic rule of politics that Obama seems never to have learned: it's better to die on your feet than live on your knees. If you fight and lose, you still gain respect. If you cave without a fight, your enemies lose respect for you, but more importantly, so do your friends. Admiration for being "bipartisan" doesn't translate into votes. Respect does.

Posted by: dalloway on December 5, 2010 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with all that you wrote, but the reason that the tax cuts are a major issue for me is that Obama campaigned against them not only as bad policy, which was obvious, but as a moral issue -- that they had exacerbated economic inequality in this country and needed to be ended. They are still bad policy, but while policy conditions can change, moral arguments rarely do, and that is why I am disillusioned. Furthermore, polls appear to show that most of the public does not favor extending the tax cuts for the wealthy, not even a majority of Republicans. What is the downside of opposing their extension? Why compromise? I really do not understand the thinking of the White House on this issue. They should have a strong and unified message out there that the Republicans are holding major public policy issues -- START, unemplopyment compensation extension -- hostage to their narrow and selfish agenda. To the degree that the president sets the political agenda, it seems to me at the moment, to my utter chagrin, that Mitch McConnell is the de facto president of the United States. That is not what I intended my vote for Obama to achieve.

Posted by: Mikein Mintgomery on December 5, 2010 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Ok, I'm back to being more pissed about the pay freeze or the single payer. What's the point? And, actually this is a bigger deal because if the tax cuts go through, there is no return from this point. We're on an inalterable path to continue the exponential path of inequality. We will have firmly, bipartisanly established the notion that deficits don't matter when it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy. We're all being rapidly convinced, though that modest entitlement benefits DO matter. The next big step is to cut social security and other low/middle class programs and start funneling as much social security revenue through the corrupt financial system as possible.

Posted by: mike on December 5, 2010 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Are you getting the message, Steve? We are just pissed that he seems to capitulate and lose what were competitive advantages - in fact, gives them away. In addition to tax breaks for the rich, he had the gall to say he hadn't done enough to work with R's - this past week. WTF? On health care, Barraso, Grassely, etc., led him on, only to pull out of any meaningful negotiation. Why, then, did he think he hadn't done enough?

As Ted Frier pointed out yesterday, there is only one party that wants to govern, and Obama continues with the idea that the Rs have a responsibility gene.

The fact that they will hold Start, his nominees, etc etc all of McConnells bloviating, etc, are all pretty clear signs that the only way to have waged this war was to fight, fight, fight; he could have provided lame ass weak kneed dems with some promises of cover in the midterms, etc etc.

THat, Steve, is why we are pissed off.

Posted by: bigtuna on December 5, 2010 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

delNorte: "the only way that we can progress in this country legislatively is by paying off rich people."

Well, that's the rub, now isn't it? As long as they can extract a pound of flesh, they will. It's unproductive for lefties to whine about Obama in the face of an obstructionist GOP and conserva-Dems willing to aid and abet.

The political landscape sucks. I say, take the half a loaf, declare victory, and move on. Conservatives are effective because they keep whittling away at things and don't stop. Our side sits on its hands when it doesn't get everything that it wants.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 5, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

"why has this one policy become the make-or-break issue?"

There are at least four excellent reasons mentioned in comments above:

(1) it's a simple, defining issue with little nuance;

(2) There is absolutely NO convincing case that extending tax breaks for the super-wealthy is good for the nation; quite the reverse -- it signals that the unabated looting of America is now in full swing;

(3) Obama's premature surrender on the issue comes as part of an unmistakable pattern set by him and the chief domestic and economic and environmental advisors he has chosen. The Obama administration raises the white flag, caves in, and then announces it wants to negotiate; and

(4) While you are absolutely right that blue dogs, Wall Street sell-outs, and me-first Dems like Ben Nelson have a lot to answer for, Obama had it within his power at the outset to discipline them into supporting the WH's agenda but either didn't desire or didn't know how to use it.

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that by now Obama has no such power anymore. He either (a) made a conscious choice not to use his power to enforce his campaign pledges and now cannot un-do the situastion even if wanted to; or (b) he never intended to carry through on his promises in the first place. Today's headline at TPM is plainly not news to anyone, anymore: "McConnell Says Dems Will Cave On Tax Cuts."

The despair so many of us feel is that Obama's weakness has been on display so often, in exactly the same way, on so many issues that we now have the stomach-flipping certainty that Obama doesn't have it in him to do what it takes to fulfill his own campaign promises.

Analogy to a similar time.

The only time I have felt despair was in 1968. I voted for LBJ/Humphrey in 1964 and had similar hopes for a strong, liberal president. By 1968 I was in despair over the prospect of a Johnson-Humphrey reelection ticket, just as I am now over the likely Obama-Biden ticket in 2012.

I'm a very average guy. I think a great many people who voted for Obama are feeling exactly as I did in 1968 -- disgusted, resentful, appalled, sorry I voted the way I did, and eager for someone inside the party to take on the sitting president in the primaries so liberal Democrats might have some chance, however slim, of success in the next election.

Posted by: John B. on December 5, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Once again the so-called left needs a lesson in Poly.Sci. A President does not have the leeway to rant and rave only to persuade.
Yes sir, if they don't get everything they want they will take their ball and go home. That will show him.

Posted by: hornblower on December 5, 2010 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Because Obama is Bush II

Posted by: Kill Bill on December 5, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

I think the dems should embrace every policy the muppet masters [of both parties] want instead of playing this duplicitous game and feigned allegiance to the people.

And when the country goes to hell in a handbasket then and only then will this lopsided undemocratic unrepresentative form of government go the way of the wooly mammoth.

Posted by: Kill Bill on December 5, 2010 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

It's frigging everything. The tax cuts should never have happened in the first place. Dems got rolled on them then (first, "the economy is so strong we have to have them", then "the economy is so bad we have to have them"). Without them, we'd be in much better shape. They are terrible progressive politics. It's the next step in Republican's drowning the government in a bathtub. If Obama passes a compromise (even if it is just a 'temporary extension'), the attendant problems are ours, not Bush's any more, and they will to all intents and purposes be permanent. We can't afford a temporary 2 yr extension any more than we could have afforded 12 years when they set up the miserable bait and switch plan in the first place. I'm sick of rolling over for Republicans and blue dogs Dems. I don't like preemptive concessions, and while they have a certain 'good-will' value in community organizing, which I normally like, they clearly don't work with the current Republiscum. I still frigging like Obama and I remain impressed with what he has been able to do in such a horrible political climate, but this one is just steaming the bejeezus out of me. It's so frigging winnable: do absolutely nothing, and then beat up the Republicans for being obstructionists who care only about the very rich, regardless of the cost to the nation, our kids' futures, and everyone other than the rich.

Posted by: N.Wells on December 5, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

It is really much simpler than all this,

Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton, is a liberal Republican.

This has always been the case, they all but come right out and say it. It's only liberals looking at them through rose-tinted glasses, because they have no one else to look at, that has let them imagine otherwise.

The Republican party is not really a political party, it's a function of corruption. There is only one actual political party in the US, the Democrats and they're an unwieldy overcrowded vessel because the Democrats have to accommodate everyone.

Posted by: cld on December 5, 2010 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe Mr. Obama's long game is just something we, the public, don't understand. I believe that he is the champion of the middle class, and I know that sometimes in DC things just have to play out in certain ways to reach the eventual goal like, for example, health care reform. Mr. Obama is a great strategist. It doesn't make sense that someone who ran a flawless campaign would flub the job once in office. There must be more to the situation--either a process that has to play out or a greater goal--than is apparent. At least, I certainly hope so.

Posted by: Kay on December 5, 2010 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with your tweeter. This is the straw breaking my back as well.

Because economic equality and justice was the heart of the democracy I grew up in. Because Citizen's United means the wealthy can now outright buy their elections. Because this republic was founded to reject hereditary aristocracies, and they are reestablishing themselves here and now, and it breaks my heart. Because a 2 year extension today means a permanent extension as soon as the GOP can buy 2012. Because it took generations of my ancestors incredibly hard work to achieve a progressive income tax rate finally a hundred years ago and we are ignorant of their sacrifices and abandoning their successes.

Why Obama's fault? Because this is a failure of leadership. Because smaller politicians need air cover if they are going to fight against the rich and powerful people in their own districts whose parties they need to attend to raise their next campaign coffer. No one dares be out in front on this one. The President MUST. If he indicated a willingness to go to the barricades on this one, he would have found plenty of support. But Axlerod signaled defeat and every dem chose safety.

Posted by: Quatrain Gleam on December 5, 2010 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Because there is no excuse for not getting this right. All of the other issues require Congress to actually 'do' something in order to arrive at the ideal result. With the tax issue, the ideal result is arrived at by doing absolutely nothing and blaming it on the Republicans. This is because everyone knows the ideal tax rates that will allow us to have economic growth and balance the budget. These are the tax rates we had while Clinton was the President. And everyone knows that Congress is so fucked up that it can't do anything. And by some miracle, these are the tax rates we are going to get if Congress does absolutely nothing. So, all we have to do right now is figure out a way to get Congress to do what it does best, which is absolutely nothing, and we get the best possible outcome, and if we are clever about it, we will be able to blame the slight rise in income taxes on the tea party austerity crowd because it is being done in response to the deficit hysteria that we keep hearing is the most important fucking thing to come down the pike in ages. And by the way, this is the best way to deal with the deficit, not fucking around with social security, and I am sure the public would agree.

Posted by: SW on December 5, 2010 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

while I cannot ever imagine supporting any GOP anymore because of their wholesale willingness to see america diminished for their political power, I cannot and will not support Obama in primary elections if he returns the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich. Period.

Letting the whole of BUsh tax cuts expire is my desire, but certainly I did vote for Obama because I was certain he would never allow that awful Bush tax plan to continue.

I felt that way two years ago in November, I feel the same and more today.

I don't think I am alone.

The Clinton Tax Program worked for America - lets go back to it.

Posted by: Ed Bardell on December 5, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

This tax extension for the rich is the last straw for me - it is the culmination of all thr give aways that has soured me. I think Obama is weak and is no longer respected by the Congress and world leaders. I have given him the benefit of the doubt throughout but I have had it. this makes me very sad and extremely worried about our future

Posted by: sharon McMahon on December 5, 2010 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with Pres. Obama is that he is a great speaker and probably a great thinker, but he is no sort of a politician. He's been in what, two, electoral campaigns. His experience is not that of person whose job or profession is politics. He hasn't a clue. What the Dems need is a person in the mold of LBJ and add in Lady Bird. Think what you will of him, he knew exactly how to get things done, and if it hurt his opponents, well good.

Posted by: Steve on December 5, 2010 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

The pay freeze was the real heart-breaker for me. It proved that Republican views of economics prevail in the White House to our country's demise.

Obama is adrift on both economics and politics right now. David Plough can only do so much. He needs a strong, progressive economic advisor who is in lock step with a new, equally as strong chief of staff.

Posted by: PeninsulaMatt on December 5, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

The point is that the sainted 'middle class' tax cuts that obama and the democrats are so intent on going to the mat for are in total a large amount of money but individually, they aren't shit. Nobody gives a crap about the $100. It is insulting to think that this is going to sway anybody one way or the other. It is just rhetorical, or a fairness issue. But it isn't worth it because by holding out for it, you make Congress a player. You give them the power over the issue. Otherwise, just let them expire and go with the old rates. Just do a pivot and make this your austerity measure!!! All these same asshole have been screaming for some sort of austerity measure. Feed them the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and a promise to veto any extension of any tax cuts as our response to the austerity measures that are being enacted throughout the world. We have decided to start paying for our wars.

Posted by: SW on December 5, 2010 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

One straw too many.

Posted by: CDW on December 5, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I would say the reason the tax issue resonates is that it has been so widely discussed for so long now -- it's a high-profile example of the Democrats collapsing in the face of Republican taunts despite having the clear support of a majority of Americans. The federal pay freeze, for most people, is just a blip on the radar, plus it conforms to what deficit hysterics are demanding. To understand the effect of the wage freeze one needs to get down into the weeds to a degree not necessary for the tax issue.

Posted by: karen marie on December 5, 2010 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

The pay freeze is not that big a deal. It's symbolic and fairly meaningless. (Try furloughs and pay cuts, they're much more significant).

The Bush tax deferrals are a truly big deal. They were perhaps the biggest Bush debacle, because they put our nation in such a financial hole without any benefit (unless you are a millionaire). It was an absolutely horrible policy.

And we knew this day was coming for an entire decade. This has been a marker for me; how will Obama and the Dems handle the expiration of the Bush tax rates? Obama's line has been to keep the middle class rates, which is ok, but the best policy is to let them all expire.

For me, the jury's out, but it's really important that the President and the Democrats in Congress (which are more of the problem, in my view) handle this issue this month. A lefty tea party may be forming if the established Dems don't deliver.

Posted by: danimal on December 5, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

To me, it's not THE make or break issue. It's more like the straw that will break this camel's back. I feel like Charlie Brown, and Obama is Lucy.
I will absolutely re-think my political affiliation if the Dems cave.
I'd rather see them stand their ground, and allow all of the tax cuts expire.
The Republicans gambled that Congress wouldn't have the stones to let this lapse. Let the Dems gamble a bit too. It will be much harder to re-pass the Bush tax cuts in an era of such high deficits.

Posted by: Bonzo on December 5, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, your commenters here have rightly shellacked you for breathtakingly lazy thinking. The combination of COL pay freeze for federal workers while allowing tax cuts for the uber-wealthy to become permanent drives a stake in the heart of the Democratic party, an existentialist moment for the party unlike any I've ever seen in my life. And the president is wielding the stake for reasons that elude us all.

If he caves on these tax cuts -- and I believe he will -- he's guaranteeing a primary challenge and the potential for the splintering of the party, as I don't think African-Americans will abandon him (or at least there's no evidence to suggest they will, even though his economic policies hit them harder than virtually any other demographic).

I really don't understand what's going on in his head.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on December 5, 2010 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Tax policy is a defining issue -- it is the difference between conservatives and liberals distilled down to its very essence. Republicans want low taxes for millionaires and hate anything that helps anyone else. Democrats want millionaires to pay their fair share so we can afford policies that help the rest of us. Caving on this looks like selling out liberalism as a whole. And every little cut to programs that help the middle class in the poor, done in the name of deficit reduction, will be salt in the wound of a lost philosophical war.

Posted by: Dan on December 5, 2010 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

My (liberal) wife's response on hearing about the pay freeze for Federal workers-"This didn't happen 18 months ago?" Many of us in the private sector have put up with not just layoffs, but cuts in pay, cuts in hours, & pay freezes. I 'd say it was bad policy on the part of the WH NOT to have instituted a pay freeze.

Posted by: PeteCO on December 5, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Not asked yet: if this isn't the line in the sand, what is?

Or, how do liberals exert pressure on the White House?

Some are already out of the tent, but most are still in and will likely stay in as the options for pushing back seem difficult.

Posted by: angler on December 5, 2010 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK


You are missing crucial things if you do not understand why these tax cuts are make or break for the future of Democrats. REVENUE is crucial, at the very heart of our nation's ability to achieve public purposes -- and the trends for decades have shifted the tax burden away from the very wealthy. Continuation of these cuts at the top would be a big step in further entrenching horrendous inequalities in America. If this juncture is missed, these cuts will never be reinstated at the top. Democrats have not paid enough attention to taxes in the past. They must lean how to talk and fight about them.

For Obama, this one is crucial. He PROMISED in the 2008 campaign not to renew cuts at the top. He must keep the promise. Their continuation cannot be made law without his signature -- so he has a lot of power in this. We all know it.

Obama needs to gain a strong voice on the future of the economy and the need for public investments to create jobs and build infrastructure -- AND he should tie the cessation of tax cuts for income above $250K DIRECTLY to the nation's needs. He may have to hang tough for some time and keep arguing against the Republicans. If he does, he could gain steam for 2012. If he does not, I suspect he will be a one-termer.

I gave the max in the last cycle -- and I will not do it again for Obama if he does not get a backbone here. I suspect I am not the only one.

Posted by: Theda Skocpol on December 5, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, it's make or break for me. Give the rich more money while cutting the middle class and the poor (which are fast becoming just one category, poor) and you break faith with every single voter who is not in the top 1% in terms of income. That's pretty serious to me. I would probably vote for O in 2012 because the Republicans will almost certainly run someone even more awed and enabling of the super rich, but I will not actively participate or donate.

Posted by: SF on December 5, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

PeninsulaMatt: "Obama is adrift on both economics and politics right now."

Why, of all issues, why this one? Because securing tax cuts for the richest Americans is the jewel in the crown for Republicans, their animating principle. Fighting them on tax cuts is therefore the defining issue for Democrats, a litmus test of what we stand for. And why? Because Republicans want to emasculate government, and we believe in government of, by and for the people. And why would Republicans want to destroy government? Because a strong, effective government is American's only defense against inequality and exploitation by the oligarchs and capitalists who own the Republican party. So standing fast in this fight is both the right thing for the citizens of the USA and hugely symbolic. Do we believe in government or not? If we capitulate to Republicans on this one, we lose a lot more than a battle. We lose our souls.

Sure, the pay freeze for federal workers was idiotic, weak and bad economic policy, but there's nothing I can do about it. It just makes Obama look gutless and confused, someone we can't count on to lead. But we can still stand fast on tax cuts. So let them expire.

Where is Howard Dean? I'm ready to support a challenger from the left in 2012.

Posted by: PTate in MN on December 5, 2010 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

What difference does it make whether tax cuts are the "last straw"? Twenty years ago, Obama would have been a good Republican president.
Last straw could have been:
ongoing warrantless surveillance
Gitmo still open
Detention without trial
Afghan debacle growing, not diminishing
No accountability of prior administration for wars, war crimes, etc.
To big to fail is still there.
No accountability of Wall Street banksters that made the economy circle the drain (see deal that Countrywide huckster got, no jail, just a fine)
Public option pissed away

And these are just the things that come to mind immediately. I thought that the press used to be counted on as a check against a government that does crimes in secret. Obviously, in this age with the press, owned by corporations, and clearing all info with the government first which leaves us with wikileaks as the only check when others voluntarily carry water.

I voted for Obama, but I won't again. I see very little "Change" and all the accomplishments of this administration are so watered down in an effort of bipartisanship that they are almost meaningless.

Posted by: tko on December 5, 2010 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Seems like, in a hostage negotiation, there are 3 options:

1. Walk away, knowing the hostage will probably die.
2. Negotiate. Give the hostage takers what they want, with the possibility that they still might kill the hostage, and, being succesful, they might try it again with a new hostage.
3. Roll the dice and send in the cops.

The cops, in this case, would be the guardians of the constitution - the "nuclear option" their weapon:

Wikipedia: "The nuclear option is a potential response to a filibuster or other dilatory tactic. A senator makes a point of order calling for an immediate vote on the measure before the body, outlining what circumstances allow for this. The presiding officer of the Senate, usually the vice president of the United States or the president pro tempore, makes a parliamentary ruling upholding the senator's point of order. The Constitution is cited at this point, since otherwise the presiding officer is bound by precedent. A supporter of the filibuster may challenge the ruling by asking, "Is the decision of the Chair to stand as the judgment of the Senate?" This is referred to as "appealing from the Chair." An opponent of the filibuster will then move to table the appeal. As tabling is non-debatable, a vote is held immediately. A simple majority decides the issue. If the appeal is successfully tabled, then the presiding officer's ruling that the filibuster is unconstitutional is thereby upheld. Thus a simple majority is able to cut off debate, and the Senate moves to a vote on the substantive issue under consideration. The effect of the nuclear option is not limited to the single question under consideration, as it would be in a cloture vote. Rather, the nuclear option effects a change in the operational rules of the Senate, so that the filibuster or dilatory tactic would thereafter be barred by the new precedent."

Posted by: delNorte on December 5, 2010 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Face it Libs, you guys got played like violins. Barry and Company work for Wall Street. Game Over. And please read my column!

Posted by: Frank Rich on December 5, 2010 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Given that the Republicans' 'hardball' is to hold hostage the unemployment benefits, and given that the economies of each state will be highly negatively impacted by the loss of federal monies to the unemployed (they have to spend it all) then not dealing with these hostage-takers will accelerate the crashing of state economies, as Mr. Rich's own NYT headlined this morning.

We don't negotiate with terrorists, but the republican terrorists in our own country have a lot of people over a barrel.

Just to please their wealthy masters? And why would that please them so very much, given how much money they are already sitting on? (And the businesses who are NOT hiring are sitting on $1.6 Trillion Dollars Right Now,)

It's a bit of a puzzle. I can only think of those entire countries like Chile that were sold off for pennies on the dollar to the wealthy after Allende was killed. That must be what they are hoping to achieve.

Posted by: jjm on December 5, 2010 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Listening to public radio here in Australia I've just been told that Obama is expected to "cave" on the tax issue. And to shed light on the situation I'm hearing the opinions of Juan Williams, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell and Tom Friedman.

This monster has long tentacles.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on December 5, 2010 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Shortly before the botched Health Care bill was passed, someone publicly opined that Obama got the deal he wanted. He created the Catfood Commission all on his own-- against GOPig objections, though it could simply be that it was a ploy that worked for them. And now he's again instituting something New that is also Abominable.

Now, maybe that's 12-dimensional chess or triangulation, or even that "the Incredible Shrinking President" (h/t Krgthulu) has long wanted an opportunity or excuse to freeze peon salaries. Whatever. The fact remains, regardless of motive, we now have yet another policy that did not exist before, and which is worse than what we had before.

Banksters are getting richer faster than ever, while the unemployed are being sent to soup kitchens for the holidays. That happened on Obama's watch. Banning the military, among others, from certain non-porn, non-religious, non-propaganda Internet sites because US citizens are not supposed to know what the rest of the world knows.

Why, that sounds a lot like China. In fact, it's something new Obama has done, an unforced error. After a while, those kinds of things are not his compromises or means to some divinity-shaped end, they are his legacy. Those things become not means or ploys, not maneuvers or jiu-jitsu. After a while, those become the "accomplishments" of his administration.

Just as there is never a wrong time to do the right thing (how about two-years' worth of stalled appointments installed during the inter regnum between Congresses?), there is also never a right time to do the wrong thing.

Posted by: Tomm Undergod on December 5, 2010 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Why this issue in particular? Why now? It's the reverse of the old Greek "heap of sand" paradox. You have a heap of sand and take away one grain, it's still a heap of sand. Take away a second, a third... At some point, you'll have to concede you no longer have a heap; you have nothing. But it doesn't mean that a particular grain of sand, which you have just removed, made all that difference.

Same here. This issue, that issue, still another one... Each individual cave-in might have been tolerable; had the issue of tax cuts been tackled before those, it might not have been the "make or break" one for many. But in the sequence of events, it's the one that makes you realise suddenly that you're no longer dealing with a molehill; it's now a mountain.

Posted by: exlibra on December 5, 2010 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

So much good and excellent commentary in this thread clearly explaining what Steve's missing--and what he's completely missing in this case is both a basic grasp of the core philosophies of the two parties and a recognition of one of the few goals that are 100 percent politically achievable for Dems in this climate.

Maybe today will be the day he finally reads the comments. I'd say he can't afford not to read this thread.

Posted by: shortstop on December 5, 2010 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

What's notable about the debate about extending the Bush era tax policies is that both sides proposals are bad for the country's fiscal health. Obama and the dims are as guilty of pandering for votes on this issue as the repugs.

Obama's willingness to compromise progressive positions before the good fight even began is written on his accomplishments. With partial successes in hand, the uneasy peace between Obama and progressives partied on. By willingly accepting a compromise on a false solution, Obama has no cover. Either-or does not provide for any other explanation. Binary outcomes do not have spin. The attempt to link a compromise that is not a compromise to an extension of unemployment benefits or new START or DADT repeal is cynical double speak to cover his failure.

Most importantly, Obama the President is unwilling to tell the truth to the public about the Alice in Third World Wonderland nature of the Bush era tax rate cuts and the consequences to them, and his failure to lead and cowardice are unmistakable, maybe even more so by the examples of his predecessors.

Despite his appetite for deficit spending, Reagan had the guts to increase taxes several times. Johnson slapped a surtax to pay for the Vietnam War. Even the "read my lips, no new taxes" President Bush I faced budget reality and raised them.

Barack Obama, when confronted with a fiscal nightmare and the need to raise taxes, makes a right wing jab at Federal employees salaries for no reason and then accedes to the repugs position on Bush era tax cuts. Apparently, Obama's idea of dealing with the world as he finds it is to pander to it.

Posted by: gone_west on December 5, 2010 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Let them all expire. We have had a tax holiday for the last 10 years courtesy of the irresponsible actions of the Bush administration. Rather than wreck the country, as prescribed by the various deficit commissions, let us all simply pay up.

It is time to call for a bit of sacrifice to get this mess under control.

There is finally only one way to limit spending and that is to require that every penny of it is paid for.

Posted by: hankstone on December 5, 2010 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

I'll read the rest of the thread later, but capitulating on extending tax cuts for the wealthy, including those making over $250,000, will be the last straw for me.

Veto it if the GOP insists on tying full tax cuts to unemployment benefits and make them send a fresh unemployment benefits bill.

Make the GOP own this one.

Let those tax cuts expire. All of them. And go on national TV -- public airwaves -- and explain why they are unsustainable.

I say that as someone who supports President Obama, and thinks he's the right person for the job.

But he is losing me.

Posted by: Elizabelle on December 5, 2010 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Dammit, Steve, usually you have a better sense of perspective than this.

FWIW, I *am* a Federal worker, and while I find it annoying as hell that Obama didn't even use the pay freeze as a bargaining chip, but instead gave it away as if it was the 'prize' inside a Crackerjack box, it's really pretty small potatoes. At a time when the cost of living isn't going up, giving up the next two years' COLAs is really no big deal for anyone.

And sure, it's a gesture that bought into bogus GOP memes about government belt-tightening, but he'd already publicly bought into them, so SO WHAT?

On the other hand, extending $700 billion of tax cuts to millionaires who don't need a penny of it is real freakin' money.

And the reason why this is the make-or-break, rather than some other issue, is that it feels as if Obama has already given away the store on everything else.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on December 5, 2010 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

US citizens are not supposed to know what the rest of the world knows.

And Fox News doesn't need Obama's help to make that happen!

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on December 5, 2010 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you get a whole lot of things right, and do so faster than most on America's side of this political war. This post is not one of those things you got right. Looking at the comments above I strongly agree with almost all of them.

Your statement

the president's call for a federal worker pay freeze is really annoying. [...] It's the kind of move that Obama's made before, and I find it increasingly frustrating every time.

And yet, most of Obama's liberal detractors seem to find a tax deal far more infuriating.
Really misses the point.

OK. It is infuriating that Obama, for all our hopes two years ago, has a tin ear for politics. But the real problem is that he does not seem to understand that the plutocrats who currently dominate the conservative Republicans are deadly enemies to a democratic America.

I can, with regret and some difficulty, accept a Democratic President with a political tin ear and no recognition for what his messages actually mean to Americans in general, not just inside the beltway. What I cannot accept is a "Democratic" President who is handing the nation off to the plutocrats and oligarchs who are presently making a major push to take control of America just as they did in the Gilded Age and in the 1920's.

One major problem that does not seem to have been mentioned above is Obama's blindness to or refusal to act on his own responsibility for changing the public attitudes towards the deficit, Social Security, or the tax cuts for the plutocrats who are taking over this nation. For him to cave on the tax cuts simply shows that he does not realize what battle he chose to fight when he ran for President on the Democratic ticket. A freeze on federal government pay wages (something President Eisenhower did for all or almost all eight years of his Presidency) is poor tactics. But caving on the tax cuts indicates strategic weakness in the face of America's true enemies, the wealthy plutocrats.

Stopping federal pay raises is a tactical move that might (if done properly) have some value. Caving on the tax cuts to the wealthy simply hands the political field of battle to the Republicans and leaves the Democratic party in further disarray. The message it gives to the public is that the Democrats are too weak to deal with the aggression of the right-winger fanatics. Obamas similar moves have been a major reason why the Democrats cannot act as a unified party in the face of the Republican aggression against America.

Apparently the public opinion outside the beltway is meaningless to Obama. It is clear that he considers it beyond his control.

delNorte on December 5, 2010 at 12:57 PM is exactly right.

Posted by: Rick B on December 5, 2010 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

It's just the idea that these dirt people are throwing everything into acquiring tax breaks for billionaires in an economy like this.

It's a far-out level of contempt from them and deserves a far-out level of contempt in response.

Posted by: cld on December 5, 2010 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

The left's frustrations are obvious and well-reasoned, but I'm curious: why has this one policy become the make-or-break issue?

Really, Steve? You could read it in the papers: if Obama can't capitalize on even the most obvious opportunities to harvest political capital and win even the most basic legislative battles -- then he's obviouslly just not willing to work for core liberal or progressive policies at all.

The Emperor has no clothes -- as a Democrat.

Why this issue is cruicial is as plain as day: it's a core issue that defines our country and our party, but more than that -- there are just no other issues left for Obama to go on disappointing the Democratic base by actively embracing abject failure. What's left?

Facilitating further tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the middle class is as substantive as it is emblematic: Obama enables every Republican lie about deficits and jobs in order to allow the Republicans to win and to ensure the Democrats lose.

Steve, there is nothing more central to effective policy than this issue, and there is nothing left (e.g., rule of law) on the agenda.

So Steve, I don't see how you could possibly be confused as to how this is a make-or-break issue for Obama and the Dems?? I'd draw you a picture, but comments are text-only.

Obama is clearly the only intentional one-term President. Without a record of accomplishments that matter and no friends on either side of the aisle, and lacking the temperament to fight or the policy positions to fight for, Obama's work here as POTUS is done. He's accomplished the corporatist / Republican agenda, and he can retire to the Greek Chorus of Useless Ex-Presidents where he can do less damage.

Prznt. Obama has the facts on his side, but will not fight for those real facts, for the best policies, or for the best economic or security interests of this country. He's rolling over.

Posted by: johnsturgeon on December 5, 2010 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

In 2008, I spent 40 hours a week for 5 months raising $350K for Obama, from middle class folks who were stretching like hell to "max out" their contribution limit, something none of them had ever done before for any presidential candidate. The enthusiasm was palpable - people were happy to have a fundraiser for Obama on the phone so they could talk about all the other things they were doing.

And then the day after the inauguration, the Obama Administration shut down Obama For America and told everyone to take their enthusiasm over to the DNC and Organizing for America, where absolutely nothing was done for months throughout 2009, all the while the Right was organizing against health care with the "death panels," the town hall blowups, etc., etc.

I know for a fact I couldn't raise $3.50 for Obama now, and I doubt I would do that well in 2012. Let whichever corporate masters he's bent over and spread for pay up for his Potemkin Presidency.

The only reason he'd get my vote in 2012 is he isn't the GOP Nazi candidate.

Posted by: TCinLA on December 5, 2010 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

For those with a literacy problem, it's here in comic strip form . . .


Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on December 5, 2010 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

I make less than 25K a year. Yet, for the past 3 months, the IRS has decided to garnish my wages to the tune of almost 50%.

It's as if I am the reason we are in the economic mess.


I'm sure there are thousands of poor folks like me who are getting totally screwed, while the rich... well I can't even use language that wouldn't make my mother blush.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on December 5, 2010 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Reading over the comment stream, I see two groups of people. There are some folks who have been disappointed at Obama for a while, and this is just the "last straw". There are others for whom this really is different, and really does matter more.

Count me in the second group. I've not been upset with Obama up to now, even though I was disappointed by the outcome of many things (like the absence of a public option in the health care bill). So I was surprised when I thought this through about a month ago and realized that the tax cuts really were a "red line" for me. The Bush tax cuts exploded the deficit, and made any kind of progressive policy over the past decade impossible. There is absolutely no policy justification whatsoever for giving an additional tax cut to the rich at a time of rampant in rising inequality and huge budget deficits. It's terrible policy and it's morally wrong.

If Democrats cannot fight this, then there is no point having a Democratic party. Yes, I accept that there is a lot of blame to go around, but Obama has the veto pen, so he has the power to stop this. If he does not, he will not get any contributions to me, and possibly will not get my vote.

Posted by: rae on December 5, 2010 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

The two trillion dollars bush/cheney wars, the bush/cheney tax cuts. I cut him some slack on the wars, the invisible wars, but that he has signed off on bush/cheney tax cuts that is the last straw. From my prespective Obama is going to be a l-term president because he has cave to the repukes and teabaggers on all issues.

Posted by: antiquelt@yahoo.com on December 5, 2010 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read all 92 (so far) responses, but my feeling is that the gain is turned up on this item because there is a general sense that this issue at the very least SHOULD BE DO-ABLE.

Dems still have the majority in both houses and the Presidency and the overall support of the people (as measured in polls) -- even Republicans. If Obama doesn't even try to fight for this (with all the factors at his back), then I get the sense we wonder how he's supposed to stand up for the REAL nutcrackers.

Posted by: mikeG on December 5, 2010 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Not since the public option fiasco has the base felt this betrayed. But this time it seems the "it's an evil necessary" apologies just aren't going to cut it.

OTH failing to pass unemployment and increasing taxes on a middle class that barely can make ends meet will put a huge strain on the anemic recovery of a consumer driven economy. The GOP really does have Democrats over a barrel. As much as "people like a fighter", that won't count for shit when the economy starts nose diving again.

Squawk all you want about core principles, if the economy doesn't improve by 2012, say hello to President Huckabee, or President Mittens, or President Jeb Bush. By then, the Congress will likely be in GOP hands again and it will be warp speed ahead as if 2008-2012 was just a blip on the screen toward permanent fucking Plutocracy R Us.

Posted by: Oh my on December 5, 2010 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with much of what's been said above. One additional point: We're now effectively over the two-year mark (not technically, since presidents take office in January, but effectively, since it's after the midterms). A lot of people who said "give him time, he's only three months in" ("six months in," "one year into his term," etc.) are now having to recognize that, by this point, there really is enough data to judge who and what this man is. If he were ever going to take off the Clark Kent glasses, it would have happened by now.

Posted by: somethingblue on December 5, 2010 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

I'd put the pay freeze for federal workers ahead of the likely deal on tax cuts.

just goes to show how facile benen is. While obama's destructive efforts to go begging to impress conservatives with economically meaningless edicts are truly, truly disgusting, the $700 billion tax break for millionaires and billionaires is far more meaningful economically and will have far, FAR more impact on the government's inability to fund programs for the people than obama's bullshit pay freeze for government workers.

Posted by: pluege on December 5, 2010 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

It's the cumulative effect. not hard to understand, and progressive taxation is at the heart of being progressive. there is no weighing this in isolation.
it's been clear from almost all the other policy decisions that he has made that he is not one of us, and this just drives the point home.

looking at it purely tribally, he's one of them.

Posted by: Phil in Denver on December 5, 2010 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

As far as I'm concerned, let ALL the tax cuts expire.
What I find interesting is that the proposals weren't voted on BEFORE the election. Why not? Maintaining the present tax rates on middle and lower class earners had just as much, if not more, support THEN. So, again, Why not vote on them?
Look at all the other pieces of legislation that Speaker Pelosi managed through the House: HCIR, FinREG, Ledbetter, et al and then ask yourself why these tax rates didn't pass then? If she could get those through, then why not maintaining these tax rates? Two possible reasons come to mind, but there may be more.
First, the Speaker didn't want to waste time before the election on something that wouldn't get through the Senate anyway, or second, the tax plan WOULDN'T have gotten through the House.
The first idea doesn't make sense as there are two- or three-hundred bills passed by the House waiting for the Senate to act on right now. What difference would one more make? Especially one that could be used so effectively during the elections.
That leaves idea number two. How many "Blue Dogs" voted for the tax plan AFTER the elections who weren't going to vote for it BEFORE? Is there any way to find out? Remember, Pelosi has been in favor of lower and middle class cuts remaining all along, so has the President. The Blue Dogs were most definitely against them and if enough members of their caucus voted against the plan, it would fail; probably for good.
By the way, when Mr. Obama runs in 2012, he will get my vote. We've never had a "progressive" President and I doubt we ever will, so I don't suffer THAT disappointment. He may not suit the "progressives", but we've seen more progress than I had hoped for when I voted for him in 2008. I must say, though, that I have been more disappointed by the whining of so many posters who should know better than by the actions/inaction of President Obama.
We've only faced a political situation such as the present one once before; that was in the 1850s. Then, as now, there was minority determined to maintain its' power regardless of the damage that would result. That minority lost then, and the present one will also lose. To make certain they lose, though, will require the support of more than just President Obama's "base".
I DO NOT want, and will not support, Democrats using Republican methods; the ends DO NOT justify the means. Yes, those methods may work; so does a gun to the head when you're being mugged. The use of such methods by the Democrats would mean that there isn't a tinker's damn worth of difference between us and the Republicans.
And, carping notwithstanding, there IS a difference...

Posted by: Doug on December 5, 2010 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Note well the one-two punch: first, Obama is openly acting to further undermine the budget and the economy by signaling Obama will knuckle under on extending tax cuts; second is the entirely punitive pay-freeze for federal workers, which isn't a tactical feint at all, nor a concession. Obama is openly competing with Republicans to beat up on the little guy while shoveling cash to the wealthy.

It's a substantive Sistah Souljah moment, not a symbolic one. This is an open signal to anyone who doesn't get it yet because there's just no benefit of the doubt available here.

Does anyone else read this as a big upright middle finger to the Democratic base? Has Rahm Emmanuel been seen or heard from lately? Because this has the stench of the fish wrapped in newspaper he sent to a guy who pissed him off. Seriously, it's as if the Obama Administration is annoyed the Democratic base called him out for selling out soft and quietly, so he's selling out hard and openly. And Steve Benen can't figure out why people have had enough?

Maybe it's the nakedness of the move. Because Lord knows Obama has not proposed a constructive program to restore the economy. At all. It doesn't exist. No, one-time half-hearted stimulus half-measures don't qualify as an ongoing program or set of policies.

It's a doubling down on Obama's submission to the financial powers that created this disaster. This is not an attempt to resolve our economic crisis, but rather to deepen it.

Everyone knows the Bush/Cheney/Obama economic policies are doomed, no one from Wall Street's seen the inside of a jail cell, and Obama's so busy playing 'Wait for me you guys!' to Rubin and Summers and the Tea Partier's puppeteers that he can't see and doesn't care that no one wants him to go this direction.

Yet Steve Benen wonders why this one matters so much.

Posted by: johnsturgeon on December 5, 2010 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Why? Because this administration just rolls over. And why support something and someone that is Republican Lite? With Bush, we would have got the tax cuts AND the U/E extension. So, why bother? The only reason to vote for this guy come 2012 is that Sarah Palin is the other candidate. I understand that he gets mixed support from the House--but let us remember: Obama sold these guys down the drain--they made tough votes and got nothing for it. Why should they stick their necks out for him, when he can't do the same for them?

Posted by: Cas on December 5, 2010 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

One issue? No, Steve, it is not one issue... this issue is simply the straw that is finally breaking the camel's back.

Posted by: Claimsman on December 5, 2010 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

At this point I'd be happy to see Obama stand up and fight for anything, even if I didn't agree with the underlying policy. He can't expect his base to stay engaged and supportive if he doesn't show us any resolve.

Posted by: gizmo on December 5, 2010 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK


I believe we can get over this one, but a capitulation on Social Security would, for me, be the last straw. At that point I leave the Democratic Party because the sellout would be complete.

Life is too short.

Posted by: bobbyp on December 5, 2010 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, don't take this so-called base to heart. There are not enough of them to elect or defeat anyone. Progressive angst comes with the territory.
President Obama is doing fine under extremely difficult circumstances.
The biggest problem he has is the unworkable US Senate. Progressive anger should be directed there.

Posted by: hornblower on December 5, 2010 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

I left the Dem party several years ago (now Independent) because of their spinelessness in the face of obvious, repeated, shameless GOP bullshit on countless issues. Frankly, why they continue allowing (even ENCOURAGING) the GOP to laughingly stick a cactus up their butts every day is incomprehensible.

If Obama and the Dem's cave on this tax issue, our only hope is for the country to quickly collapse and hopefully sink into the ocean. Perhaps then (though probably not) Dem's will figure out what utter useless ass-wipes they are. Either way, the planet will be far better off.

Posted by: nemisten on December 5, 2010 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

"The biggest problem he has is the unworkable US Senate. Progressive anger should be directed there."

Good luck.

Posted by: Chris D. (AIG, GS) on December 5, 2010 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

Pretty much everyone figures that Dems will cave on the tax cuts, yet again and the rich will get to keep their. But the rich ain't takin' no chances :)

Posted by: exlibra on December 5, 2010 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

I feel that the issue of caving on tax cuts, for me, is so critical because it has been emphasized for so long. Comparatively, the freeze/cut monetary policy for federal workers just appeared out of nowhere. Concerning the latter, I feel it is bone-headed and ultimately self-defeating, but also get the feeling that it represents the true governing philosophy of Obama (whom I heartily supported and voted for).

I think that for people like me, who can see the perils resulting from the midterms, the problem is that we were hoping for an expression of support for the middle and lower classes now that the elections are over and are no longer a consideration for vote-getting.

Well, the elections are over and I feel like we have our answer. The vast majority of this country will continue to pay for the actions of the elite few, and we will continue to pay far, far into the future.

How does that old song go: "and whaddaya get?
another day older and deeper in debt
... I owe my soul to the Company

Posted by: smike on December 5, 2010 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

I'm enraged because the Republican terrorists have the advantage. Let's face it. Blue Dog Dems helped them. All of their power comes from fear of the "mob" mentality of the Tea Party (which has been vastly overstated) and bolstered by the engineered financial crisis that has destroyed our economy. It was no accident that we are broke. They were "starving the beast" and have succeeded at last.

Nothing is going to change for real, folks, until we get a reasonable discourse going on in this country. Our media is in shambles at best and is pure propaganda at worst. Low information voters, which are most of the hard working Americans who have no time to be political junkies, have no good information upon which to base their decisions. They rely on people they "trust" for their opinions like a congenial looking egomaniac like Glenn Beck or their rabid right pastors.

My frustration stems from the fact that Republicans have beat us fair and square. Their "culture war" has been going on for over 30 years and we are continually playing catch-up/defense.

They have built up think tanks for years putting out false logic. They have cornered the media and those they can't eliminate they marginalize with criticism. They got rid of the Fairness Doctrine. They have more savvy spin doctors. They have demonized "liberals" so badly that no one wants to be one, not even us (we now call ourselves "progressives"). Yes indeed, they have created this new alternate "reality" and we will be studying it long after all their change has crippled us.

They have manipulated their way into taking over the SCOTUS. They have pushed their way onto college campuses and hammered "liberal" adult education. They are taking over or dissolving our primary schools in order to entrench their dogma in our youth. They have co-opted our churches. They have taken every issue that they disagreed with and pounded it and pounded it or incrementally legislated it out of existence (womens' right to choose, civil rights issues, etc.). They are destroying all Democratic constituencies (trial lawyers by capping awards or disallowing lawsuits altogether, teachers' unions by blaming them for all education problems, minorities through systematic persecution and disenfranchisement). They have decimated and cowed the labor movement. They are going to take away any social safety net that we have ever managed to create including social security. They are experts at hardball. They are terrorists.

It will be decades before Democrats or progressives, or liberals, or whatever we will call ourselves in the future, will be able to come back, if at all. It will take a mammoth movement to counter their tsunami.

I don't blame Obama. I am furious that Republicans and the plutocracy have managed to make our humiliation complete. They have even managed to extinguish the "hope" that was all I had to hang onto and voted for. I may even have to change my moniker "Ever Hopeful" isn't doing it for me any more...

Posted by: Always Hopeful on December 6, 2010 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Lots of good comments on here. I hope that Steve sees how unanimous opinion is on this one and realizes that it really is a big deal.

One thing that maybe hasn't been mentioned is what happens next. If the Dems cave on this issue, the deficit will continue to balloon, and Republicans will continue to call for budget cuts. In a scramble to find more "compromise" the Dems will end up getting forced into an agreement on entitlement reduction. It will no longer be an issue of whether or not Congress can touch entitlements, but rather of how much should be slashed, how much would be a fair from a "bipartisan" perspective.

Posted by: Matt Olken on December 6, 2010 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

Add me to the "last straw" contingent who have expressed my thoughts very clearly in the 100+ comments above. The pay freeze was dumb but small. The tax cuts are significantly bigger, and even dumber. True, the "tax mess" is not entirely Obama's fault, but he's the captain of the team, and if his team loses this issue, then he loses me.

(I should admit I'm not exactly sure what the "loss" of me entails for Obama--I'll still probably hold my nose and vote for him in 2012, certainly against any Republican who might run, but I won't be "part of the team" the way I was in 2008, donating money, volunteering, etc.--I'll be looking for better progressive options).

This one policy wasn't the only "make or break" issue for me. Passing some minimal version of HCR was also a "make or break" issue for me--the Democrats finally came through and thus didn't lose me then, although caving on the public option took a big bite out of my team spirit.

Posted by: Eric Edlund on December 6, 2010 at 1:19 AM | PERMALINK

Nobody forced Obama to run for president. And hey, it's a tough job, and "raising taxes" was always going to be difficult.

But the Bush Tax Cuts were a big failure, achieving nothing for anyone but rich people. We believed that for years, and Obama promised to change them to at least be more progressive. But now the Bush Tax Cuts will be the Bipartisan Consensus Tax Cuts, never to be repealed.

And Obama is just rolling over, on a simple-to-understand issue that cuts to the heart of progressive values. He could fight on this, but is choosing not to do so.

I agree that this issue is about more than Obama, but his surrender (assuming he really cares) tells us in no uncertain terms that the country is run by and for rich people. So why should we care who wins the next election, if "winning" means we get the same Republican policies?

Posted by: bear88 on December 6, 2010 at 2:44 AM | PERMALINK

OK, if this is going to be Obamas last chance, and I know he is going to cave, then were looking at two years of 1) finding someone better and 2) educating the democratic African American population that a vote for Obama is not in their best interest.

Posted by: msnthrop on December 6, 2010 at 5:16 AM | PERMALINK

For the president's progressive critics, $3.2 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade, all of which would be added to the deficit, is a good, sound policy

No. Extending the Bush tax cuts is bad policy period.

But if you don't understand why this is more important than the silly pay freeze. It's because:

Tax cuts are the only leverage the president has.

Posted by: Jinchi on December 6, 2010 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

In the instance of the tax cuts and pay freeze, I think the strategy is he wants to look strong and is taking positions now that will probably be where things end up, because let's face it Congressional Dems will probably cave on this as well, being afraid of any vote involving tax increases on anyone.

That way Obama can say that's what he wanted all along, rather than draw a line in the sand, see the Congress not get it done, then like with everything else, the President gets blamed for bills that don't make it out of the Senate. And then he looks weak like the GOP is forcing this position on him. Unfortunatley that's where the next 2 years is headed. It's a replay of 1995-96 with Clinton, except the economy was in much better shape then so we had the luxury of being distracted by personal issues.

Posted by: JohnE on December 6, 2010 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

When you examine what surely is the prescience of liberty, BHO failed two years ago with habeas corpus/Guantanamo. A leader would "defend" the fundamental issue of liberty. The argument for basic liberty "in the face" of his opposition may have sealed their political fate as the lawless villains that they indeed are but, he failed progressives, the lawful and liberty in one fell swoop! For what again? To needlessly prolong the Afghan debacle? To win Republican votes for a public option? To me that was never clarified either! John McCain was too much to argue under the table? It seems to me that if you can't fight for a fundamental principle (in this case a trial for the accused instead of virtually endless detention); you're really not going to be fighting for anything else more important to the common man or the common good. I hate to say it but the black guy is a total pussy and it has been all downhill after this important test of character. Another reason we can’t have nice things, if I may borrow the line.

Posted by: Trollop on December 6, 2010 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

I have to say that there is no candidate that the GOP could nominate for 2012 that I would vote for no matter what Obama did/didn't do. I suppose that instead of voting GOP/other, many will take their toys and stay home but I won't do that either because that is basically voting GOP.

Posted by: ET on December 6, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

From the looks of things, you'd be voting for the GOP anyway

Posted by: impartila on December 6, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Because this was an issue that the Democrats could have beaten the GOP over the head with if they had an ounce of political skill and they totally screwed it up.

Maybe if President Obama had actually stood up for liberal principles at some point instead of compromising on anything he'd have more support.

Posted by: Raptor on December 6, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you've played this card many times before in your full-throated serial enabling of Barack Obama.

You didn't understand why people got upset when he reneged on support for the public option in the Health Care Bill-- or prescription importing. After all, it was vital to get the bill passed and that outweighed every other consideration. Plus, the problems were all the fault of Max Baucus and the Blue Dogs.

(Of course, when people like me state, correctly, that credit for the bill's few good points belongs entirely to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, you get your underpants in a twist. The flaws are entirely Congress's fault but the strengths are 100% due to Barack Obama.)

You couldn't imagine why gays went ballistic about repealing DADT. Obama didn't actually break a promise-- he just chose the least probable way of ending it. That he's insisted on enforcing every provision-- and appealing the judicial case to a Supreme Court that will rule "All Fags Must Die."

You were disturbed by the people who broke with him on the whitewash of the torture, and decision to hand everyone "Get Out of Jail Free" cards. You chided the civil libertarians who were upset by his implementing a Police State-- and abrogating everything he'd said prior to election-- on the grounds that it was a distraction from the agenda.

You've lectured the people pissed about Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that Barack Obama has done exactly what he promised to do, and if people were upset, they have only themselves to blame.

(The logical extension of this view-- people who oppose the policies Obama has put into effect should stop voting for him-- seems lost on you. The notion that he should be primaried-- or that the left should walk-- is repellent to you.)

You've defended Obama about the Catfood Commission, saying that he only picked Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and all those people funded by the Koch Brothers, but how was he supposed to know they would propose what they said they wanted to do for decades?

Now we have a perfect test case. He was unequivocal in the campaign: he would never, ever renew them under any circumstances. It's a binary issue that can't be finessed-- they either get extended or they don't. He can't pass the buck to anyone else-- he can veto a bill he doesn't like.

And yet we're moving toward a two-year extension of all cuts, in exchange for three, maybe four weeks of extended benefits for unemployed workers.

And you don't think this is important enough for anyone to break with Obama. Well, that's you. You're willing to let a 1970's style centrist Republican-- which is what Obama is-- stay as president; I'm not.

I'd like to have a Democrat-- one who doesn't lie (or break promises, if you prefer that characterization). It's not the most world-shaking issue-- but he punted on all those, so it's what is left.

I'm in favor of a primary challenge and I'm leaning against supporting Barack Obama in 2012, if he wins. Noxious as four years of John Thune might be, it could be a worthwhile investment, if it persuades Democratic leaders that the base is tired of being screwed.

That approach seems to have paid huge dividends for the Tea Party-- and Democrats sitting on their hands produced one benefit (decimating the Blue Dogs).

If Obama rolls on this issue-- again-- it's his choice. He's been warned. That you don't think this issue is important enough to break him suggests that you've been drinking too much of David Broder's bathwater (Google "The Breaking of the President").

Posted by: Woodrow L. Goode, IV on December 6, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Woodrow L. Goode, IV on December 6, 2010 at 12:03 PM

You're wasting your time with Benen. He'll never admit the guy he voted for and supports is on Wall Street's payroll. Barry is Bush II.

Posted by: SFO in 2008 on December 6, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Federal pay freeze vs. supply-side tax cuts for the rich?

Get real, Steve. There is no comparison. The one is a matter of core, defining principle. The other a judgment call with arguments either way consistent with liberal principles.

First of all there is the matter of size. The pay freeze only has a tiny marginal effect on a small minority of the population, while helping a tiny bit with the deficit. The tax cuts on the other hand affect almost everyone and have a significant impact on the country's deficit -- and with no justification whatsoever.

Second, there is the matter of definitiveness of the issue. Supply-side eonomics demonstrably does not work and helps only the wealthy. Why the hell are we doing that? Who gives a shit about a federal pay freeze? Maybe there should be one. I had a pay CUT last year.

You really screwed the pooch on this one -- compltely lost the thread. What were you thinking?

Posted by: The Fool on December 6, 2010 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

"You really screwed the pooch on this one -- compltely lost the thread. What were you thinking"

Can't imagine why Steve would mess this up!

Posted by: $ Bags on December 6, 2010 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK



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