Political Animal


August 01, 2011 9:15 AM Plenty of blame to go around

By Steve Benen

John Cole said something interesting last night, which I found compelling: “You don’t ‘win’ a hostage crisis. You resolve it.”

That seems right to me. The debt deal reached yesterday offers practically nothing in the way of redeeming qualities, and no one involved in the process should walk away feeling good about themselves or the system that led to the agreement. Assuming this deal passes — an assumption that may yet be premature — the question then turns to who deserves the blame.

Right now, my sense is most of the rage on the left is being directed at President Obama for, to use John’s frame, resolving the hostage crisis by meeting many of the criminals’ demands. And if you’re looking for me to defend the deal the White House agreed to, you’re going to be disappointed.

But if I’m making a list of people who’ve disgusted me in this process, I’m inclined to put Republicans at the top. It was the radicalized Republican Party that took the nation hostage. It was the radicalized Republican Party that threatened to crash the economy on purpose unless Democrats met their demands. It was the radicalized Republican Party that refused to compromise. It was the radicalized Republican Party that launched the most dangerous stunt in generations, putting the world in jeopardy. It was the radicalized Republican Party that normalized extortion politics, changing the very nature of governing.

Am I supposed to be angrier with the radicals who held a gun to our heads, or those who prevented them from pulling the trigger?

The New York TimesJeff Zeleny said today President Obama “can no longer make the argument that he has changed the way Washington works.” For crying out loud, has anyone actually seen what GOP extremists have done to American politics?

The president’s critics, of course, aren’t saying Obama was wrong to prevent a catastrophe; they’re saying Obama could have averted a disaster more effectively, by giving up less and meeting fewer Republican demands.

This is not without merit. As many have noted over the last 24 hours, the president might have been able to push for a debt-ceiling increase last December (though it may have necessitated another in 2012). He might have bluffed on the 14th Amendment and the “Constitutional Option,” even if he perceived the tack as illegitimate, just for the sake of leverage. He might have been as stubborn and inflexible as his rivals, and then when the economy collapsed, blamed them.

And why didn’t the president do this? Jonathan Cohn’s assessment sounds right to me.

My guess is that he pursued this strategy because he didn’t want to poison the atmosphere for negotiations and believed (genuinely, accurately) that moderate entitlement cuts should be part of a balanced deficit reduction agreement. But the atmosphere was poisoned from the start and Republicans were never going to support a balanced agreement. He was trying to do the right thing when it was not possible to do the right thing. It may not have made for bad politics, but it certainly made for bad policy.

In this sense, Obama’s mistake wasn’t about strength or ideology; it was underestimating at the outset what the GOP is capable of. The president thought if he were responsible, Republicans would be responsible. If he made concessions, they’d make concessions. If he persuaded the American mainstream, this would have some sort of effect on the process.

He thought for a while, in other words, the madman with the gun to our heads was open to compromise and was willing to be sensible. He was very wrong.

Greg Sargent noted yesterday, “If Dems had refused to budge from the demand for a clean hike, would Republicans have blinked — or would they have allowed default? The bottom line is Dems weren’t prepared to take that risk.”

Right, and Republicans were. It was a game of chicken in which one side didn’t want to crash and the other didn’t care. The GOP convinced everyone the party wasn’t bluffing — these guys really are that dangerously crazy. Their concern for the national interest really is that weak.

When it comes to pointing fingers, it’s a realization that’s worth keeping in mind.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Live Free or Die on August 01, 2011 9:24 AM:

    And the worst part about this deal is that most of Tea Party will not vote for this and will be able to go home and brag about it. Liberals, meanwhile, will have to vote for this and go home. So liberals will have to sacrifice to protect teabagger incumbents.

  • Live Free or Die on August 01, 2011 9:26 AM:

    And If this passes, Pelosi should hold a press conference. She should say that because the teabaggers used this strategy and the media portrayed it as both sides, the teabaggers will pay no political price. If in the future the dems have only the House, this now is a legitimate tactic that we can use against a Republican president. We expect the same media treatment (both sides) if this happens.

  • June on August 01, 2011 9:27 AM:

    "“If Dems had refused to budge from the demand for a clean hike, would Republicans have blinked — or would they have allowed default? "

    Rhetorical question, right? Of course, the treefraggers would have blown up the economy. The only thing that got them really fired up was the request to "hurt some people." You don't back the GOP crazy into a corner thinking, "okay, these guys are nuts, but they would NEVER be crazy enough to (fill in the blank), because the GOP is a collection of ne'er-do-wells, incompetents, nimcompoops, mentally disturbed folks, pathological liars, puppets-on-a-string and sociopaths. Is there ever any doubt that they will leap at the chance to "hurt people." (Oh, and then blame Democrats for it.) No.

  • neil b on August 01, 2011 9:28 AM:

    Nevertheless, some points:
    1. The lame-stream media tend to confuse the logical concept of compromise (how to the middle the final result is) with the "fight" idea of compromise (how easily either side gave in, the amount of heat in the discussion, etc.) - IOW, the ethological appearances. So if one side fights hard to hold against losing it all, and ends up with only 20% of what it wanted, they are no more "compromising" than the other side.
    2. The LSM *says* it *likes* compromisers and decries the intransigents who block agreement, so to the extent they are honest - heh - they should just *love* Obama for this. They can't have that concept and consider him a "loser" at the same time.
    3. The LSM also confuse "debate" with "battle." Some of their predictably shallow hacks said, the Republicans "won the debate" by getting more of what they wanted. But winning a debate is supposed to mean the legitimate triumph of your argument, in the manner a debate referee would score as a "win." (Or even, impressed enough intelligent people to agree.) It is not to be confused with having enough power leverage to *get* what you want to happen.

    We are governed by crazy, stupid, compromised people, reported on by stupid, compromised people.

    Finally, I keep reminding people that Obama needed to get something *passed*. All these childish fantasies of playing brinkmanship until literally the last minute, the pretense there was an easy (albeit even if "possible") route by A14, etc, are indeed not what adults know they can accomplish. And if Obama loses to Bachmann (vote as you wish in a *primary*), then I know that those of you who stayed home etc. to prove a point, are personally some of whom to blame for that!

  • blondie on August 01, 2011 9:28 AM:

    I keep telling my husband (who is utterly furious about the "deal") that we have to remember that,as the president, Obama is responsible for the entire country, and default simply could not be allowed to happen. (And, of course, we're still not out of the woods, since who knows if the House Republicans will vote to approve it.)

    My question is, how can we make the Rs own this mess in 2012? There's a huge amount of anger among voters right now, and every poll I've seen shows them holding the Rs responsible for this self-inflicted crisis.

    I want every single #@$@%$ teabagger representative to pay the price next year.

  • Severian on August 01, 2011 9:30 AM:

    The question is, will Obama learn from this experience, or will he show up to the next fight earnestly trying to engage in the same kind of "reasoned, bipartisan compromise" that he's made such a fetish of? How many times will the republicans get to bludgeon him with their intransigence before he catches a clue?

  • SteveT on August 01, 2011 9:30 AM:

    The game was lost when Obama capitulated to the idea that debt reduction was the country's number-one economic priority (when it isn't even in the top three). What Obama should have done is said,"It is absolutely insane to take more money out of the economy when unemployment is high because businesses have no customers. I refuse to take economic advice from the same people who put us in this recession in the first place."

    Once Obama accepted the Republican premise about deficit reduction, the only question was how badly the deficit deal would suck.

    Obama needs to quit listening to his preserve-Wall-Street-at-all-costs economic advisers -- the same ones who told us back in 2007 that there wouldn't be a recession -- and try following Democratic Party economic principles for a change.

  • Chris on August 01, 2011 9:32 AM:

    As usual, I agree with Steve. Of course, the Republicans are at fault. Of course, this is a ransom negotiation. Of course, President Obama and Democrats had to negotiate to mitigate the damage.

    But the President made several mistakes. First, he continues to lead with what should his last and final offer. Second, he accepted Republican framing about the need to focus on spending cuts to reduce deficits rather than the need to grow the economy to reduce deficits. Third, he continues to talk about sustaining Medicare with cuts rather than sustaining Medicare by addressing the cost of health care in this country. Fourth, he lumped Social Security into the program, reinforcing Republican talking points about the need for reform. Fifth, he framed this an "opportunity" rather than as a hostage negotiation. Sixth, he had a tremendous amount of legal and public support for the Constitutional option, a position that would have strengthened his hand, and he dismissed it immediately.

    I could go on. Look, anybody who reads this blog knows that this President's list of accomplishments are long, in part, because he used to have a Democratic House and Senate. But I, for one, am confident that the list would be longer if the guy had any fight in him.

  • Rick Taylor on August 01, 2011 9:33 AM:

    Yes of course I blame Republicans much more than the administration for the outcome of the debt ceiling debacle. But that's a little like saying when my house is robbed, I blame the burglars who broke in more than the police who didn't respond to the alarm or do their job. Yes, of course it's really the burglars who are at fault, but I expect the police to be on my side.

    "In this sense, Obama’s mistake wasn’t about strength or ideology; it was underestimating at the outset what the GOP is capable of. The president thought if he were responsible, Republicans would be responsible."

    Yes of course this is the point, and has been so since the election. Why the hell can't he figure this out? He seems wedded to the potential of bipartisanship regardless of what reality keeps revealing again and again. Even now the administration is talking up the benefits of the deal we passed, and how it will force Republicans to deal and for us to come up with a balanced solution.

    Of course it will do no such thing. The commission won't come to an agreement, or if it does it won't be passed. The triggers will fire. The defense department budget will have no effect. Either the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will wind down and we'll get the savings we would have gotten anyway. Or they won't, or a new conflict will erupt, and no one's going to cut the defense budget in the midst of a conflict. Meanwhile, cuts to Medicare will happen, and we'll just have to pray they can be limited to the provider side without doing too much damage. And through it all, Republicans will demagogue about Democrats being soft on defense, or holding the military hostage to tax increases, while they spend recklessly. No we haven't postponed some grand deal we're going to get to later where both sides compromise. This is all inevitable.

  • Thymezone on August 01, 2011 9:33 AM:

    Steve, you have no bigger fan than me. But I don't get this point of view.

    What are the specific steps Obama could have taken which would have produced a better outcome, and how do we know that they would? The entire assertion seems to rest on magical thinking: If only he had done something different, something different would have happened.

    Yet your own piece counters that very argument, if we can call it an argument. It's nonsensical.

    I understand that everyone is disappointed, but picking a convenient scapegoat doesn't seem to me to be productive, especially when the scapegoat is your best and most important friend in the fight.

  • NHCt on August 01, 2011 9:34 AM:

    So does this avoid a government shutdown in the fall? Or will the GOP use that threat as a way to force this Super Congress committee to make a ton of new horrible cuts? I think the biggest thing the media missed last week was that the trouble Boehner had putting a plan together actually worked towards his advantage. The hostage-taker only succeeds when he convinces the opposite side he's willing to kill the hostage. The Tea Party provided this last week by humiliating Boehner. Now I see no reason why he couldn't use that moment to push for even more GOP concessions. Until the Tea Party is either confronted or voted out of office, this is a crisis postponed rather than averted.

  • Live Free or Die on August 01, 2011 9:34 AM:


    Most teabaggers have already said that they will not vote for this deal. So they get everything they want, w/o their fingerprints on it. Next year there will be commercials about how Dems are creating unemployment and how they are tax and spend liberals who want to destroy SS and MC.

  • EdgewaterJoe on August 01, 2011 9:34 AM:

    Severian has it right - and that's where my central frustration with Obama remains. Either he thinks of himself as Gandhi or Obama has a fatal flaw: believing Republicans are honest brokers. But shouldn't he have already learned that? And is he capable of learning?

    Or is he, in the end, an economic moderate conservative forever destined to not pursue the policies that actually could pull us out of this mess vs. setting the stage for the full-bore privatization of the Federal government that seems to be the goal of the KochTeaPublicans?

    And what will WE do about it -- continue poutraging on liberal blogs and talk shows, or Madison-ize DC and every Teapublican House member willing and eager to do the bidding of the puppetmasters they don't realize are pulling their strings?

  • Anonymous on August 01, 2011 9:35 AM:

    I hope to hell they don't stand around and pat each other on the back for a job well done when they pass this disaster. They should pass it and walk away in utter shame. This whole process and endgame is utterly shameful and any legislator celebrating should be immediately impeached.

  • Jersey Tomato on August 01, 2011 9:36 AM:

    I understand that Obama has had to make a deal with maniacs to get this done, but the fact of the matter is, he has had three and a half years to familiarize himself with the fact that the opposition is not rational. Every single time he gets rolled by them, we're treated to yet another iteration of "But who could have expected that Republicans would act this way"? Who could have expected it? Let's see - how about everyone who hasn't been in a coma since November 2008? If I, as an employer, advertise a job and note that it is very difficult and demanding and requires working with crazy people, and you, as an applicant, assure me that you can get the job done, then I expect you to get the job done. I don't expect you to come to me after a string of failures and say "but who could have expected that the job would be so hard?" Obama came to us in 2008, after watching the GOP drive ths country into the ground, and assured us he could get the job done. He hasn't and it's time for him to go.

  • Blue Girl on August 01, 2011 9:38 AM:

    Jeff Zeleney. He would be the same douchebag who asked President Obama in 2009 "are you a socialist as some have said?"

    Yeah. That's some liberal media we got there, innit?

  • Anonymous on August 01, 2011 9:38 AM:

    SteveT gets first place

    "The game was lost when Obama capitulated to the idea that debt reduction was the country's number-one economic priority"

    I would add the original sin was hiring the tax cheat Geitner. Geitner from the very beginning was brainwashing Obama about Republican ideas. He was deeply involved in all the negotiations over the past year.

  • RollaMO on August 01, 2011 9:41 AM:

    Raise your hand if you think any tax increases will come out of the Commission? How about allowing the Bush cuts to expire in 2012? Any bets?

  • David V. on August 01, 2011 9:47 AM:

    "In this sense, Obama’s mistake wasn’t about strength or ideology; it was underestimating at the outset what the GOP is capable of. The president thought if he were responsible, Republicans would be responsible. If he made concessions, they’d make concessions. If he persuaded the American mainstream, this would have some sort of effect on the process."

    I always knew what they were capable of; most people I know with half a brain knew what they were capable of; it seems this blog knew what they were capable of. They were hubris-drunk and in no mood to be responsible, to make concessions, or listen to the American mainstream. It's like screaming at the movie screen to not go into the dark room where the growl is coming from...

  • SteveT on August 01, 2011 9:49 AM:

    RollaMO said:
    Raise your hand if you think any tax increases will come out of the Commission? How about allowing the Bush cuts to expire in 2012? Any bets?

    No bet. The Republicans have proven that Obama will capitulate to hostage takers to preserve what he thinks is important (or what his idiotic economic advisers tell him is important).

    Obama already surrendered once on letting the But tax cuts expire. So all the Republicans have to do is figure out the next issue that Obama will surrender over. My guess is that it will be over funding Obama's health care reform. But there's also the threat of another government shutdown whenever the current continuing resolution expires.

    So many hostages to take . . . .

  • Stetson Kennedy on August 01, 2011 9:50 AM:

    He might have bluffed on the 14th Amendment and the “Constitutional Option,” even if he perceived the tack as illegitimate, just for the sake of leverage.

    I'm sorry, but this simply would not have worked, unless Obama was willing to pursue this option (and count me as one who favored it). Nutjob tea party RepubliCONS would have simply threatened impeachment, and relished the opportunity to follow up on the threat. This is exactly what they were hoping for.

    Even if Obama wasn't convicted (which he wouldn't have been), GOP'ers would have basked in impeaching yet another Dem prez, deluding themselves into thinking it would lead to Obama's defeat (conveniently forgetting that Clinton's favorables went up after being impeached).

  • c u n d gulag on August 01, 2011 9:54 AM:

    The question is, who will the voters blame in Novemeber of 2012.

    It'll be the Democrats.
    Republicans are going to make sure of that, and a cowered, compliant, and complicit MSM, will go along for the ride.

    And if Republicans DO regains control, we'll soon be looking at "The Dominionist Christian Corporate States of American."
    People’s misery will feed right into that. The Conservatives will know exactly how to appeal to peoples religious beliefs, ignorance, racism, xenophobia and misogyny, to regain and control power. And their Corporate masters will delight in the masses of desperate serf’s willing to work under any conditions, any hours, for any pay, at any age.

    So, when this POS passes, remember 8/1/11.

    We’ll soon be adding this one to catastrophic dates like 9/11.

  • Califlander on August 01, 2011 9:55 AM:

    In this sense, Obama's mistake wasn't about strength or ideology; it was underestimating at the outset what the GOP is capable of.

    This was why I feared Obama in 2008 even as I supported him -- he never seemed to understand the GOP in the way that Clinton or Edwards (who had seen the national party up close in action) did.

    But I thought he'd have sorted it out by now.

  • Okie on August 01, 2011 9:56 AM:

    Obama violated the first rule of negotiating with terrorists: never, ever negotiate with terrorists.

    But what choice did he have?

  • John B. on August 01, 2011 9:57 AM:

    Any "political animal" congenitally disposed to defend Obama no matter the issue or details should at least recognize this reality: By his own hand and choices Obama has destroyed his chances for reelection as surely as LBJ did in 1967. The circumstances are different, but the ruling political dynamic is the same.

    Back then, Johnson 'pivoted' from Democratic programs advancing civil rights and Great Society programs to embracing Republican demands for escalating the Vietnam war and dropping bombs on Hanoi. He soon acquired in the public mind the image of a reckless warmonger. That image became so indelible by February, 1968, that Johnson knew he could never be reelected. So, he announced he would not try.

    In January, 2011, Barack Obama 'pivoted' from Democratic programs for healing the economy and creating jobs to embracing Republican demands for cutting Social Security and Medicare (really!) and reducing federal expenditures to 50-year old levels. He has now acquired in the public mind the image of a spineless coward who can be rolled by any ol' Washington pol willing to make outrageous threats.

    That image will be indelible. All the campaign contributions from Wall Street which Obama covets will not be able to erase it.

    Time to look for a Eugene McCarthy for our times.

  • steve duncan on August 01, 2011 9:59 AM:

    Republicans in the ranks are quick to say they realize much of the burden of getting old, getting sick or being disabled or unemployed will be shifted from a shared, government subsidized cost to one weighing heavier on the individual and family. They say it's the price of living in a free, capitalistic society. Government does too much. We're taxed too heavily to support programs assisting the old, sick, unemployed and disabled. The current deficits need whittled down. Gotta live within your means. Add your own rationale.
    In the future more of us, including Republicans, will be impoverished, depressed and struggling with the care of an elderly parent, a disabled loved one, an unemployed spouse or contending with illness. I'd like to be a fly on the wall when they're sitting around the kitchen table desperately devising ways to keep out of the poor house. Rest assured whatever their trevails it will be Democrats they fault. God's punishment for having sex with box turtles or something.

  • skeptonomist on August 01, 2011 10:01 AM:

    Obama doesn't pass legislation, Congress does. It has been clear for some time that Senate Democrats would accede to the main demands of the Republicans who are really in control. This is similar to the health-care debate, when Congress was supposedly controlled by Democrats yet produced a bill heavily slanted toward industry. A lot of the criticism of Obama is based on the rather stupid idea that he can dictate to the Democrats in Congress and make them ignore their big-money backers.

  • David on August 01, 2011 10:05 AM:

    Relieved by the quality of commentary here for the most part.

    If anything, it's Obama's faith in the American people that may be due for a review. People act as if our elected representatives elect themselves.

  • JEA on August 01, 2011 10:06 AM:

    "Radicalized" is EXACTLY what Democrats should be emphasizing in next year's elections; that Republicans have ceased to have the right to govern America because they are RADICAL.

    They should hammer this point 24/7/365 until Election Day.

  • Goldilocks on August 01, 2011 10:07 AM:

    The president thought if he were responsible, Republicans would be responsible.. etc.

    The only possibility of healing this mess is in November 2012. The question then is how the electorate will divide between the gung-ho machismo beat-'em-up no compromise mentality prevalent among many Americans and the more sane decent responsible socially-minded citizens when they go to the polls. The former will be enthralled by the GOP criminal hostage-taking stunt, while the latter will see reason and vote for Obama and Democrats. It will, as always, be an issue of psychological disposition, habitual allegiance and intelligent reflection and understanding. Since America is a nation founded mainly on the ethos of machismo and individualism which is revered more than any other trait, the chance of cleaning out those recalcitrant GOPers and Tearrorist is pretty slim. However, that must always remain Obama's longer-term objective which, one can only assume, he still has his eye on.

  • Kija on August 01, 2011 10:09 AM:

    When Obama campaigned, he said as clearly as could be said, that he would bend over backwards to move forward with bipartisan government. The speech that brought him to America's attention was all about being purple, not red and blue. The problem is that if you start with purple and add all red, you get red. This was why I was a Clinton supporter in the primaries and voted for her even though Oregon's primary was too late to be consequential. I wanted a fighter for our side.

    And yet, even with my expectation that he would lead from the center-right, I am disappointed. He gave this away time and time again. Every time he signaled willingness to compromise, they asked for more. He gave ground at every turn. He didn't demand a hike in the debt ceiling in exchange for extending the Bush tax cuts. He should have let them expire - and blamed the hike squarely on the GOP who totally would have been responsible.

    He is more cowed by FOX than by his base. That's the sad fact. He's got plenty of courage to stand up to and defy his supporters, but bends over like a limbo dancer performing to the FOX tune. He's so afraid of being the "angry black man" that he is impotent to lead.

  • Celui on August 01, 2011 10:18 AM:

    Count me as one of the VERY disappointed Americans to wake up this morning and find that what I might have construed as a total nightmare has potential to become reality. Government by hostage-taking, government by extortion. Apply whatever name you wish, this is now clearly government by the oligarchs, by the plutocrats, by the 'we don't really care about others' who exist in this current self-centered mess with just one goal: defeat Obama at the 2012 election. This has been the guiding strategy all along. If there is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel, a turning point, a better tomorrow or any of the other Vietnam-era platitudes you may care to apply in this case, it can come ONLY if Democrats and Progressives regain their political mettle and support, campaign, and elect responsible and responsive candidates in the 2012 election. All of the House teapartiers are up for re-election; one-third of the Senate; and, let's not forget the White House is up for grabs. Can the country withstand the 'leadership' of the irresponsible for four years?? Can we effectively cede the future of our society to the Ayn Rand-led know-nothing factions? Is it possible to turn the direction of this mess away from the virluent, viral reverberations of candidates speaking out of every side of their mouths? Remember that what was voted today can be modified/repealed tomorrow. And, it works both ways, as we've seen in just this little piece of present-day absurdism. I'm reminded of Ionesco's 'Rhinoceros', in which citizens who actively refuse to acknowledge the existence and omni-presence of evil are by their very intransigence doomed to become that which they ignore. We can all grow our own horns and begin bleating nonsense should we not now appreciate the glimpse into the future that we see today. By all means buoy your responsible Representatives and Senators (and, yes, even Obama), "school" those who aren't yet willing to learn the folly of this day's poor decisions, get y/our heads out of the sand, recognize the poverty of uber-partisan. irresponsible leadership now among us, and help to right this ship as we come into the (likely destructive) storms of the 2012 election. Seems to me that anyone who needs to learn more about 'framing' one's message can do well to read closely George Lakoff's "The Political Mind" and his better-known "Don't Think of an Elephant". So, lick y/our wounds, develop communities of responsible and responsive resistance, and make this place better than we now find it.

  • Jamie on August 01, 2011 10:20 AM:

    well, I'd disagree that Obama didn't change the way things get done in Washington, he just didn't do it in a way that anyone would have liked.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on August 01, 2011 10:23 AM:

    Steve --
    Of course the radicalized rabid right is at fault and deserves the lion's share of the blame. But still I will vent my anger and frustration at the President, for one simple reason:
    I didn't vote for them. I voted for him.

    More wisdom from The West Wing: "But it's not the ones we lose that bother me, Leo. It's the ones we don't suit up for." -- Toby Ziegler, "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet"

  • Gridlock on August 01, 2011 10:25 AM:

    I think Obama is getting too little credit here. Have you folks even read the details of this plan. Let me pull out the most important part for you:
    Mechanism to Ensure Further Deficit Reduction is Designed to Phase-In Beginning in 2013 to Avoid Harming the Recovery: The deal includes a mechanism to ensure additional deficit reduction, consistent with the economic recovery. The enforcement mechanism would not be made effective until 2013, avoiding any immediate contraction that could harm the recovery. And savings from the down payment will be enacted over 10 years, consistent with supporting the economic recovery.

    In case you missed it: Cuts will not occur until 2013. This will protect the economy through the 2012 election. And there's no saying what ACTUALLY happens after that.

  • blueboy on August 01, 2011 10:27 AM:

    "Obama’s mistake wasn’t about strength or ideology; it was underestimating at the outset what the GOP is capable of."

    I think this comment sums up the entire Obama administration since it came into office. He thinks the GOP is something they are not, as "honorable" and honest as him, willing to compromise for the sake of the country. President Ned Stark, welcome to America!

  • david1234 on August 01, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Obama should have done what Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis (where the stakes were much higher). Throw up a blockade and let them decide if it is really worth it

    Irregardless of that, if you find out that the terrorist who is threatening to blow every one up forgot to hook up his bomb, you take advantage of that information. You do not give him a break because he thought it was hooked up. That is why I cannot see why Democrats should not take advantage of platinum coins.

  • tko on August 01, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Obama should have been perceptive enough to know he was going to have a battle about the debt ceiling (Republicancers have fought tooth and nail about everything up until now. How did Harry Reid's filibuster reform work out?) and included it in his Bush Tax Cut capitulation last fall. He constantly underestimates the Republicancers. His negotiating skills are on par with the Indians that traded Manhattan for beads and other useless crap. I really am starting to believe that I underestimated Obama. Again and again, he offered up more than the Republicancers were even asking for and now we are surprised that he capitulated to their demands once again. I used to think that Obama and the DOJ didn't go after the Wall Street criminals and the Bush War Criminal Gang because Obama wanted the Republicancers to "play nice". Obama is really Bush lite. National Security State expanding, more wars than under Bush (What in the hell do you call the thing in Libya?, drones in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen), still have Gitmo, Scahill showed we still outsource our torture, still have unregulated derivatives trading, war on whistleblowers and I could go on and on. Read a little Glenn Greenwald at Salon. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and shits like a duck, I'll assume it's not a Porsche Carrera. Obama may talk like a Democrat, but he doesn't govern like one or he is just inept as hell. In either case, I don't support him any longer. What I can't believe is all the people here still proudly proclaiming, "I'll voter for Obama in 2012, no matter what." Apparently, there's a lot of Kool-Aid on both sides of the aisle. I voted for Obama in 2008 and I just hope there is a competent primary challenger.

  • Lindershaw on August 01, 2011 10:34 AM:

    Policywise, there is no problem with cutting some spending and borrowing more money at low interest. The politics people are outraged about is superficial.

    If Republicans need to be overpowered somehow, it won't be by clever negotiating by the president. It will be by Democratic voting in the 2012 elections. If you want that to happen, stop complaining that Obama isn't shocking and awing the Republicans; instead send the DCCC more money. (Surely you've already sent some, right?)

  • JackD on August 01, 2011 10:43 AM:

    The comment above that nothing happens until 2013 is appropriate inasmuch as this congress cannot bind the next one. However, the real problem with this "negotiation" by the President is that he substantially weakened the chances of electing a Democratic House by offering to cut social security, medicare, and medicaid and, indeed, keeping that possibility open with the new commission. The whole Ryan budget theme has been seriously blunted as the Chicago Tribune was all too eager to point out this morning.

    He is either an awful negotiator or a real blue dog Democrat as he confessed to Matt Bai of the N.Y. Times or both. I vote for both.

  • Ohioan on August 01, 2011 10:44 AM:

    Blame #2 goes to the media, and the Cult of Balance, as Krugman put it.

    And yes, President Obama did indeed underestimate the Republican's willingness to threaten the country itself.

    But in the end he didn't call their bluff, BECAUSE he realized that these guys were indeed willing to go that far. By then it was too late to frame the debate as a hostage taking, and the best he could come up with was "the House of Representatives is... holding our economy captive to Washington politics".

  • June on August 01, 2011 10:46 AM:

    Jesus, what a sad lot we are in here today for the most part. From magical thinking, to posting misinterpretation of facts as the God's honest truth, to fantastic displays of pathological cynicism....

    Amid all the wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth, I'd like to thank Obama for ensuring that my mom gets her full Social Security check this week; that her Medicare card is still in good standing, as are her benefits, and that they will be for years to come, I'd also like to thank Obama for ensuring that some of my younger family members still have access to increased Pell Grants. Not a soul on this thread has taken a look at these real-world benefits of this deal, except to moan and groan and essentially misunderstand what *might* come out of this in 2018 or 2019. This is what makes me so frustrated with 'progressives' -- there is never any acknowledgment of the people who may end up as collateral damage if Obama truly did all the things in the way that every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to believe they know better how to do than him.

  • Danny Gail McElrath on August 01, 2011 10:57 AM:

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. His belief that "moderate cuts to entitlements should be part of a balanced budget deficit agreement" put him on the wrong side of this issue, and also on the wrong foot in negotiations, from the getgo. And now that he has placed this possibility into political consideration and budget discussions, it will never be removed.
    It will continue to be regularly brought into any discussion pertaining to budgets, govt. programs, etc. We will never again be able to feel secure about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, our lifelines, again.

  • June on August 01, 2011 11:12 AM:

    For those interested in the black-and-white of it, it's worth reading (and re-reading) the fact sheet on the debt deal:

    I'd like to point out this excerpt:
    "Consistent With Past Practice, Sequester Would Be Divided Equally Between Defense and Non-Defense Programs and Exempt Social Security, Medicaid, and Low-Income Programs: Consistent with the bipartisan precedents established in the 1980s and 1990s, the sequester would be divided equally between defense and non-defense program, and it would exempt Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, programs for low-income families, and civilian and military retirement. Likewise, any cuts to Medicare would be capped and limited to the provider side."

  • low-tech cyclist on August 01, 2011 11:14 AM:

    Am I supposed to be angrier with the radicals who held a gun to our heads, or those who prevented them from pulling the trigger?

    What Rick Taylor said above. If you know the people playing the black pieces are out to defeat you by any means available, the only remaining questions have to do with the correct play of the white pieces.

    Sure, I can rail about the Republicans, and the point needs to be made to the larger electorate that they're crazy and they're evil, and they will tear down this country if that's what it takes to beat the Dems and the lefties.

    But we already know that. The conversation here really should be about the white pieces. There's no more point in cursing out the GOP, while talking amongst ourselves, than there would be in god-damning Hurricane Katrina. When the bad guys are unalterably bad guys, they might as well be a force of nature, until such time as we are capable of calling them to account.

  • bdop4 on August 01, 2011 11:17 AM:

    Dems never really fought for a clean bill hike. They mentioned the 50-year precedent a few times and after the teabaggers said they wouldn't do it, they immediately began setting the terms for surrender.

    Once they bought into the linkage between the budget and deficit reduction (moneys to be spent) and the debt limit (moneys already spent), it was game set and match. The only question was how much we would lose. And it was a lot.

    The economy is going to look like shit in 2012, and the Dems are going to have to sell it as "they made us do it."

    Good luck with that.

  • Alli on August 01, 2011 11:19 AM:

    Sorry Steve, Obama was playing the role of a responsible president and called on others to step up. It was not his belief that the GOP would be responsible also. He was doing his job. How do you go on TV and say, "we're headed into negotiations with Republicans but I don't expect them to cooperate" - great way to start off right? NO.

    He was being the president and calling on others to lead. The idea that you or the other spectators knew exactly what Republicans were thinking and Obama didn't is bunk. I remember a lot of people on the left said that the Tea Party wouldn't default because their Wall Street masters would put them in line. Didn't work that way.

  • bdop4 on August 01, 2011 11:21 AM:

    I'de like to point out this excerpt from the fact sheet:

    "The Enforcement Mechanism Complements the Forcing Event Already In Law – the Expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts – To Create Pressure for a Balanced Deal: The Bush tax cuts expire as of 1/1/2013, the same date that the spending sequester would go into effect. These two events together will force balanced deficit reduction. Absent a balanced deal, it would enable the President to use his veto pen to ensure nearly $1 trillion in additional deficit reduction by not extending the high-income tax cuts."

    So unless there is not a "balanced deal," (WTF that is), Obama has already committed to extending the Bush tax cuts - all of them.

    Now THERE's a commitment to deficit reduction! Not.

  • June on August 01, 2011 11:21 AM:

    Just curious, @bdop4 - after the House voted down a clean bill in May of this year, how would a clean bill have passed the House on another vote, or gotten 60 votes in the Senate?

    I don't understand the line of reasoning that says time should have been wasted fighting for a clean bill that had already been defeated, and that had no chance of passage.

  • June on August 01, 2011 11:28 AM:

    @bdop4, please re-read the passage, it doesn't mean that at all. It means if the GOP fights letting those tax expire as part of the balanced budget, Pres. Obama will veto any bill that extends the tax cuts.

  • June on August 01, 2011 11:37 AM:

    Hit the "post" button too fast, edited for missing/wrong words....

    @bdop4, please re-read the passage, it doesn't mean that at all. It means if the GOP fights letting those tax cuts expire as part of the balanced deal, Pres. Obama will veto extension of the tax cuts, and not as a surprise to Republicans - it's written into the agreement.

    Here's an anecdote from the Reid Report that relates to this:

    "It’s bad blood all around, with a source telling TRR negotiations inside the White House got ugly when President Obama threatened to kill the Bush tax cuts with a veto if necessary, to which an unnamed Republican in the room responded, “how do you know you’ll be president by then?” Apparently, the look he got from the president wasn’t pretty."

    But apparently, Obama won out on this, because there it is in the deal.

  • Jilli on August 01, 2011 11:38 AM:

    The real problem is that our legislators no longer believe they're elected to solve the nations problems, they now believe that they're elected so they can begin campaigning for the next election.

    They're not looking to do what's economically correct or most advantageous for the country - they're looking to do what's best for them in the political gaming.

    If it wasn't so pathetic, I could probably laugh at their cynicism.

  • MartinL on August 01, 2011 12:20 PM:

    Steve closes with this:
    "Their concern for the national interest really is that weak."

    Actually, their concern is strong and deep. It's a feature of true believers, and it's dangerous to underestimate their passion and patriotism. There is no distance between their fundamental personal convictions and their vision of the country's well being.

    Rather than countering their blather with blather of our own (right now "shared sacrifice" rises as the most irritating) we ought to probe and hold accountable the extreme right's theory of change. Instead of disputing with mushy talking points, turn our challenges into concrete messages: "Explain, show evidence/data, that low taxes on the wealthy creates new jobs." Pound away at their magical arguments instead of getting swallowed by our own soundbites.

  • nicole473 on August 01, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Finally, some common sense.

  • yellowdog on August 01, 2011 6:50 PM:

    What was that movie with Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier? The Defiant Ones? Curtis and Poitier are prisoners who hate each other, but they seize a chance to escape--while shackled together in leg irons. To go anywhere, they have to do it together. Obama is shackled to these crazy people in Congress. He does not like them. He did not choose these circumstances. (He warned before the 2008 elections that this would be the result.) Congress is a coequal branch. He has to deal with them, no matter how crazy they are. If they want to jump off a cliff, he has to find a way to stop them, or go along for the tumble. The alternative? Find a way to get unchained, or reason with crazy people.

    In voicing the litany of his errors, few commenters say what else Obama might have done--short of the 14th Amendment. Look at the composition of the Supreme Court and the nakedly partisan decision in Bush v. Gore, and you understand his reluctance to go there. Paul Krugman rakes Obama over the coals for not getting a debt ceiling raise in the lame duck session--but even Krugman did not recommend it explicitly at the time. (He just pointed out that it was going to be a GOP cudgel.) Congress was pretty busy getting a nuclear deal with Russia, extending vital unemployment benefits, and lifting don't-ask-don't-tell--all over GOP obstruction.

    Obama also has to deal with some magical thinking from his left. Most progressives minimize or outright deny the problems in the financing of Medicare and Medicaid. Health spending is digging a big hole in federal and state budgets. (How many cuts to education do GOP governors blame on Medicaid?) Health care inflation is growing faster than incomes. It is a huge threat to household economic security--in addition to the current lack of jobs. (This is not an either-or matter; it is a both-and matter.) Obama inherited that stinking pile from his predecessor. It's his now. In addition to a jobs problem now, right behind it we have a midterm entitlement problem that also threatens the economy.

    Before the Obama pile on goes any further--to the utter delight of the mean-spirited GOP--the carping critics should propose a solution that:
    -deals with current unemployment and slow growth
    -deals realistically with financing of entitlements for the next ten years (not putting it off)
    -accepts the reality of divided government, wartime spending, and an aging population
    -won't get held up in one of the many veto points in the House and Senate
    -does not depend on the 14th Amendment
    -has to be accepted and approved by a GOP that hates Obama and wants to see him fail - and also wants entitlement reform that looks more like decimation of entitlements, a la the Ryan Plan.

    Go ahead. Do that. I dare you.

  • Doug on August 01, 2011 10:19 PM:

    "Their concern for the national interest really is that weak." Steve Benen.

    That statement can easily, and just as accurately, be applied to the Southern slave-owners who held the Federal government hostage for 50 YEARS! Look it up, if you don't believe me.
    Of course, that was until President Lincoln called their bluff and they...oh, wait, they carried out their threats and DID try to blow up the country!
    Damn near succeeded, I understand...

  • 4jkb4ia on August 02, 2011 12:00 AM:

    John Cole said something interesting

    It was true, which is even better.

    (4jkb4ia--you got down on your knees, not even for one of EW's favorite words, you apologized for being an ass, and don't overdo it.)

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