THE NEGOTIATOR

For someone who likes politics and devotes the better share of his life to the subject I sure do a great job of ignoring significant aspects of it on occasion. This bothers me. I feel like I should be biting my nails and paying rapt attention to the "negotiations" over the debt ceiling, but I honestly could not care less. This situation is a good example of how Washington politics are starting to feel a lot like Kabuki theater and very little like a functional, representative, multiparty government. We all said six months ago that Obama would cave on Social Security and Medicare, then cave on demanding tax increases, and then cave on any other damn thing the GOP dreams up at the last second and demands with a hearty "Ha ha, what else can we make this idiot agree to?" laugh.

Paul Krugman:

So, here’s where we are on the debt limit discussions: Democrats have agreed to large spending cuts, but are holding out for doing something about:

a rule that lets businesses value their inventory at less than they bought it for in order to lower their tax burden, a loophole that lets hedge-fund managers count their income as capital gains and pay a 15 percent marginal tax rate, the tax treatment of private jets, oil and gas subsidies, and a limit on itemized deductions for the wealthy.

And Republicans walked out.

Think about it. There’s a significant chance that failing to raise the debt limit could provoke a renewed financial crisis — and Republicans would rather take that chance than allow a reduction in tax breaks on corporate jets.

What this says to me is that Obama cannot, must not, concede here. If he does, he’s signaling that the GOP can extract even the most outrageous demands; he’s setting himself up for endless blackmail. A line has to be drawn somewhere; it should have been drawn last fall; but to concede now would effectively mean the end of the presidency.

Let's check back next week to recap how he caved on all that and more. Krugman's comment, of course, overlooks the important reality that even if Obama "draws the line" here he has already given up so much that only in Mushy Centrist Fantasy Land could he conceive of this as anything but a total, humiliating defeat. "Woo! We drew the line at tax breaks on corporate jets!" isn't exactly going to impress anyone. He turned the debt ceiling negotiations, if they can be so called, into yet another round of buying into right-wing talking points and cheerleading austerity in the vain quest to impress everyone with how Bipartisany he can be. Great.

Even Kevin Drum, the Obama-worshipping proponent of the 12th-level chess theory (that Obama's constant caving and Eisenhower Republicanism is actually some kind of complex, byzantine strategy to achieve liberal policy outcomes), has thrown in the towel and admitted that a focus on cutting spending is in fact exactly what Obama and Harry Reid want. He pulls a good quote from Yglesias:

There was a brief opportunity for the President to dig in his heels and simply refuse to compromise. Then the debate rapidly would have become “can John Boehner round up the votes in his caucus necessary to avoid a default.” Instead, the White House conceded the unprecedented point that even though Boehner and Obama agreed about the desirability of raising the debt ceiling that the White House should make concessions to the Speaker in order to obtain it.

Let's recap the Barack Obama school of governing and negotiation. First, you get the Republicans to admit that it's totally unthinkable and utterly insane to let the government default. Second, agree that 50% of the problem – the entire revenue side – is off the table. Third, let the GOP beat concession after concession out of you by bluffing about default. Fourth, get "concessions" from the GOP – in this case, I'll bet you $100 on Obama obtaining "defense cuts" that amount to snipping a few staplers and pencils from the Pentagon budget – that hand the Republicans a ready-made "He's a-cuttin' the Army while our brave men and women are in harm's way!!" talking point. Fifth, go to the electorate in 2012 with the message that sure, I and the rest of the Democrats signed off on hacking up Social Security and Medicare, but, um, the Republicans wanted to cut them a little more than we ultimately allowed. That sounds like a winner, right? The Mighty Democrats fought bravely to make sure that your benefit cuts would be slightly smaller.

Good luck with that, idiot. This presidency has been like watching a man commit suicide for three years. At first you're in a frenzy yelling "Stop! Don't do that to yourself!" but after a while you just want him to hurry up and get it the hell over with already.

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43 Responses to “THE NEGOTIATOR”

  1. HoosierPoli Says:

    As some might have suspected, the real progressive fights will be in the Presidency after Obama's second term. But frankly, Marco Rubio will probably win and royally fuck up even the halting accomplishments of the Obama administration. And then we'll basically be completely fucked on every policy front.

  2. tenacitus Says:

    I think that a lot of the day to day stuff in the news is just noise. The most interesting stuff is in surveys and looking at what's been done in the past and the major trends in governing theory.

    At least that is what I have seen the political scientists seem to study. I say this as a layperson who does IT for a living.

    I am also beginning to think that a grounding in political economy and history is more informative than the news for people who are not advocating for specific legislative outcomes.

  3. Fossella Says:

    I object to the use of 'byzantine' to describe Obama's strategery. If this were Byzantium, Boehner would have been knifed by a eunuch long ago.

  4. jgalt Says:

    As we say in programming: it's not a bug, it's a feature.

  5. wetcasements Says:

    Ya know, Barry has made a lot of compromises in his life in order to achieve amazing success. Hell, I would have done the same thing. Acting as a moderate when you know deep down that 1/3 of Americans will always, always see you as only a black guy, having to constantly dodge comparisons to supposedly "radical" blacks like Jackson and Sharpton, etc. We all know the story by now.

    But at what point can you actually say to yourself "You know what? I've accomplished my goals. There is literally no greater achievement I can manage. Now is the time to spend my political capital and use my natural charisma to its fullest potential."

    IMO he's just internalized so much of this centrist, third-way bullshit that he's forgotten what his goddamn job title is. He still thinks he's a junior congressman from Illinois.

    I do credit him for killing ObL, well after the fact that ObL accomplished his goal of bankrupting the US (fiscally and morally).

  6. cromartie Says:

    But at what point can you actually say to yourself "You know what? I've accomplished my goals. There is literally no greater achievement I can manage. Now is the time to spend my political capital and use my natural charisma to its fullest potential."

    When you're elected to a second term? Maybe? Possibly? Anyone?

  7. eau Says:

    cromarties words to the Spaghetti Monsters ears…

    But, no. Sadly, no.

  8. Tim Says:

    Yep, it's a train wreck. An agonizingly slow one. Obama will probably be one of the least popular presidents on a long-term scale, for his inability to please his base and his desire to make huge compromising gestures to conservatives who will never appreciate it or him in return.

    Trying to please everyone pisses off everyone. It's amazing that a man elected on a two party system would have trouble understanding that you have to choose sides.

  9. daveawayfromhome Says:

    I'm just about to the point where I'm going to vote for a Republican, just so that they can fuck things up even more. Surely, surely, there's a point at which the American public (and perhaps more importantly, the American Press) will say, "whoa, the GOP cannot be trusted with a wet sponge, let alone any power".
    Maybe not, though. I'm not sure we deserve saving. Perhaps it's time for us to accept our fate as this millennias Italy.

  10. Tim H. Says:

    The goal of the Democratic party since maybe Carter has been to return the party to it's centrist, pre-FDR state, make just enough happy noises to string the progressives along while the GOP, in the mistaken belief that Democrat=liberal, lurch rightwards, hopefully to oblivion. Don't think it'll entirely work out, and a reformed GOP would be more useful to the Republic. Wouldn't hurt to have a pro-labor party of some sort, but I'm dreaming.

  11. Major Kong Says:

    The Democrats are a lot like the Weimar Republic.

    Weak, ineffective, torn by factions, centrist at best – and utterly preferable to what's likely to replace them.

  12. mk Says:

    But how else do you deal with a political adversary who would be perfectly happy to let the government default? Do y'all really think the American public — the one that produced medicare-receiving Tea Party seniors who carry carry "down with socialism" signs — will sit through an explanation on financing the government? And our old people come out of a time when we cared about education. Try explaining the need for raising the debt ceiling to anyone under 40. Hell, try explaining what *congress* does to anyone under 40.

    I think the Republicans see this as win/win (and they may be right): either get the concessions they want or force the government into default, at which point they get the White House back and the John Galts can save the republic. I used to think that their rhetoric was just intellectual cover for looting the treasury and rewarding the super-rich. I think the newest generation of them actually believes it.

  13. Marc Says:

    I must have seen a different press conference than you did.

    It'd be nice if people who wrote things like this admitted it when they were proven, you know, wrong. As evidence: the repeated fact-free assertions about imminent cave-ins on Social Security.

  14. beejeez Says:

    I guess Obama acting like a Republican must be why Republicans just luuuuv him so much.

    A modest proposal: Deploy one-half the energy devoted here to ripping the prez a new one instead toward criticism of Republicans. Or would that mean you're not seriously liberal?

  15. c u n d gulag Says:

    I, for one, do see major cuts coming in military spending:

    VA programs
    VA hospitals
    TRICARE
    Child care
    Death benefits
    Training
    Retraining
    Prosthetics

    You know, they'll kind of mini-neutron bomb the military.
    They'll take the money that they spend on soldiers and veterans and redirect it to military industrial projects.

  16. Adam Says:

    I'm just about to the point where I'm going to vote for a Republican, just so that they can fuck things up even more. Surely, surely, there's a point at which the American public (and perhaps more importantly, the American Press) will say, "whoa, the GOP cannot be trusted with a wet sponge, let alone any power".

    Hahahahaha…. good one. 47% of the voters chose McCain/Palin, even after eight years of Bush 2. And probably 51%+ still believe we spend too much on foreign aid and "welfare."

    The political science research I've read comes down on two conclusions: only the politically-active give a flying fuck about process, and those people have chosen their party/candidate already, and independents are terribly misinformed but vote according to economic indicators and perceptions. Nobody except the rancid fecal matter at the Washington Post and on the morning talk shows gives a shit about Barry the Bipartisan. And Pareene is right: we'd be better without the fecal matter; bomb Aspen.

  17. Ed Marshall Says:

    I'll take the $100 on that.

  18. John Says:

    It used to amaze me, but no longer does, that Obama has yet to figure out that pandering to a section of the public that fundamentally hates him for what he is is completely fruitless. He could announce tomorrow that he was going to follow every single one of Saint Ronnie's policies to the letter, and they would *still* call him a Horrible Liberal Socialist Out To Destroy America. He doesn't *get* that. Somehow.

    On that note, it *was* pretty hilarious listening to Boortz this morning. He basically broke down and just started screeching "COMMUNIST COMMUNIST COMMUNIST COMMUNIST" for a good ten minutes or so.

  19. Doctor Couth Says:

    @ Marc: Who was it that stocked the roster of his deficit commission with troglodyte conservatives (Simpson) and DLC-brand Wall Street suckups? Then approved of that commission investigating social security cuts even though social security doesn't add a dime to the deficit? Who pushed a payroll tax holiday that will (a) worsen the shortfall in the ss trust fund and (b) be politically institutionalized because of the cries of "tax hike" when it's time to end the holiday? I'm beyond saying that Obama is not committed enough to social security. He's committed himself to ending it. You just don't know it yet.

    @beejeez: being sufficiently (political descriptor) means criticizing, mocking, or swearing at politicians who depart from your preferred policy positions without regard to their party label. That's pretty much what happens on this blog.

  20. comrade x Says:

    Why are people STILL surprised that Obama and the Dems " cave" at every challenge they face on domestic policy by the GOP? The two parties are corporate parties- most of their political funding comes from corporations. So if I am a politician of either party, do you really think I am going to work directly against my class interests to preserve or expand federally funded social programs? As a representative of big business, I am not " caving " when I vote to cut spending in areas that do my corporate constituents no good. That's bourgeoise democracy 101.
    Money talks. Probably the only cliche ever invented that was 100% true.

  21. Monkey Business Says:

    Honestly, I don't even know why we're even bothering anymore. Let's just declare anarchy. That's small government, right? Let's let every state make their own laws, issue their own currency, etc., and we'll see how quickly the Red states are clamoring for us to re-form the Union.

  22. Elder Futhark Says:

    …as I look at the maggots in my rice, I have to say "Think of it as meat"… and it is! Really good meat, by the way!

  23. Marc Says:

    @Doctor Couth: yup, right on schedule. This is just a game. Take something like "who gets appointed to a panel that is supposed to be bipartisan". Now define some members as unacceptable, and by the transitive law make believe that Obama must therefore agree with them. Then take the worst possible interpretation of something (like the payroll tax), and ignore any contrary evidence about it.

    Then look over the repeated claims of Obama-haters that he was going to strike some grand deal to sell old folks down the river. Contrast that with the utter absence of any such deal, and with his explicit statements to the contrary.

    This is pure Calvinball.

  24. Amanda Says:

    I've just started calling him a pussy whenever I hear him talk or see him on tv. I would be interested to know who is advising him to do all this stuff, or rather, if he is just balls to the walling it on his own.

  25. Mike Says:

    I was disgusted to hear on NPR that the wealthy "might" be willing to give up their tax breaks for corporate jets, on the same day that Lieberman announced his plan to take away two years' worth of health care from seniors. Basically the poor are trading dollars for pennies and we're calling it progress.

  26. Mike Says:

    @beejeez: "toward criticism of Republicans"

    I'm happy to criticize Republicans all day long. At the least, it's cathartic. But what does it do? It doesn't change the GOP. Liberals can at least hope to affect change within the Democratic party. (Not super likely, but very slightly plausible…)

  27. Doctor Couth Says:

    @ Marc: "Then look over the repeated claims of Obama-haters that he was going to strike some grand deal to sell old folks down the river. Contrast that with the utter absence of any such deal, and with his explicit statements to the contrary."

    OK. You win. Obama has not just said that he won't sell the olds down the river, but he's done so explicitly. Probably with a "let me be clear" thrown in.

    If I understand your last point, absent a unilateral and total abolition of SS or Medicare everything's OK? If Obama not only allows but encourages the gradual crippling of either of these two effective and popular programs through compromises, and touts those compromises as his proudest achievements in governing, what conclusions would a sane person draw about the future viability of those programs?

    As for the deficit commission, follow along: Obama initiated the commission. No one forced him to convene one. He had free rein over whom to appoint. The lead democrat on the commission was Erskine Bowles, a principal architect of the DLC/suck up to wall street turn the dems took in the 1980s and 90s. Andy Stern of SEIU was the token labor representative and the rest came from corporate America. For his part, Obama's fellow Illinois senator Dick Durbin picked Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, two of the pricks that cocked up health reform. Do you think Durbin didnt discuss his choices with the President? When you fold in tbe predictable right wing hacks like Coburn and Paul Ryan chosen by McConnell and Boehner, you get a panel that is nominally bipartisan but strongly skewed to the right and chaired from Wall Street. When you stack a commission like that, only a jackass would be surprised about the conclusions it will draw.

    I've said this all along but if it makes you happy to declare that I'm playing Calvinball then have at it.

  28. Remo4Preznit Says:

    I'm surprised by the naivety of some of these comments. It's 2011. Do some people still not understand that Barack Obama is a centrist? His revealed preference is for centrism. And not 1990's centrism either, but modern centrism.

    Which is not surprising, given that an actual liberal Democrat has approximately a 0% chance of being elected president, given the media and fundraising strictures on the modern political process. Any Democrat we elected in 2008 was going to be a centrist or, at best, barely center-left. I frankly think we did pretty well.

    So, no, the "real" Barack Obama will not be pulling off his mask on election night 2012 and saying, "I've been a liberal all along!"

    Nor are liberals going to get anywhere by adopting rightwing slogans, namecalling, and talking points to attack him personally. And you're certainly not going to get traction by going all "WHITE MAN SMASH NEGRO PRESIDENT!" (which has been mercifully absent from the commenters at G&T, but is rife in certain supposedly liberal quarters.)

    Where you're going to get traction is advocacy. The thing about centrists like Barack Obama is that they ARE capable of listening, or at least practicing self-preservation. Pressure is the way to change their manifest policy preferences.

    So write letters. Write to your local newspaper about how you disagree with the president (refrain from using the term "betrayed us", because that goes over surprisingly poorly.) Write blog comments criticizing the president (refrain from using the term "whut a moron LOL", because it's neither stupidity nor a failure of strategy to get the policy outcome you were looking for in the first place.)

    Start an argument with your family members. Change the motherfucking zeitgeist in whatever small way you can. Go to town halls and ask tough questions. Walk into your congressional rep's local office and ask tough questions. Write handwritten letters. Ask your representatives to put pressure on the president. Be whiny and loud.

    Be whiny and loud. I cannot emphasize this enough. BE WHINY AND LOUD. People act like that's useless, but whiny and loud works in American politics. Christ, it's how we sunk the last attempt to dismantle social security. It's how we got Washington to pay attention to DADT. It's how we squeaked the healthcare bill through when Washington gave up on it and all hope seemed lost. Do people have no memory of this shit whatsoever? We've done it before, and we can do it again.

    But don't pretend that Barack Obama used municipal bonds to bus known communists to your house to kill your puppies, or that he's going to come out for single-payer on November 7th, 2012. That's just fairy tale garbage.

  29. leon Says:

    Daveaway said: I'm just about to the point where I'm going to vote for a Republican, just so that they can fuck things up even more. Surely, surely, there's a point at which the American public (and perhaps more importantly, the American Press) will say, "whoa, the GOP cannot be trusted with a wet sponge, let alone any power".

    I just want to point out the irony in voting for the GOP so that people will see that voting for the GOP is bad. Um, I'm sure it was meant as hyperbole, but if you want to throw your vote away… just don't. The negotiator in chief is more intelligent than any of the Rebublican 'contenders', and ostensibly to the left of the lot of 'em. Sure, I'd like a real liberal in the WH, but lacking that alternative, I'll take the center over batshit any day.

  30. bb in GA Says:

    @Remo4Preznit

    "or that he's going to come out for single-payer on November 7th, 2012. That's just fairy tale garbage."

    He has already come out for single payer (about 2002) I saw the video where he was speaking in front of a labor group. He allowed how he has always been for single payer, but he thought that once we went down that path that the transition would take about 10 years. We are "on the path."

    He is a patient ideologue…something most of you Lefties here are not.

    Rejoice dear hearts, your man will get re-elected.

    //bb

  31. NYD Says:

    The way to understand the function of the Democratic Party in our Republic is this: There are two corporatist parties. One's job is to ruthlessly push the needs and wishes of the plutocracy as far forward as possible when the public will stand it; the other exists to toss crumbs to the masses and bring "change" in bad times, while absorbing any progressive social or economic movement in order to neuter it.

    The idea that even the most Liberal 20th century Democrats gave a rats ass about "the people" is a fucking joke. FDR was convinced by his secretary of labor that the New Deal was necessary to stave off the very real threat of some sort of leftist revolt, and thus did the absolute minimum required to give the masses hope. In the process, he destroyed the Socialist movement and cajoled the Labor movement into accepting a junior junior partner position in the Democratic power structure. The New Deal was the death of leftist activism in the United States, which from the 1890s through 1937 (when Labor leaders went against the wishes of their militant membership and supported FDR rather than forming an independent Labor party) was the only real threat to the plutocracy this county has ever faced.

    Barry is just playing his part. Dish out the crumbs (Healthcare reform) and carry the torch for the bosses. We'll get a "real" democratic party when we give up on the Democrats and start independent progressive power structures. At that point, we'll get our "next FDR" who will take 1/20th of what we've fought for, codify it, and then the next 100 years will be spent undoing it.

  32. Rosalux Says:

    Amen, NYD.

    Thinking constructively, the question progressives must decide is: if Obama is unwilling, or unable, to articulate progressive values, then who will? It's time for liberal Democrats to seek leadership elsewhere, and try to shift the balance of power within the party. Never too soon to be thinking about 2016. So, who is the next Paul Wellstone? The next Ted Kennedy? I love me some Bernie Sanders but he's too old and unelectable anywhere but Vermont.

  33. Tim Says:

    I'm not a big fan of the "theory" of two corporatist parties. It tends to try to make a caricature out of a number of complex factors that have little to do with the leadership of both parties making all the decisions. Rather, our situation is the culmination of the pressures of power and influence from various sectors. Sometimes a party selects a base it wants to influence. Sometimes a base (money or actual votes) influences a party. That can depend on a whole different set of factors. In the case of the democratic party, they have through these circumstances been pulled (I'd say their lack of direction and consistency qualifies the term pull) toward dismantling their own achievements. The republican party has consequently achieved a number of their more modest goals, and have started pushing new ones (that are inevitably more conservative).

    I apologize if that was a bit muddled. My point is that we reached this point by very specific actions, trends and actors. Summing it up with a corporatist conspiracy theory (IE: implying intent or design) makes for very ignorant political discourse. People close their minds when you start talking about conspiracies, even if all the effects that aforementioned false conspiracy has are actually true.

  34. Townsend Harris Says:

    Some commenters here are petulant marks of the same old GOP electoral shit: demobilize your opponents, sway the undecideds, mobilize your base.
    Not all of Ed's commenters understand demobilize|sway|mobilize, maybe because not all of Ed's commenters are disciplined and organizing for their favorite progressive goals. And no, commenting online is not organizing. And no, voting for Barack Obama next year is not a progressive goal. Instead, it's a progressive's pragmatic and tactical necessity. Kinda like voting in Florida in 2000 for (wait for it) Al Gore.

  35. RosaLux Says:

    An idea for an SNL skit: Barack Obama loses the 2012 election and, looking for work, takes a job as a hostage negotiator. Comically, he's terrible. He always concedes to the hostage-takers demands and the hostage-takers always kill the hostage and get away. And that's the Barack Obama legislative strategy in a nutshell.

  36. Glenn Friesen Says:

    The best comment on this post award goes to Fossella. :)

  37. Bernard Says:

    boy, the willful self deception here about Obama is proof of the success of the Republican party.

    i'll bet people hard cash that Obama will cave. the more i listen to and watch Obama, the easier it is to see how easy Obama is. The Republicans could't have asked for a better proponent, not opponent, to run with, not against. in fact, i await the debt ceiling to see how much Obama caves. that's how sure i am of the duplicity in Obama's character. of course, this could be the media's description that i am using as defining Right, Left and Center.

    the apparent willingness to delude oneself about Obama's past actions, and the total lack thereof in those actions, in just about all of the major issues of his reign is what i am sadly amused by. yes, indeed, i am demanding and expect something to be done. which is why i am a Left of Center stalwart.

    when Obama begins to take a step to the left from the far right Altar Of Bipartisanship he worships, and does one thing for the Left, or uses his Office as a Bully pulpit, then i might consider him to be left on anything.

    that so many choose to delude themselves, in my opinion, with the idea that Obama is doing his best for the Left, well, i applaud your right to believe such. that doesn't mean you have a grasp of the situation i think that are facts, at least from my gleaning of the facts. in fact, i hope you are right about your take on this worthless Manchurian Candidate.

    as Sgt Friday said on "Dragnet," just the facts, ma'am, just the facts, from my left of center world.
    and i am proud to be as shrill and unserious as possible.

    as i also said earlier, I am willing to bet, and i am not a betting man, but in this case i have a sure thing, i think. and i will know soon enough, in 3 weeks. or less. and not voting seems more responsible as Obama shows his honest self.

  38. Townsend Harris Says:

    "and not voting seems more responsible"
    The President appoints the members of the National Labor Relations Board. There was no surprise when Bush 43's appointments to the NLRB fucked graduate students at NYU.

  39. lambert strether Says:

    We get conservative outcomes from Obama because he's a conservative.

    [Noises off from career "progressives" and Obama's rump Ds: "But he speaks in complete sentences! Look! Over there! Sarah Palin!" And so forth.]

  40. Lurraine Says:

    How neat! Is it ralely this simple? You make it look easy.