There is a lot of hand wringing over the still not voted deal President Obama made to extend the Bush tax cuts. To be sure, the give on upper income tax breaks is most disturbing and disheartening. But, as David Leonhardt points out in today’s Times, the President exacted a price in the negotiations, effectively getting, he wrote, a second stimulus bill that seemed improbable a few weeks ago. Another Times piece reports on behind-the-scenes horse-trading led by Vice President Biden. You may not be happy with the outcome, but this is exactly the kind of legislative process that characterized those good old days we speak of so nostalgically when the likes of Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch could, as Margaret Thatcher’s would say, do business together. Among the sound bytes coming out of the President’s press conference, and with good reason, was his reminder that this is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. The New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America. Neither does The Wall Street Journal editorial page. You don’t have to live in here in North Carolina to know that’s the case — think Christie’s New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan.
I for one wish this country was, at least, left of center, but that’s not the case. Nor incidentally is it so sure, as some would have it, that it is right of center or even necessarily in the middle. We see far more evidence that the electorate, torn in asunder by political hyperbole, is more confused than necessarily ideological. In that, they should first blame themselves for being intellectually lazy and frighteningly uninformed. It’s has made them an easy target for the systematic disinformation that is unabashedly (and expensively) being delivered up these days.
Obama was somewhat testy in his meet with reporters. He’s under a lot of pressure from his base; some of it clearly warranted. But let’s not put all the blame for our frustrations on his shoulders. We certainly didn’t give him much reason or the facility to drive a harder bargain than he did. In the so-called enthusiasm gap many Democrats were inexplicably AWOL in November, including those terrific, but obviously fickle, young people who shouted yes we can so enthusiastically before the going got apparently too tough for them to carry through. It’s conventional wisdom to attribute dissatisfaction to compromises made on the healthcare bill. It was clearly less than many of us wanted, but let’s not dismiss what it did accomplish nor the fact that it even passed. And don’t forget that virtually all of those weakening compromises were made to get Democrats on board not to convince Republicans — Bart Stupak in the House; Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Max Baucus in the Senate to name a few. Moreover, the public option that was so very important to many of us, and still is, ranked (as political analyst Nate Silver reminds us) very low as a priority for most Americans. Finally, a vote on the tax extension should have taken place before not after the mid-term, but the Democratic leader Harry Reid, facing a tough reelection bid, put that vote off for the lame duck. That bit of Washington self-interest (one of many) cost us big.
This tax cut, across the board, should never have been enacted in the first place. It, along with two unfunded wars, is largely responsible for the deficit that has weakened us so and whose elimination is being paid pompous lip service by those lobbying hardest for its extension. Let’s remember that it came about because Bush and the Republicans purposefully wanted to essentially defund the treasury to force a reduction in the size and scope of government. It was an ideological move. Keep in mind also that Democrats in Congress (with few exceptions) went along with both the tax cuts and the wars. Hello, I was for it before I was against it.
So where are we? Democrats are complaining, Republicans are crowing. Pundits are talking of a one term President; some left activists are urging a primary challenge. Why can’t Democrats dish it out like Republicans, why can’t they be angry like the Tea Party? These are legitimate and timely questions. The simple answer is that they are Democrats, a vastly different DNA. But here’s the bottom line, the one Obama says probably shocks some of us about America in 2010. It can be expressed quite simply: President Romney, President Gingrich and…oh yes, President Palin. We liberals aren’t murdered at the ballot box; we regularly commit suicide before we get there. I’m just not into that — hope you’re not either.