Last December there was much wailing about how Barack Obama had rolled over for the Republicans. The Bush tax rates, which exacerbated the nation’s already horrible inequalities of income and wealth, had been extended, but Obama had gotten significant concessions in return. We were still emerging from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and any novice Keynesian should have known that at that moment it was more important to keep money flowing than to pull money out of the economy. I saw the deal as crappy but probably the best Obama could have gotten–especially since Congress ignored Obama’s request to deal with the issue in the run-up to the 2010 election. With its cuts to the payroll tax, extension of unemployment benefits, incentives for businesses to hire and increases in tax refunds like the EITC that help the working poor, it was a pretty good bill for liberals who cared about stimulus, joblessness and the working poor.
I don’t know enough about what’s actually happening in the current negotiations to decide that we’re getting a good or bad deal or that Obama is capitulating or has the upper hand, nor does anyone else not deeply involved in the process. But Obama has continued to insist on a deal that includes both spending cuts and new revenues. Note that despite saying he wanted cuts–and it’s unclear if the cuts Obama has proposed are back-loaded, so as to not hamper the recovery and come at a time when the tenets of Keynesianism call for cutting down deficits–Obama has also pushed to do what liberals and progressives complained he didn’t do in December: roll back some of the Bush tax giveaways to the very wealthy.
Many vocal liberals and progressives reacted to the December deal by excoriating Obama for not “fighting,” for “surrendering” to the Republicans. [Of course this coincided with a nice bump in Obama's job approval numbers.] My knee-jerk reaction at the time was that many of the people who were upset were more concerned with sticking it to the Republicans and making them have to give up their cherished tax cuts for the rich than in getting the best deal available. It reminded me of my favorite line from The West Wing: “You want to beat him, and that’s a problem for me, because I want to win.”
This time around some of the same vocal Obama critics who in December complained that the deal didn’t raise taxes on the rich are now ignoring that Obama has publicly insisted on raising taxes on the rich. They’re also complaining that to reign in stimulus now is bad for the economy. That’s generally true…but it was true in December, when they didn’t acknowledge that that deal was a stimulus package. Extending tax cuts to the very wealthy is an inefficient stimulus, but it’s still stimulus, especially when packaged with everything else that was in that bill.
Maybe the worst example of complaining about Obama from the supposed left is this, which as far as I can suss out is simply an excuse for Jane Hamsher to accuse people who generally support Obama of being “the dumbest m-f-ers in the world” whom Obama supposedly knows are digging his political grave. [I read it three times, and I agree that her rant makes no sense.]
It’s still possible these negotiations will result in something craptacular. But the McConnell-cries-uncle proposal, while still not addressing inequality or developing a framework for putting revenue plans in place for when stimulus is less important and we can safely and responsibly deal with deficits, would be a complete Republican capitulation on spending and the debt. It would also leave the GOP base enraged at its politicians and despondent about the possibilities for the change they desire. Claiming that result would be Obama’s political death is bizarre, but also shows that if you’re determined to declare every damn thing Obama does an act of deliberate appeasement while presenting yourself as the principled opposition, against phalanxes of stupid and credulous Obamabots, in a struggle for the survival of progressive principles and politics, then acknowledging reality and having coherent and consistent critiques really isn’t much of a priority.