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The Senate’s passing of the debt-ceiling bill yesterday effectively ended weeks of partisan squabbling, but it marked yet another Democratic political defeat at the hands of the Republican Party, which has brought President Obama and his colleagues to their political knees over the past 12 months.
For more than a month, Democrats and Republicans have spoken ad nauseam about the need for “compromise” and “mutual sacrifice.” It’s hard to imagine how Republicans can say such words without snickering, as they walked away with nearly everything they wanted without meeting any of Obama’s demands.
Despite having the lowest tax rates in 80 years, the country’s wealthiest citizens will not be paying a penny more in taxes. No extension of benefits will be given to the nation’s 3.8 million unemployed. Oil and gas companies will not be forced to surrender their obscene tax loopholes and federal subsidies. Considerable spending cuts will be made across the board, jeopardizing necessary social programs as well as the country’s capacity for economic growth.
From the looks of things, the only thing being compromised and sacrificed are poor and middle-class Americans.
The president’s protectors will say that this was a necessary evil. Had he not made this deal, they argue, the nation would have spiraled into economic peril. Even if this were true, such an argument is only persuasive if we limit our analysis to the past few months. In truth, the president made a series of critical errors long before this week’s meltdown.
More than a year ago, while caving on the Bush tax cuts, Obama could have demanded that Republicans separate a vote on the debt ceiling from a vote on debt reduction. A few months ago, he could have mounted an aggressive offensive against the GOP and tea-party extremists by painting them as selfish ideologues willing to sacrifice the nation’s economic welfare for political points. As recently as last week, he could have pointed out that the GOP’s debt-reduction strategy does nothing to address our nation’s most desperate problem: joblessness.
Instead, Obama retreated to his all-too-familiar defensive position, responding rather than initiating and letting Republicans set the terms of the debate. As a result, the nation was seduced into believing that entitlement programs were the reason for our economic crisis and that tax increases for the ultra-rich would prevent our economic recovery.
Most disturbingly, he continued to govern for consensus and peace when his opponents have shown no interest in conceding even the smallest point.
In the words of Sonny Corleone, Obama spent too much time trying to patch things up and too little time trying to win.
Ironically, yesterday’s loss may be the reason for Obama’s victory in 2012. In the aftermath of the shellacking, Obama can now paint himself as a reasonable statesman willing to put his country’s well-being over his own political interests. In doing so, he endears himself to the flaky moderates and independents who abandoned him after the equally bloody health-care debates.
Of course, cynics will argue that this was Obama’s plan all along. They will claim that he willingly threw the nation’s vulnerable under the bus in order to shake off the “radical socialist” label that has followed him since the 2008 presidential elections.
Such a claim, however, is both unfair and unrealistic because he has done nothing to suggest that he is unprincipled enough to deliberately hurt his voting base. More importantly, he has done nothing to show that he could successfully execute such a complicated plan.
The more likely possibility is that the president and congressional Democrats simply dropped the ball again. Despite having more than enough resources to win, they continually find ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sadly, we are the ones who have to pay for their embarrassing ineptitude.