Fight Republicans to a stalemate in the Senate? What comes out of that? Let's stipulate up front that no one really cares about the deficit. They talk about it, but no one really cares about it. Extending the Bush tax cuts added, what was it, like $3.3 trillion to the deficit over ten years and the "liberal" position was to hold that down to a paltry $2.6 trillion? That was fiscal responsibility? And consistently less than 20% of the population said "let them all expire". So the Democrats' hand was to come back in January and make the Republicans filibuster in the Senate while taxes increased during a terrible recession. That was a pretty weak hand overall. There's a possibility that the Democrats could have eventually brow-beaten the Republicans into accepting the Democratic position on taxes ($2.6 trillion in deficits), but would they have gotten unemployment benefits, payroll tax holiday, college tuition credit, etc? It doesn't seem likely.
I think Obama has stolen the narrative on this issue and the GOP is getting set to pass the "Obama tax cut plan". That's not a small thing. And public attention is focused well enough on this issue now that it will be difficult for the GOP to obstruct this outright.
It's possible that Obama over-reacted a bit in his press conference yesterday and I think his rant at the end was a moment of truth in expressing frustration with the left. That may have been unwise, but I tend to agree with the gist of what he was saying. Look, stalemate is a conservative value. By definition progressives are trying to move things forward. To do that almost always requires some compromise. Achieving nothing but a huge bottleneck in Congress halts progress.
From a political standpoint, the other thing this does is to throw a grenade in the middle of the GOP caucus. The Tea Party types will oppose this bill, but there may be enough pragmatists left in the GOP that it gets passed. In that case, the GOP Tea Party base will see this as another Medicare Part D moment and re-double their efforts to primary moderate Senators in 2012. On the other hand, if the Republicans oppose this, then we're back to square one, which is where we were 72 hours ago. Except that Obama comes out looking like the reasonable one.
Get rid of the mortgage interest tax deduction. All it does is inflate housing prices. Raise capital gains taxes. Higher rates would make day-trading and stock-option bonuses less attractive. Raising the retirement age is probably on the horizon whether we want to admit it or not.
Other things, I'm not as jazzed about. Why cap income tax at 23%?? That's absurd. I can see eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit, but not when the top earners are paying 23%. Again, absurd.
But this is an exercise in futility. The only parts of this that will even get voted on are the reduction in the federal workforce and cutting taxes for the rich. Thank God for the 40-vote filibuster.
I'm not sure if he does or not. But either way, I wouldn't base that expectation on a poll taken just before an election in which the Democrats were widely expected to lose badly, while the economy has 9.5 % unemployment, the public is divided on the Democrats' biggest achievements, and there is no Republican nominee to compare against.
Paul Krugman had an article a while back about the "reality-based" community and the ability of the Republicans to stand firm even in the face of almost universal criticism against basically anything the Democrats wanted to do. Pundits everywhere said it was political suicide for them to resist Financial Regulation in this environment, but they did it anyhow. The reason was that they were able to step back from the hourly, hyperventilating coverage of every twist and turn of legislation. They knew that in the long run, the economy would trump most of the narrative and that allowing anything to be portrayed as a Democratic victory would be poisonous to them. The overall point of his article was that sometimes the minute-to-minute coverage gives you a false impression of the overall trajectory or historical significance of any one piece of data. And that basing your policy (or political decisions) based on the day-to-day noise leads to an equally ineffective political or policy strategy.
So, there may be some terrible polls out about Obama right now. But I believe he is still getting his legs under him. Plus, Obama has had to absorb must of the brunt of both the economic stagnation and the Congressional stalemate brought on by centrist Democrats. Once he has a political rival to play against, people will come to see him differently. Whether that gets him re-elected in 2012 I have no idea.
So anyone who isn't LBJ just isn't worth fighting for? Don't forget the role he played in perpetuating the Vietnam War.
Also, most of the Progressive environmental legislation passed by the Senate in the late 1960s and early 1970s happened despite LBJ's machinations to keep it from happening. In those days, the Chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee was a Democrat named Robert Kerr. That is, the Kerr of Kerr-McGee fame. The folks who brought you Napalm and a host of questionable environmental and social business practices. When a particularly liberal or unruly Senator would get elected, LBJ would stick them on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee because he knew Robert Kerr could keep them in line. But then Robert Kerr fell unexpectedly ill in the early 1960s and the Chairmanship went to Edmund Muskie. So the Committee was basically over-run with these liberal, activist Senators formerly held in check as designed by LBJ and Robert Kerr. The next decade saw the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act among others.
I'm imagining if liberal blogs were around in those days, they would have endlessly pilloried LBJ for his relationship with Robert Kerr. And, indeed, the Democrats' acceptance of a person like Robert Kerr in the first place.
None of this stuff is linear or as neatly outlined as it is sometimes remembered. We can all focus on the Public Option, or the BP oil spill, or the build-up of troops in Afghanistan. But the Democrats, with Obama as President, have accomplished a great deal. Probably more than has been accomplished by the Democrats for a generation. If you can't see that, maybe you need to change the channel.
I have a working hypothesis that the people most disappointed with Obama currently were the same ones who emphatically insisted that the GOP was completely and utterly destroyed after the 2008 elections. That always seemed bogus to me - just as proclamations of the Democrats' demise after the 2002 and 2004 elections. The road forward was always going to be slow, at times tedious, usually frustrating, and soaked through with compromise.
Obama could have pushed for Single Payer, gotten 124 votes in the House and 32 votes in the Senate or he could pass the best HCR bill he could. He could have spent the past two years villifying Dick Cheney as a war criminal while unemployment hovered around 10 % or he could have moved the Stimulus forward the best he could. He could have allowed the auto industry and financial industry to fail just to show 'em while taking on 33 % unemployment, or he could have done the responsible thing and kept us off the brink of the precipice.
I'm sorry, but John Edwards was always a fraud. Howard Dean is good people, but not particuarly popular. Hillary Clinton would have been a great President, but suffered from having the same last name as another former President. Russ Feingold can't even win Wisconsin this year. Paul Wellstone is dead. And no one is going to elect Al Sharpton to President.
Here's an idea. Instead of destroying the Progressive President we currently have in place with the hopes that the country suddenly warms up to Howard Dean or the ever-phoney John Edwards which leads ultimately to a failed GOP Presidency from 2012 to 2016 and then a (I just know it!) more Progressive President beginning six years from now. Why don't we just try to support Obama and push for Progressive Legislation where we can? I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but there is a Democrat in the White House who has pushed Congress to do way more than most people believed was possible just eight months ago. And having the President's party lose control of the Congress while there is 9.5% unemployment is entirely predictable. I know, I know. Pie in the sky and all that. I mean, your plan has a certain appeal. The whole "pretend we suck for two more years so that the GOP is lulled into electing Sarah Palin at which point we pull off our mask and declare that we in fact do not suck and are poised for another Democratic wave in 2014 or 2016" gig. I mean, it's so simple and likely and all. But I'm just sayin'.