Togane, Japan
December 31
I'm teaching English in foreign countries as a way to see the world. I lived in Germany for three years and have been in Japan since August of 2011.


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DECEMBER 8, 2010 6:55AM

The Obama/Bush Tax-Cuts: Negotiating with Terrorists

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I’m not sure why, but even though everyone expected it, even though I called it a month ago, I’m still extremely angry about Obama’s decision to cave in to the Republicans on the Bush tax-cut issue.  Perhaps I’d been holding out some hope until the very end.  Perhaps it’s because no matter how angry you anticipate you’ll be when somebody does something you find despicable, you don’t fully feel the anger until they’ve actually done it.

I won’t spend too much time going into all of the reasons why extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans is a bad idea in terms of policy—I think most people already understand that trickle-down economics is bunk and that the more money we borrow from China the worse-off our country is—but it’s a far worse decision in terms of politics.  In this case, the politics are more important than the policy because this sets the tone for the next two years and will thus have a significant impact on every policy to be addressed during that time.

First of all, it’s important to know what public opinion is on this issue.  In a recent CBS news poll only 26% of responders said they believed the tax-cuts should continue for everyone.  53% said they should only continue for income under $250,000 a year, and 14% said they should all expire.  If you add up the last two numbers, that’s 67% of Americans who want the tax-cuts for the wealthy to expire to just 26% who want them to continue.  Public opinion is overwhelmingly against extending the tax-cuts for the rich (even just among Republicans, the numbers are 52% opposed to 46% in favor).

There are those who say that making a deal with Republicans was a political necessity.  Obama did what he had to do.  It was the responsible thing.  The Republicans would have blocked unemployment benefits for people badly needing them unless Obama agreed to a two-year extension of the Bush tax-cuts.  Obama used an appropriate metaphor, painting the Republicans as terrorists holding the middle class and the unemployed hostage.  He said that while you shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, sometimes it’s necessary to prevent the hostages from being harmed.

But that’s only half the analogy.  If you cave in to the terrorists’ demands they may release the hostages this time, but it only encourages more hostage taking in the future.  The Republicans know exactly how to manipulate Obama.  They’ve been doing it for the last two years and will continue to do it for the next two years unless Obama finally stands up to them.  Sometimes you have to let the hostages get hurt to prevent harm to future hostages.  Show the terrorists that taking hostages is not a winning strategy, and they’ll have to find a different one.

So what could Obama have done?  It’s very simple, and it would have been a far better strategy than caving in:

Call the Republicans’ bluff.  Make them filibuster.  Make them hold up every single piece of legislation until the 111th Congress expires, and at the beginning of next year all taxes would go up across the board, for the rich and the middle class alike.  Make it clear that it is the Republican Party that is responsible for taxes going up, that their obstruction is the reason the unemployed have stopped receiving benefits, that the START treaty hasn’t been ratified, and so on.  Make it as clear as possible to the American people (most of whom are already on your side) that the Number One priority of the Republican Party is getting tax cuts for their rich friends, and that they’re willing to let the middle class, the unemployed, and national security suffer just to help out the people who are least in need of help.

At the very beginning of the next legislative session, introduce new tax-cut legislation completely separate from the Bush plan.  Cut taxes for the bottom 98% of Americans if you must, but refuse to include any cuts for the top 2%.  Include an extension of unemployment benefits along with compensation for whatever the unemployed had been deprived of thanks to Republican obstruction.

Dare the Republicans to filibuster this.  They probably will at first.  But how long do you think they’d be able to hold out?  Every single night, even the least informed Americans will turn on the TV and hear about how their taxes have gone up and the unemployed aren’t getting the money they need to heat their homes because Republicans insist that the rich aren’t rich enough.  Do you think the majority of Americans will blame the president for not caving in?  Or will they blame the Republican leaders whose shrill cries of “but…but…but the job-creators!” will grow increasingly hollow as this drags on.

The media may even decide to look deeper into the issue—to research the impact of personal income-tax reduction for the wealthiest Americans and actually inform their viewers that it doesn’t create jobs!  (Honestly, they’ll still probably be too afraid of accusations of bias that they won’t do it.  If the facts come down solely on one side of a political argument, the media’s tendency is not to report those facts.)

But if the Republicans are pressed, they will fold.  They’ll see which way the political winds are blowing, they’ll notice their approval ratings plummeting, they’ll hear from their staffers just how many angry calls they’re getting every day from people demanding to know why they can’t feed their children because the rich need more money, and they will end the filibuster and let the bill come to a vote.

Republicans are cowardly politicians just like the Democrats, and if someone stands up to them they will cave in.  But Obama has yet to stand up to them.

If he actually did fight back and won this political victory, it would set a great tone for the next two years.  Republicans would know that they can no longer get away with blocking everything, and Democrats would know that if they’re willing to fight they can win.

Furthermore, Obama’s disaffected base would be completely re-energized.  Hope would be resurrected.  Change would be back on the table.  Perhaps now would be the time to bring the public option back up for debate or to impose stricter regulations on Wall Street.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives may uniformly oppose these things, but if the people can clearly see which party is trying to get things done and which party wants to spend all of its time investigating the White House while the economy suffers, they’ll reward the party that’s fighting and punish the one that’s obstructing.  Obama will get a second term and fresh congressional majorities in 2012 and he can become the Change president we all hoped he would be.

Oh, but it’s too late.  The deal is done.  Obama has decided to let the Bush tax-cuts continue, thus empowering the Republicans to get whatever they want for the next two years just by threatening to filibuster.

To make matters worse, the “Bush tax-cuts” will henceforth be known as the “Obama/Bush tax-cuts” and Obama will have no defense against the Republicans howling about the deficit in the next election.  The tax-cuts will add an extra $700 billion to the deficit and the Republicans will put the responsibility squarely on Obama’s shoulders in spite of their hand in it.

Obama won’t be able to defend himself, because the responsibility was squarely on his shoulders, and he shirked it.  He negotiated with the terrorists, compromised himself and the country, and when the terrorists come back and blame him for the harm to the country that they made him do, he’ll have no excuse.  It’s over.  The terrorists win.

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Kemstone, I have nothing but respect for the talent you have for laying out a plan of action, complete with move-by-move analysis. It reminds me of the game of chess, which I do not play, but understand is a game of strategy and planning several moves ahead.

I would make a lousy politician -- something I have always known. I do not have the ability to reconcile the sacrifice of at least 2 million "hostages" in order to forestall the possible future sacrifice of numbers unknown. Someone on my post this morning said that is an ignorant position. Perhaps that's why I don't play chess.

These are not plastic pieces shaped as kings, queens and pawns. These are real people who are the innocent victims of "war games" in Washington.

This has to be approved by Congress. What do you think of the uproar coming from liberal organizations like MoveOn, which typically have lined up to support Obama? What do you think of Sen. Bernie Sanders' interest in filibustering the tax cut deal so it does not pass?

Maybe we have been kidding ourselves. People sympathetic to Obama like to be better people and commit to compromise and bipartisanship. But, Republicans have deftly exploited those who want to play nice.

Politics might require one to behave a bit like terrorist to get what is right accomplished. Perhaps, it's time to use tactics that obstruct and blackmail Republicans. Perhaps, it is time to stop business and articulate reasons why business does not move forward until Republicans stop being petulant plutocrats.

What would happen if Democrats (and Obama) actually took this party on? Or, are the interests driving Republicans the same interests that Democrats and Obama need money from to win in 2012? Because if that's the case, it's not hard to see why there is no defense of Americans mounted by Democrats or Obama.

Excellent post, and not just because I agree with you, basically. You lay it out very clearly. Trying to deal with the Rs in good faith, when they never act in good faith, is a strategic error.
Excellent post, and not just because I agree with you, basically. You lay it out very clearly. Trying to deal with the Rs in good faith, when they never act in good faith, is a strategic error.
Excellent post, and not just because I agree with you, basically. You lay it out very clearly. Trying to deal with the Rs in good faith, when they never act in good faith, is a strategic error.
I'm not sure Obama is not, himself, a GOP terrorist, or double-agent, or ...
Obama isn't interested in what the people think. He's made that abundantly clear on a number of issues. He's thinking in terms of compromising between various interest groups in Washington, all of whom represent middle class people or the upper crust. That's all that matters there. Brilliant post, and yes, they really are terrorists and they're holding the poor hostage right now for their own selfish gain.

Brilliant stuff, and clear-headed. None of the twisted self-justifications to be found in "Lezlie's" post. We need clear thinking on this, and it isn't going to come from our commander-in-thief. He had my vote, he got my vote, he will never get it again. And for what it's worth, I think this has finished him...

Okay, now, themanhattankid is talking in concepts I can understand; what he says is what must happen on a large scale. Progressives must stop voting for self-labeled Democrats simply because they are self-labeled Democrats. Seek out those individuals who are courageous enough to really speak the truth, who are willing to offend and defy the status quo. When enough voters do this, there might be a chance to turn things in a better direction. It might require losing a few battles to change the nature of the war into something winnable.
When you deal with devil, you gotta be at least as smart as he is. And just as tough. We got an angel in the White House, self-declared, and the devil at the doorstep. Bad deal, bad deal...
I'm hoping Bernie Sanders can still manage to block this. But yeah, it is pretty bad. My analysis yesterday was about the same, except I'm glad you saved me the trouble of writing precisely the same gripe about the hostage analogy. I was screaming at my TV in shock and disbelief. I couldn't believe he made that analogy and then didn't know that you don't negotiate with terrorists, and why. He seems to believe in the concept of a nobody-gets-hurt solution, and there is no such solution. I have more to write on this sometime. Meanwhile, thanks.
And Rw, it's always better to fight the good fight and go down swingin', all the horse shit about "strategy" aside. That's the kind of stuff we get from the rotten politicians and their creeps on Wall Street. It's never the "right time" to do anything for anybody else with them--it's a rigged game, son, and Obama is one of 'em now. Fuck him.
“Public opinion is overwhelmingly against extending the tax-cuts for the rich”
That’s all that needs to be said Kem. Obama is a fake at the very least and let me say it right here: anyone who defends Obama who is not black is a condescending moron.
If you are black I can forgive you for what this “man” represented to you if you are white…let me just shut up for now.
The hostage situation. We don't want the hostages to get hurt. But how banged up have they been due to free market deregulation of the financial community, the Afghanistan war, the stonewalling on global warming, etc?

And how much more banged up are the hostages going to be with Social Security "reforms," attacks on public unions, the deficit commission, etc?

Whatever you do, don't hurt those poor hostages. But I suppose a couple more razor blade cuts to them won't harm them too much.
Ah, Obama. The man is, how do you say in Anglais? A pus-ssy? We have such men in France. They run the Metro.
The scenario you outline here, wherein Obama sticks to his guns and lets the Republicans show themselves for what they are, would have worked. It would have been ugly, and there would have been much wailing and recrimination, but it would have worked. The problem is, it would have taken courage and resolve and a willingness to fucking stand for something, and those are qualities lacking in our President.
"The fool is soon ensnared by his own net."

Old proverb.

I think your post is very to the point and in theory is hard to dispute. However in reality it is very difficult to ask several million Americans to forfeit their entire future in order to blame the republicans for their problems. How many of those who support this position here will be the ones crushed under the republican bus? Probably not many of you as that level of poverty would not allow you the access or equipment to post on OS...
right on, Kemstone. we shouldn't buy this "had to do it" shit. he's a weakling.
The only reason it's not over is that the Democrats may very well filibuster this. They may save Obama in spite of himself.
By the way, I gave you an answer but no opinion of your analysis. Really good post and congratulations on the EP.
Perhaps he is an empty suit, or perhaps he is the best Republican President in ages.
I think I am in love with you - politically and artistically speaking of course. Amazaing work.
I say the ides that we must choose between no unemployment comp extension or megataxbux for gazzillionaires is a False Choice. Presenting False Choices has been a popular approach to sophistry for years.

So many folks falling for this crud is the price we pay for not teaching the Liberal Arts like we once did.

We call them Liberal Arts because they are these are the arts of the free.
I appreciate all the great comments. My account was accidentally (accidentally?) deleted today so I haven't been able to log on until now.

This issue has really fired me up. I've called my senators and representatives repeatedly about this, and I hope you'll join me. I get the feeling the staffers who take the calls are also on our side on this issue, and they're more than happy to tell their bosses about the calls they've been getting.
The politics of the deal is terrible for the Democrats. See Paul Krugman's analysis about the likely effects of the timing of the expiration of the stimulus elements. And by the way, when was betraying your friends in order to appease your enemies ever good politics?
The politics of the deal is terrible for the Democrats. See Paul Krugman's analysis about the likely effects of the timing of the expiration of the stimulus elements. And by the way, when was betraying your friends in order to appease your enemies ever good politics?
i am confident that obama knows as much as you about getting elected. probably more.

since americans can't participate in the management of the nation, they make do with mind games: they transfer 'what i would do, if i were president' to the head of the actual president.

the president, otoh, lives in the real world. he does what he can do, and even more important, what he wants to do. imputing your motivation to him is foolish.

'progressives' loaded all kinds of hope onto the blank slate of the obama campaign, and are now amazed they elected yet another politician. i still invite people to take democratic action, but after 40 years of watching 'progressive' inaction, i will admit that they are incapable of being citizens.

continue telling obama and his successors what they 'should' do, they will continue doing what they want.