CommunityFDL Main Blog

Liberal Disappointment: A Question of Bad Poker, Or Bad Policy?

Greg Sargent tries to explain why there’s so much anger around liberals over the impending tax cut cave.

Much of the debate about the left and Obama tends to focus on Obama’s ideological tendencies — on the question of whether he’s too quick to trade away core liberal priorities because he’s at bottom not ideologically in sync with progressives. But one of the key things that angers liberals has nothing to do with ideology. Rather, it’s all about Obama’s approach to negotiating. The argument is that Obama is too quick to signal that compromise, even at great cost, is his paramount goal. This weakens Dems in negotiations with Republicans and emboldens them to hold out for more than they otherwise might be able to secure.

In other words, the case against Obama is not just about ideology. It’s also that his approach is not as hard-headed and pragmatic as it could be.

It’s actually quite a bit worse than this. I’m so old that I remember when the Republicans clearly signaled that they had no leverage in this fight and would be resigned to giving up on getting rich people a tax cut. It was September 12.

“I want to do something for all Americans who pay taxes,” Boehner said in an interview taped Saturday for “Face the Nation” on CBS. “If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for it. … If that’s what we can get done, but I think that’s bad policy. I don’t think that’s going to help our economy.”

The media pounced, saying that Boehner had accepted the Obama position. At the time, I stupidly said that the tax cuts on the first $250,000 of income would be extended, and that the debate was over. Boehner showed weakness. “All the Democrats have to do is to call Boehner’s bluff,” I said.

They never did. Conservative Democrats rebelled against holding a vote in the House before the elections. Boehner flipped back and nobody held him accountable for that. After the midterm shellacking, much of the leverage was gone. And so the signature policy for Democrats for an entire decade was gone, vanished into thin air.  [cont’d.]

Here’s the larger point, and it’s fitting that it takes someone not aligned with Democrats to make it. We have a war going on against the middle class. Inequality is growing at an astonishing rate. Taxes are at a historic low, the lowest in 60 years, as are corporate taxes. The rates are unsustainably low to support a society that even tries to care about the least of its citizens. And yet, we have at least one political party who refuses to raise taxes by one red cent. The only way that revenues could possibly ascend to a level consistent with what is needed and sustainable is by taking advantage of the callow sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts, done purely to get a good budget score, and let them expire.

Instead, we have a party that failed to make the argument, and a President clearly following the blueprint of his deficit hawk ex-budget director, with the emphasis on extending the tax cuts, “fixing” Social Security through benefit cuts and rapprochement with the business community. This is not, then, just about negotiating. It’s about policy, a policy that liberals see as completely misguided, at odds with the real problems facing the country (the continuing unemployment and housing crises) and simply more concerned to pleasing banks and elites than making the economy better for working people. The President didn’t bungle onto this course – it’s what he believes, by all accounts.

I think the bipartisan compromise fetish is a problem, then, but I’m not sure that the President sees extending the tax cuts as a compromise, rather than a preferred policy.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Liberal Disappointment: A Question of Bad Poker, Or Bad Policy?

Greg Sargent tries to explain why there’s so much anger around liberals over the impending tax cut cave.

Much of the debate about the left and Obama tends to focus on Obama’s ideological tendencies — on the question of whether he’s too quick to trade away core liberal priorities because he’s at bottom not ideologically in sync with progressives. But one of the key things that angers liberals has nothing to do with ideology. Rather, it’s all about Obama’s approach to negotiating. The argument is that Obama is too quick to signal that compromise, even at great cost, is his paramount goal. This weakens Dems in negotiations with Republicans and emboldens them to hold out for more than they otherwise might be able to secure.

In other words, the case against Obama is not just about ideology. It’s also that his approach is not as hard-headed and pragmatic as it could be.

It’s actually quite a bit worse than this. I’m so old that I remember when the Republicans clearly signaled that they had no leverage in this fight and would be resigned to giving up on getting rich people a tax cut. It was September 12.

“I want to do something for all Americans who pay taxes,” Boehner said in an interview taped Saturday for “Face the Nation” on CBS. “If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for it. … If that’s what we can get done, but I think that’s bad policy. I don’t think that’s going to help our economy.”

The media pounced, saying that Boehner had accepted the Obama position. At the time, I stupidly said that the tax cuts on the first $250,000 of income would be extended, and that the debate was over. Boehner showed weakness. “All the Democrats have to do is to call Boehner’s bluff,” I said.

They never did. Conservative Democrats rebelled against holding a vote in the House before the elections. Boehner flipped back and nobody held him accountable for that. After the midterm shellacking, much of the leverage was gone. And so the signature policy for Democrats for an entire decade was gone, vanished into thin air.

Here’s the larger point, and it’s fitting that it takes someone not aligned with Democrats to make it. We have a war going on against the middle class. Inequality is growing at an astonishing rate. Taxes are at a historic low, the lowest in 60 years, as are corporate taxes. The rates are unsustainably low to support a society that even tries to care about the least of its citizens. And yet, we have at least one political party who refuses to raise taxes by one red cent. The only way that revenues could possibly ascend to a level consistent with what is needed and sustainable is by taking advantage of the callow sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts, done purely to get a good budget score, and let them expire.

Instead, we have a party that failed to make the argument, and a President clearly following the blueprint of his deficit hawk ex-budget director, with the emphasis on extending the tax cuts, “fixing” Social Security through benefit cuts and rapprochement with the business community. This is not, then, just about negotiating. It’s about policy, a policy that liberals see as completely misguided, at odds with the real problems facing the country (the continuing unemployment and housing crises) and simply more concerned to pleasing banks and elites than making the economy better for working people. The President didn’t bungle onto this course – it’s what he believes, by all accounts.

I think the bipartisan compromise fetish is a problem, then, but I’m not sure that the President sees extending the tax cuts as a compromise, rather than a preferred policy.

UPDATE: I also think that the disappointment stems from non-engaged, non-obsessive mainstream liberals checking in and saying “We’re going to extend WHAT???” It just makes no sense to people that they would see a Democratic President extending radical Republican tax cuts.

Previous post

Prop 8: Liveblogging the Perry Appeal (3)

Next post

Prop 8: Liveblogging the Perry Appeal (Part 3)

David Dayen

David Dayen