OK, You Say Obama Sucks. But What. Is. Your. Alternative?

Yesterday it was Kuttner. Today’s it’s Greider:

The most distressing outcome of the deficit hysteria gripping Washington may be what Barack Obama has revealed about himself. It was disconcerting to watch the president slip-slide so easily into voicing the fallacious economic arguments of the right. It was shocking when he betrayed core principles of the Democratic Party, portraying himself as high-minded and brave because he defied his loyal constituents. Supporters may hope this rightward shift was only a matter of political tactics, but I think Obama has at last revealed his sincere convictions. If he wins a second term, he will be free to strike a truly rotten “grand bargain” with Republicans—“pragmatic” compromises that will destroy the crown jewels of democratic reform.

The president has done grievous damage to the most vulnerable by trying to fight the GOP on its ground—accepting the premise that deficits and debt should be a national priority. He made the choice more than a year ago to push aside the real problem—the vast loss and suffering generated by a failing economy.

Yet another “I know what’s really in Obama’s heart, and you’re all a bunch of dupes for not realizing he’s really to the right of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan” screed.  There are many problems with Greider’s piece, but maybe the worst is in the last sentence quoted above: no, there isn’t just “the real problem” and then other stuff. The “real problem” is that there are many problems. Yes, the biggest economic (and probably political) problem is jobs. But the debt ceiling is no less real and can not be avoided.

I searched Greider’s article for a few words which I think are key to a balanced discussion of the debt limit. Like, for instance, “limit.” It’s not there. Greider assails Obama for a broader policy, political and rhetorical emphasis on debt reduction. Fine. But that’s not what we’re dealing with this week. There’s a very specific procedural issue: on Tuesday, if Congress doesn’t act to amend an existing statute and raise the debt limit, the United States government will lose its unquestioned authority to borrow money to cover expenditures already approved by Congress. This isn’t a policy debate initiated by Obama, it’s a response to a looming deadline which if not met will result in both an avoidable economic catastrophe and a major constitutional crisis.

Constitutional scholar Ronald Dworkin argues that in the absence of an agreement the 14th amendment gives the president authority to continue to borrow money to prevent default. Some have said that means Obama shouldn’t worry about conceding anything to Congress. This afternoon Arianna Huffington tweeted “Ronald Dworkin: 14th Am. ‘gives the president authority to ignore’ the ‘blackmail’ currently going on” with a link to his article. What she didn’t bother to add was that Dworkin also wrote that “some Republicans have declared that if the President does accept the constitutional argument, and acts without their consent, they will try to impeach him. That would take only a majority of the House, which the Republicans control.” That is certainly correct. But when Dworkin continues by saying “surely even the Tea Party representatives can understand that they would make fools of themselves by declaring that a president is guilty of ‘a high crime or misdemeanor’ whenever he interprets the Constitution in a way they believe wrong,” he’s being too sanguine.

Greider’s article is missing several other key words, like “senate” and “filibuster” and “tea,” all of which are essential in discussing the real-world dilemma we face. And there’s no discussion of what will happen if the debt limit isn’t raised.

It’s reasonable to criticize Obama’s rhetoric about debt and government spending, his willingness to discuss major changes to Social Security and Medicare, even whether he’s sufficiently used the bully pulpit to educate the public and rally their support. But anyone assailing his positions on the debt limit has an intellectual and political obligation to at least tacitly acknowledge the following:

  • Striking a bargin with the Republicans on the debt limit is not an unprovoked initiative that could be dropped, but instead a legal mandate, and that failing to do so will result in some combination of the following:
    • The government will not have enough money to meet all it’s financial obligations, so some obligations, most likely social welfare payments like Social Security and Medicare, will not be fully funded
    • A severe downgrading of US debt, with serious consequences to the entire US economy and most likely a global financial crisis
    • Obama invoking the fourteenth amendment to meet our financial obligations, a position that very well may be overruled by the Supreme Court, and which will also probably trigger a serious effort in the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings, as well as push about 20% of the country in to a conspiracy-soaked paranoid frenzy worse than already exists and probably worse than anything we’ve had since McCarthyism.
  • Striking a bargin with the Congressional Republicans will require awful concessions
  • Faced with either default or an awful but necessary deal brokered with Republicans, the choices will not good deal or bad deal, they will be very bad deal or even worse deal
  • Obama’s rhetoric may not have helped with public understanding and support, but it’s been inconsequential in fostering Republican intransigence, because that’s been there from the first day of his presidency.
  • Complaining about a bad deal without acknowledging these constraints or offering an alternative that lays out how to get a better deal through the tea party-controlled House of Representatives and the filibusted Senate is not a serious contribution to a serious discussion.

Criticism if good. Sniping without acknowledging existing political and procedural constraints is not. If you think Obama is mucking things up, or especially if you’re alleging that he’s willfully betraying liberal policies and principles, you have an obligation to provide a credible alternative strategy that lays out how to get a better deal passed through the tea party-controlled House and the filibusted Senate. If you don’t, you’re not making a serious contribution to a serious discussion, and as such there’s no reason to treat you like a serious person.

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27 Responses to OK, You Say Obama Sucks. But What. Is. Your. Alternative?

  1. Annie says:

    My alternatives would be for 1. Obama to not have decided to pursue the absurd attempt to appease independents, who are typically quite ignorant, by pursuing a 4 trillion dollar grand bargain. 2. He could have not signed an extension of the Bush tax cuts without raising the debt limit. 3. He could not voice support for the nonsense about how the debt is killing the U.S. economy. 4. He could have not said that the US budget is like a household budget. 5. He could have said he wouldn’t sign anything but a clean debt limit.

    I bet if he did those things his job approval would be above 40%. I am not going to donate money to Obama or volunteer. Let him ask those independents to help him out.

    • M Graham says:

      The great thing about this drama playing out is that voters get to see first hand exactly how extreme Tea Party is, and how their governing is a potential disaster. Which may be what POTUS is going for.

    • Jenny says:

      “I am not going to donate money to Obama or volunteer.”
      You must be too old or ugly to get pregnant because it doesn’t seem like you’ve thought about Roe in years. Leave it to a “me-generation” liberal to only think about themselves.

      • Dana Houle says:

        Hey, Jenny, knock that crap off. You can tell her she’s wrong, and I’m not going to insist that everyone be nicey-nicey, but the personal stuff in your comment is over the line.

      • Annie says:

        I care deeply about Roe and I’ll vote for whatever Democrat is on the ballot in every single race. And I’ll volunteer for and contribute to other Democrats.

        However, Clinton would have been a better president. I regret working for Obama so much and so very early in the process.

    • Observerinvancouver says:

      1. He’s exposed how totally unreasonable the Republicans are for not agreeing to this.

      2. Extending the Bush tax cuts produced a cornucopia of good stuff in exchange. Extending unemployment insurance and getting the New START Treaty ratified are only two items amongst many.

      3. Someday you all have to come to terms with your national debt or it really will strangle your economy. I think Pres. Obama is suggesting measures to come into effect a bit down the road, not immediately. I don’t want to suggest Canada is superior to the U.S. in any way but about 10 – 15 years ago we were close to IMF intervention and people joked about the Northern Peso. The government took a lot of nasty steps that in a relatively short time turned government finances around and we ran surpluses for several years until your 2008 unpleasantness. Even now our financial situation is the envy of many other countries.

      4. Agree.

      5. Sure, he could have said it. And let the Republicans excoriate him for being unreasonable. Would not have made things better in the slightest.

    • fleetadmiralj says:

      I would respond by saying the following:
      1) Independents are necessary to win. Democrats aren’t enough to elect Obama, to say nothing about liberals being enough. That’s not to say he should pursue a policy just because independents like it but, let’s be real, he needs independents.

      2) Was this really on the table then? That would have certainly solved it though one has to ask whether it would have gone through 2013, and if not, we’d still have this problem, but just later on.

      3) Even if I agree, it doesn’t change the situation that the tea party was holding the debt ceiling hostage

      4) Even if I agree, it doesn’t change the situation that the tea party was holding the debt ceiling hostage

      5) And when the tea party told Obama to go screw himself?

      Sure, if he did the above, his approval might be higher among liberals. But then one is arguing that appeasing liberals is more important than, you know, trying to avoid default.

  2. Dana Houle says:

    That’s not an alternative. It ends up with default and possibly impeachment. We may get there anyway, but what you lay out doesn’t result in an increase to the debt limit.

    • Tom Stewart says:

      Budgets, no matter how big or how small have the same, basic components: Money In, Money Out , Borrowed money. If you don’t have enough to pay for your bills plus buy that special widget you’ve been eying, buying it on credit will only make you have less money to pay your bills next pay day. I guess that’s ok if you tell your children that you are going to just have them pay for it. I sincerely hope this debt ceiling is not passed. I want things to be better for our children, not worse. Maybe if the debt ceiling isn’t passed they will at least have a chance 20 years from now. If we pass it and keep borrowing like we have been, I can guarantee it will be even worse in 20 years.

      • rootless_e says:

        you can’t run a business like that, let alone a government. You have to invest to make money. Budgets need to balance eventually, but nations have long time horizons.

      • Jenny says:

        If you oppose unfunded legislation, then you support repealing the Bush tax cuts, as they were all financed by borrowing money.

  3. Dana Houle says:

    Ahh, great, someone who’s family budget includes printing of money, manipulation of interest rates, regulation of interstate commerce and international trade and can stimulate economic growth. Families with those powers, yeah, how the manage their household budget provides great analogies for how to deal with the largest economy in the world.

    • Tom Stewart says:

      Don’t you understand, congress doesn’t print money. The Federal Reserve prints money without permission from congress. The Fed also minipulates interest rates. I’ll concede the others if you will read up on this. I hate people that try to teach me all the time but please check this out

    • Miranda says:

      Just ignore clowns that talk about their “household” budget as if they paid CASH for their home if they own it.

  4. rootless_e says:

    not only do they never have a practical solution for Obama to follow, but the “progressives” never have any practical proposal at all. Since they decided Obama was useless 2 years ago or more, why do they keep obsessing about Obama? Are there no other avenues to political activity in the USA than bitching about Obama?

    • Tom Stewart says:

      Hey, no one said anything about paying cash for everything. You have to borrow for big ticket items. But you also shouldn’t buy something you can’t afford to pay payments on. You have to live your life everyday realizing you have to do what ever it takes to keep that income coming in and not borrow more than you can afford. Think before you get into a new loan and really decide if you can afford it. Maybe you can’t but you could if you cut back on someting else. Don’t make your kids pay for it! Come on!

      • Observerinvancouver says:

        The debt ceiling issue has nothing to do with new loans. It’s all about paying off the old loans. And in Pres. Obama’s case, they’re old loans run up by someone else.

        If you take on debt and then decide to miss a payment or two, that will lower your credit score and make it harder to borrow in the future or result in paying much higher interest rates. That will really add to your kids’ burdens.

    • Tom Stewart says:

      And please don’t call me a “Clown” what’s the matter with you?

  5. Jenny says:

    “But What. Is. Your. Alternative?”
    Weiner/Grayson ’12!!

  6. Integrity is gone from government unable to be revived by hope alone. Has Mr. Obama forgotten the American hunger for justice, which prompted his election to office? By contrast, Lyndon Johnson was never handsome or articulate, no Ivy League schoolboy. In the quagmire of Washington politics, Johnson legislated with legendary mastery. Mr. Obama is looking more and more like a shooting star, bright but fizzling fast.

    • Dana Houle says:

      Ha! Yeah, in that “quagmire” Lyndon Johnson had a 295-140 Dem House and a 68-32 Dem Senate to deal with (yet still messed up Vietnam so badly that he didn’t run for reelection). Details like that matter.

  7. Unitas19 says:

    Interesting thread.

    It seems to me that this is a lot less complicated than my fellow liberals are making it out to be. Obama realized early that a clean debt ceiling wasn’t going to happen (14th amendment fantasies aside) and decided to go big with the Grand Bargain. Take the deficit off the table by getting Republican by-in. Big Rose Garden signing ceremony. Angry left/right wings but broadly happy middle. Unfortunately, the Bargain didn’t work out. The two sides then retreated into their cores (Dems w/ entitlements, Reps w/ taxes) and will live to fight/bargain another day.

    Isn’t that all we’re really talking about here?

    • Unitas19 says:

      Kinda forgot to add my point.

      Liberal critics & the White House seem at cross purposes here. The White House saw early they weren’t gonna get a clean debt ceiling and decided to go big. Liberal critics wanted a clean ceiling (plus, some additional stimulus somehow). I don’t see any result other that pleasing left blogs & critics.

      I don’t think there was any realistic way the White House was gonna make it’s critics happy here. It just wasn’t in the cards with this Congress.

  8. Luke says:

    Ron Paul.

    That was easy.

  9. Pete says:

    Obama totally screwed this country up with his big open spending policies thinking somehow it is the governments job to create jobs, well that is why we are where we are. Barrack Obama has spent more money than any other president in history and he hasnt even been in office for 3 years. He is a worthless lie, and Americas biggest coverup. Someday if America can survive whats left of his miserable presidency the truth will come out. The fact is, Obama has messed up everything, and Liberals are happy because they donot have morales therefor they dont care when obama approves open gays in the military, and higgher taxes and bigger government and peoples overall lack of faith in the once great country of America. So the short is, anything would be better than Barrack. I like the idea of seperating the country and let all you liberal democrats live in your own half of the country and Conservatives will take the other part. Oh I forgot you couldnt do that because you would all want your handouts and there wouldnt be anyone to pay the bills.

    Yeah Whatever

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