Something very, very weird is going on in Washington
Are the wheels coming off the bus, or are we witnessing the most brilliant, and dangerous, political theater in our life times?
Here’s what it looked like a few days ago: the President caved on maintaining the current tax rate, leaving Republicans triumphant. In exchange, it seemed as if the Republicans were extending unemployment benefits, which is fiscally offensive (and socially dangerous), but survivable. The President foll0wed that cave-in by holding a bizarre press conference, in which he likened Republicans to terrorists and hostage takers, and scolded his own base for living in a bubble. Those of us who expected the usual peaceful platitudes of compromise were, to say the least, surprised.
The strangeness escalated when Democrats refused to go along with the President’s compromise on the tax plan. There was talk from the Left of a primary challenge. Primary challenges never bode well for the incumbent.
After this talk, Reid suddenly seemed to cave, and started drafting a bill that, rather than narrowly focusing on taxes and unemployment, threw bones to every liberal constituency out there, plus a dollop for the on-line gamblers (not that I have a problem with that last one, as you’ll see from my sidebar).
Next, Lawrence O’Donnell, of all people, pointed out that the whole focus on the “rich” when it came to letting the Bush tax cuts expire was a bunch of malarky. The marginal rates for the top income earners will go up by less than 5% come January, which is a fairly small percentage of their overall taxes. By contrast, unless the Dems act soon, the people in the lowest bracket, the 10% bracket, will see their taxes raised to 15%, which is a 50% increase in their overall tax bill. Yikes! It’s class warfare, but on an entirely different class than we thought. Talk about misdirection.
Charles Krauthammer, who had smelled a rat early on, then announced in a widely quoted post that Obama had royally flim-flammed everyone, and mortally wounded the Republicans by wringing from the latter a concession on the biggest stimulus ever:
Barack Obama won the great tax-cut showdown of 2010 – and House Democrats don’t have a clue that he did. In the deal struck this week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than his $814 billion 2009 stimulus package. It will pump a trillion borrowed Chinese dollars into the U.S. economy over the next two years – which just happen to be the two years of the run-up to the next presidential election. This is a defeat?
While getting Republicans to boost his own reelection chances, he gets them to make a mockery of their newfound, second-chance, post-Bush, tea-party, this-time-we’re-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility.
And he gets all this in return for what? For a mere two-year postponement of a mere 4.6-point increase in marginal tax rates for upper incomes. And an estate-tax rate of 35 percent – it jumps insanely from zero to 55 percent on Jan. 1 – that is somewhat lower than what the Democrats wanted.
No, cries the Left: Obama violated a sacred principle. A 39.6 percent tax rate versus 35 percent is a principle? “This is the public-option debate all over again,” said Obama at his Tuesday news conference. He is right. The Left never understood that to nationalize health care there is no need for a public option because Obamacare turns the private insurers into public utilities. The Left is similarly clueless on the tax-cut deal: In exchange for temporarily forgoing a small rise in upper-income rates, Obama pulled out of a hat a massive new stimulus – what the Left has been begging for since the failure of Stimulus I, but was heretofore politically unattainable.
My friend and fellow blogger, Don Quixote (who, back in 2004, accurately predicted to me that Obama would be president one day), agrees with Krauthammer, although not for quite the same reason. He says that Obama, by pitching a fit at the press conference, instead of offering the usual compromise platitudes, managed to plant himself in the middle between Republicans soaking the poor and Democrats soaking the rich. Suddenly, he became the champion of the middle class. He was reluctantly going along with maintaining the status quo, even though, to his chagrin, it would throw a bone to the evil rich. To DQ, that was perfect class warfare theater, with Obama abandoning the poor to champion the middle class (at least for now).
It doesn’t end there, though, with Republicans suddenly wondering whether they’re as dumb as Krauthammer and Don Quixote make them look. As I write this, Bernie Sanders, who was a recent liberal Facebook sensation with a speech castigating any attempt to reinstate the Bush tax rates, is actively filibustering any attempt to reinstate those rates. Nor is Bernie doing one of those modern, pro forma, painless filibusters. Instead, he’s doing it the old-fashioned, Jimmy Stewart way. As the Anchoress says, this is a big deal:
I may not agree with him, but I applaud the man getting up and actually going through with a filibuster. After watching numerous drama-free, procedural “declared filibusters” through the latter part of Bush’s presidency—actions that really meant, “we’re just obstructing and going home”—Sanders is putting his money where his mouth is (or, rather, putting his mouth where the money is) and taking a stand.
I say good on him!
Those who are snarking about it, or bemusedly looking on, should beware: This is an extremely powerful optic. People who have no idea what Sanders is talking about will start cheering him for the sheer novelty of a filibuster. Those who have romantic memories of Jimmy Stewart reading the Constitution and Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians on the Senate floor will confer that same romance upon Sanders’ efforts. The press, always ripe for “something new” and on board with Sanders’ politics, will talk up his courage to make such a “heroic” stand.
I’ll add that, if Krauthammer was right, and the Republicans were scammed, go Bernie! He’s the only thing right now standing between us and Obama’s successful machinations.
And finally, to add to the surreal quality of it all, Obama seems to have turned the presidency back over to Bill Clinton, at least temporarily. Drew, blogging at Ace, thinks that this is a sign that Obama is not up to the job, but I’m beginning to wonder. There’s much more going on here than meets the eye, and it’s worth remembering, as both Krauthammer and Don Quixote did, that Obama made his way up through the street theater of Leftism.
We may be counting our chickens far in advance of their hatching if we blithely assume that Obama is giving up. He’s a dirty fighter, but he’s definitely a fighter.
Cross-posted at Bookworm Room