The most recent developments in the debt ceiling "negotiations" are the best example yet of why Barack Obama is either A) not good at the concept of bargaining, or B) secretly brilliant, and still not good at the concept of bargaining.
When John Boehner and The Lipless Tortiose, Mitch McConnell, individually signaled their willingness to consider tax increases – mind you they didn't agree to any, but merely offered what may well have been a false impression that they would discuss the matter – many commentators hailed it as some sort of breakthrough or surprising development. It might qualify as a surprise if one takes the GOP rhetoric at face value, but anyone who reads above a fifth grade level would have realized months ago, well before this subject was even on the public radar, that Barack Obama was and is in a position to get absolutely anything he wants out of Congress here. If only someone had told him.
Of course the GOP is signaling concession on tax cuts. Congressional Republicans are the biggest whores for the banking and finance industry on the planet, trailed closely by Congressional Democrats and the legion of actual whores who service the banking and finance industry. Does anyone think for one second that the GOP would actually risk default when default would hurt their corporate and financial masters far more than it would hurt you and I? And bear in mind that it would hurt you and I a lot. A default on Treasury obligations would wipe out the GOP's paymasters almost overnight. Did anyone expect that this "crisis" would not be resolved by the titans of Wall Street and the Fortune 500 calling Eric Cantor and John Boehner on the carpet and letting them know that, OK, this has been cute and all, but playtime is over?
This reality casts two elements of this Kabuki theater tragicomedy in high relief. First, Barack Obama could have dug in his heels at whatever point he chose on this issue…and won. There are no circumstances under which Congress, in a system in which elections are raffled off to the highest bidder and representation is purchased rather than secured by right, would be allowed by the real powers that be to default on the debt. So optimistically we could say that Obama accepted some big spending cuts to signal that he's the bigger man, that he's bipartisan, and that he can speak to the moderate tendencies of the electorate. Conversely we could say he's a fool who gave away a bunch of things in negotiation when he didn't have to give away a damn thing.
Second, the problem with running on a "throw the bums out!" platform is that the morning after the election, you become The Bums. Having wedded themselves to an absolutely insane, dogmatic, irrational, and litmus-test-crazy Teabagger ideology, the GOP has put itself in a position from which any concession will be a lethal self-inflicted wound. Even if the tax increases are token and symbolic (which is likely – something like "rolling back tax breaks for corporate jets" that sounds populist but is effectively meaningless) can you imagine what the Teabaggers are going to do to the GOP leadership? The reason Eric Cantor is trying to play Mr. Tough Guy now is not so much that he is a fanatical believer in Grover Norquistism but that he is thinking to himself "Oh my god I am so fucked" as he realizes that Obama and the GOP's Wall Street masters may combine to force him to accept tax increases of some kind.
The remaining Republican resistance to considering even token tax hikes is not a matter of ideological stridency. It is a matter of intense fear and self-preservation at this point. They're realizing that they may not have a choice in the matter and they can only look forward in horror to what the idiot rabble that elected them are going to do when it happens. Their only hope at this point is that Obama is dumb enough to save them.