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The Progressive Platform Project

Obama, Debt Ceiling Deals, and the Future of the Democratic Party

by: Michael Conrad

Fri Jul 15, 2011 at 10:42:40 AM EDT

This is an in-depth post. It reflects my belief that the debate about potential debt ceiling goes right to the heart of what the Democratic Party at its best stands for.

Before reading, please take a minute to contact Congress and voice strong opposition to Social Security cuts and raising the Medicare eligibility age. And please spread the word and get others to do the same. Thanks.

Michael Conrad :: Obama, Debt Ceiling Deals, and the Future of the Democratic Party
The Two Stories

There are two competing stories about what the White House is doing in the debt ceiling negotiations with the GOP. The first, as most prominently told by Lawrence O'Donnell, is that the president's openness to things like Social Security cuts and raising the Medicare eligibility age is all strategy. In other words, he doesn't mean it. He wants a clean increase and he's playing the GOP to that end.

This resonates in the sense that needless cuts to Social Security and deforming Medicare are really bad ideas from a political standpoint, and plainly so. An adviser would have to be extraordinarily out of touch to miss this. The president's political team has re-election in mind, and maiming these two successful, popular programs is a spectacularly bad idea if re-election is the goal.

What does make sense from a re-election standpoint is raising money. And as Sen. Chuck Schumer has been telegraphing for a while now, part of the strategy for 2012 is to drive a wedge between business interests and Republicans by drawing attention to just how looney and reckless the Tea Party GOP really is. Last month, Chamber of Commerce head Tom Donahue said that his organization would "get rid of" freshman Republicans who stood in the way of the debt ceiling being raised.

If Lawrence O'Donnell is right and a clean increase was the plan all along; a real life case of "eleven dimensional chess"; that would be welcome news. It's something everyone on our side would very much like to believe. But there's a lot of reporting that contradicts the O'Donnell version of the story, and what is taking place right now is far too important to get selective updates on.

The second story, which at this point has much more evidence behind it, is that the president and his political team have Turbo Beltway Goggles on; they are willing -- and according to some reports closer to eager -- to reach a deal that includes cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts.

Examples of these reports include Ezra Klein here and here, and Sam Youngman here and here. Those who believe O'Donnell is right would probably argue that these reports are part of the elaborate plan, but that's quite a leap to take.

On Wednesday morning Greg Sargent summed up the argument for a "Grand Bargain" as made by the WSJ's Gerald Seib.

Cliff notes version: A big deal would reassure independents who fear the country is out of control; position Obama as the adult who made Washington work again; allow the President to tell Dems he put entitlements on sounder financial footing; and clear the decks to enact other priorities later.

Note that Seib's column was pushed by the White House.

Let's unpack this.

Point 1 - Independents

Jamelle Bouie compared this kind of view of independents to belief in unicorns and fairies. It would be a massive understatement to say that trusting in the Independent Unicorn to team up with a Confidence Fairy-led economic recovery and re-elect the president is not a good strategy.

Independents feel the country is out of control, or that it's falling behind, because of the economy. Concern about "the deficit" is largely a placeholder for economic insecurity. Hacking away at Social Security and Medicare would increase economic insecurity.

Persuadable voters will hate the substance of cuts to Social Security and Medicare. So will older voters, who the president needs to do better with. A clear contrast on these programs is a big asset for the president. Witness the the way he hit McCain over Social Security in swing states in 2008. Remember, Obama explicitly campaigned against the things he's open to now. (Video here)

Point 2 - Adult

Yes, the president will look more like an adult than the GOP. He's going to get much better marks on trying to be bipartisan than Republicans, but he already has this going for him. It will not be a major factor in the election outcome.

The excessive emphasis on looking like the adult is reminiscent of the Kerry campaign telling speakers at the '04 convention not to "go negative" on Bush 43 because an adviser's relative said that they didn't like negative campaigning. That's not what matters most; it's not even close.

Economic security metrics (unemployment, income) and their rate of change, turnout, and the GOP nominee will decide the election. The "looks like the adult" factor is way down on the list.

Point 3 - "Sounder footing"

If the president went through with the cuts that have been floated, he wouldn't be putting Social Security and Medicare on sounder footing. He would be signing off on pulling the rug out from under seniors. And he'd be providing cover for the GOP's ongoing attacks on the programs. Needless cuts will encourage more of same.

The president wants to tell Democrats the truth, right? So he can't say he fixed a problem that didn't exist, or in Medicare's case was misrepresented and "fixed" the wrong way. He could tell Democrats he put the programs on sounder footing, but then he would be lying.

Point 4 - Clearing the deck

There is little reason to believe that letting the GOP run the table now would create space for a pivot to anything good in the future. Republicans will continue to just make stuff up about the deficit and how it impacts the real economy. The White House isn't standing up to the GOP now, even though a strong progressive position on Social Security and Medicare would be in the mainstream of the mainstream. Why should we believe that the White House and the more timid elected Dems in Congress would stand up to the GOP later as election day draws near and whatever will to support new proposals that currently exists fades away?

If Republicans in Congress stand in the way of the major initiatives needed to adequately address the jobs crisis (and they do), what is the GOP going to agree to? We're talking about the Obstruct Everything crew. Look what they did during the Democratic trifecta.

Are we talking about another tax credit or something? How does that get the job done, how does it pass, and why in the world would any Democrat even consider trading the strength of Social Security and Medicare when they don't have to in order to try to advance these nebulous priorities?

We've seen this movie before. We saw it with the spending freeze, federal worker pay, Simpson-Bowles, and the president and Tim Geithner saying "deficit" every five seconds while a strong majority of Americans were and continue to be far more concerned with the jobs emergency.

The deck will not be cleared this way. All elected Dems need to stop kicking the can down the road on the need to confront brazen GOP lies about debt and the real economy. As the president said recently, "If not now, when?" Playing the GOP game by GOP rules on GOP turf sets up more of the same.  

If Seib's column represents the White House's thinking, it's deeply disconcerting. It would mean that they've bought into theories that credible economists, many Democratic operatives, and observers with a Poli Sci background would emphatically object to.  

Ed Kilgore breaks down what the GOP is up to:

All of this serves to demonstrate, if the thundering support of conservatives for the Ryan budget wasn't sufficient evidence, that the primary objective of the conservative movement on the fiscal front is the destruction of safety net programs that are too popular to assault frontally. Combined with their invariable, unchanging agenda of still more high-end tax cuts, the drive for spending limitations linked to GDP is a formula for perpetual budget deficits to be perpetually used to drive down government involvement in national life to levels not seen since the 1920s. And that, folks, is the whole idea.

Compare that to this excerpt from the president's generally really good, long-awaited budget speech from early April.

[T]o those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have the obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments. If we believe that government can make a difference in people's lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works - by making government smarter, leaner and more effective.

President Obama has echoed this sentiment in recent days, which tracks with the reporting that he's looking for a bad "Grand Bargain." Social Security and Medicare are effective government. It's misleading and highly counterproductive for a Democratic president to say otherwise. Doing so lends credibility to the operational cover the GOP is using for its ideological attacks on these programs. For whatever reason, this is something the president has done repeatedly.

The most problematic part of Medicare over the long-term is Part D, President Bush's initiative that conserva-fied the program by shoveling obscene amounts of cash to PhRMA. Meanwhile, adopting Medicare for All, or at least a Medicare Choice for All program, would go a long way toward eliminating the long-term deficit. (Medicare for All, while not politically viable at the moment, would eliminate our long-term deficit problem.) The president himself said it best earlier in his term when he described the deficit problem as, put simply, a health care cost inflation problem. And Medicare does a better job of keeping that down than private insurance. The answer is to let any American who would like to buy into Medicare, set up an Independent Payment Advisory Board run by physicians looking out for the patient's best interest, and stop the special deals for PhRMA. Long-term budget deficit mission accomplished.

As far as Social Security goes, there's a straightforward two-part question to ask. How long has it been around for, and how much does it contribute to the deficit? The answers: "75 years" and "nothing."

There is no real waste in Social Security. It's all benefits. Make the tax that pays for Social Security more progressive and/or wall off the trust fund so it can't be endlessly raided to pay for wars we don't need and an even lower tax rate for the most wealthy, and the program is solvent as far as the eye can see. As it is, it's good to go for 15-plus years.

Side note: If anything, the retirement age should be lowered for the sake of the economy as a whole.

Elected Dems already have the effective government case to win over those who matter. These programs work. They're intensely popular. Highlight their success, and talk about your commitment to ensuring it continues. Don't deny the success or downplay it. Conservatives who hate the programs will never stop shouting about the crisis that isn't. Don't give their delusions a helping hand.

Some would probably argue that the president was just reassuring people that the programs can be run well. And of course Dems should talk about good, responsible, effective government. But that doesn't mean they should indulge the fantasy that these programs don't fall into that category. Come on Dems, stop apologizing for your own success. And stop projecting credibility onto the Republicans when they attack you over the deficit. "Fiscally responsible" Republican is a joke.

The long track record of these programs, and the record of their supporters and opponents, needs to count. Instead, the nation's most prominent Democrat is downplaying the success of the massively popular programs at the center of his party's appeal. That's just inexcusable.

For the Good of the Democratic Party

If there is a bad "Grand Bargain," Democrats in Congress will be urged to go along with it for the good of the party and the president's re-election prospects. This argument gets it backwards on both counts. A Beltway-style Grand Bargain that is destructive to Social Security and Medicare might as well be called the Grand Old Party Bargain, because it will be the biggest gift to the GOP in recent memory. Make no mistake about it, a really bad deal is political lethal to the Democratic Party and the president's chances for re-election.  

Unnecessary, regressive cuts to Social Security would make a mockery of our core values, shatter our identity, remove a winning contrast, and possibly fracture the party. To support them is to take an irrevocable step in the process of handing the White House to the GOP, quite possibly as part of a Republican trifecta.

No one wants to risk fueling a "the GOP is going to win the White House next year" self-fulfilling prophecy. But we're coming up to a point at which the outcome will be out of Democratic hands -- it will be the GOP's race to lose.  

At the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner, arguably the turning point on his way to victory in the Hawkeye state, then-Senator Obama told the crowd that "There is such a thing as being too late and that time is almost here." If the president were to push through a destructive "Grand Bargain," it would be too late to save his re-election. The groundwork for a GOP victory will have been laid, with an assist from the White House.

The GOP base could intervene, nominate Michelle Bachmann, and prevent the president from losing. That's definitely not out of the question. She has a clear path to the nomination: win the Aimes straw poll, win Iowa, and win in South Carolina. She's the Iowa frontrunner as I type this, with Romney preparing to cede the state to her.

The problem here is that Rick Perry's potential entrance into the race looms large. And though a Bachmann nomination is a real possibility and something to root for, it's not something our party should rely on. She's the nominee the GOP deserves. No candidate represents that party better than her. Hoping Republicans get what they deserve is fine, but let's not put ourselves in a position where we're counting on it.

After a bad "Grand Bargain," Obama would either face Bachmann and win, or face someone like Romney and lose. An incumbent trying to defend cutting Social Security in this economy against a shameless Republican spells victory for the GOP. Obama cuts Medicare and Social Security in a miserable economy + Republicans nominate Romney = Romney wins.

IN, OH, and FL are gone in this scenario. Romney-Rubio or Romney-Martinez only need 32 more electoral votes. They can now make a play for more of the Midwest (PA  has 20, WI has 10, MI has 16, IA  has 6) on top of the New South (NC has 15, VA has 13) and the South West (NV has 6, CO has 9, NM has 5). They'll get their 32 electoral votes and we'll have "President Romney."

This is painful to admit, but it's reality. A second Obama term is pivotal for the Supreme Court. Hilda Solis is doing a phenomenal job at the DOL. Losing the EPA and the opportunity to get a less anti-labor NRLB would have really bad consequences. Compared to what the Obama presidency could have been, the president losing to a soulless Thurston Howell III-type like Mitt Romney is nothing short of tragic. But it's going to happen if Obama keeps going down the road he is on.

I'm not saying welcome "President Romney" or don't try and stop him from winning. Of course I'll still show up and vote Obama-Biden. But I'll be looking beyond the presidency. We'll need a check on the new Republican president. This is one of the many reasons why Congressional Dems can't go along with a destructive Grand Beltway Bargain. "For the good of the party," and by extension the country, they can't follow Obama down this road. It wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be smart. It would be downright Republican in the sense that it would be crazy.  

Plan D

After a destructive Grand Bargain scenario unfolds, progressives and populists should focus on electing Real Deal Dems to Congress and at the state level, and movement building while demographic changes sink in.

The only upside, if you want to call it that, to a "President Romney" would be improved Dem chances chances in 2014 and 2016 -- if our party's identity and coalition isn't shattered by the "Grand Bargain."

An overview:


Senate Races - 2012

Ohio: Sen. Sherrod Brown is running for re-election, likely against right-wing GOP base favorite Josh Mandel, the middle class wrecking ball's Chosen One.

Massachusetts: Elizabeth Warren is looking more like a candidate. She'd make an outstanding Senator.

Maine: If Olympia Snowe faces a primary challenge and loses, this seat becomes an ideal pick-up. Lots of great Maine Dems. Rep. Chellie Pingree or her daughter, Speaker of the Maine House Hannah Pingree, are the first to come to mind.

Wisconsin: Rep. Tammy Baldwin, former Rep. Steve Kagen, former Sen. Russ Feingold, or an impressive state rep.

New Mexico: Rep. Martin Heinrich or Hector Balderas.

The are plenty of solid candidates in races worth keeping an eye on. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's re-elect in Rhode Island, Rep. Chris Murphy in Connecticut, Rep. Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, Sen. Maria Cantwell's re-elect here in Washington, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota.

Senate Races - 2014

Crucial re-elects this cycle.

Iowa: Tom Harkin, who I really hope will run again. If not, Iowa Dems will be looking to elect someone who will carry on his work.

Three Better Dems will be up for re-election: Jeff Merkley in Oregon, Tom Udall in New Mexcio, and Al Franken in Minnesota.

Depending on what happens, we could have real fights on our hands to keep seats in Michigan and New Hampshire, and major opportunities in Maine and Texas.

Senate Races - 2016

This cycle is our chance to unseat the Middle Class Wrecking Crew in the Midwest: Johnson in Wisconsin, Portman in Ohio, Toomey in Pennsylvania, and Kirk in Illinois. There could very well be open seat races in Iowa and Arizona.

The common theme here is look for opportunities to elect Real Deal Dems and focus on candidates who are deserving of strong support. While forcing the GOP to spread its resources has its merits, it doesn't apply in every single situation. Ben Nelson-type Senators aren't worth it. For example, Sherrod Brown in Ohio and the Wisconsin race clearly should take priority over Ben Nelson's re-elect or a Jim Matheson bid in Utah -- and by a lot.

House Races

Work to continue switching the default "majority-maker" status from Blue Dog or New Dem to Populist Caucus, Progressive Caucus, or solid unaffiliated Dem. Pulling a Rahm and picking candidates to the right of their district because of a flawed Beltway assessment of what constitutes the "center" does a tremendous disservice to the party. So let's stop doing that.

2016 Presidential Race

If a Republican wins in '12, DC Dems need to learn the right lesson, and that lesson will need to be reflected in the next nomination contest. With a Republican in the White House boosting Dems in Congress, 2016 would be the next "big change moment."

There are a range of promising options. Some examples:

A charismatic rising star from a large state like Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) or Kamala Harris (California).

A populist Dem from a more rural district who will by then have gone statewide. Someone like Iowa's Bruce Braley. (Ohio's Tim Ryan and Virginia's Tom Perriello would be in this category if they were good on reproductive rights.)

Someone from the Obama Administration like Hilda Solis or Elizabeth Warren, perhaps "Senator Elizabeth Warren" from Massachusetts.

A current Governor like Brian Schweitzer (Montana) or Deval Patrick (Massachusetts).

A Senator from a light blue state, like Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar or a relatively fresh Senator from New Mexico (Tom Udall or the '12 primary winner) or Wisconsin. Maybe Donna Edwards goes statewide in Maryland or gets to a point where she can run from the House.  

Or maybe a populist Democratic governor is elected in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin immediately catches fire.

I could go on, but I think you get my point about promising options.

In 2016 we're going to need a presidential nominee who is not wedded to the debilitating aspects of the party's 1990s-2011 approach. We're also going to need a stronger, more authentic, and more progressive party and movement behind them.  

Movement Building

Building the 21st century labor/progressive movement is something pretty much everyone agrees on. This is a very positive development; an ideal place for operational unity, differing assessments of the Obama presidency aside.

Examples of what this looks include We Are Wisconsin, Progressive Congress' Speak Out for Good Jobs Now Tour, Rebuild the Dream and Working America.

Embracing economic populism and efforts to get a much more diverse America to assert itself politically are no-brainers. Different states will require different combinations of emphasis on registration, turnout operation development, and pushing back on right-wing laws meant to disenfranchise key parts of the Democratic coalition.

The good news is that the Progress Now Network is doing great work on the statewide progressive infrastructure front. They have affiliates throughout the three main battleground regions.



South West

Texas (this is a big deal)
New Mexico

New South


Confront the Right-Wing

The Big Three

Rupert Murdoch's empire is collapsing under the weight of its leader's lack of anything resembling basic decency. Apparently they hacked 9/11 victims in the aftermath of the tragedy. It doesn't get any lower than that. So that's one (on its way) down. The next two are ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce.

Related: Robert Reich makes some really good points about the rise of the Wrecking Ball-Right.

Radio, Meet Television

The conservative movement has fact-free talk radio. The slate of shows on MSNBC, Current TV, and yes, Comedy Central, that are proudly reality-based (read: they reject the "shape of the earth, opinions differ" approach) can be a very effective progressive counterpart.

Take Down Trickle Down

Launch a sustained, concerted attack on the miserable failure that is Trickle Down (AKA Zombie, AKA Voodoo) economics. These flat out looney right-wing ideas about the economy and effective government qualify as flagrant bullshit and should be treated accordingly.

Examples: The Cry Wolf Project and Our Fiscal Security

Cross the Rubi(n)con

Our country and our party desperately need for the era of Big Rubinite to be over.

In August of 2008, as the Democratic nominee, here's how Obama described himself to the NYT's David Leondhardt.

"My core economic theory is pragmatism. Figuring out what works."

From George Packer's widely-read piece from just after the 2008 election:

As stagnant wages and pressing public needs have become the focus of Democratic domestic policy, the old line between deficit hawks and economic liberals has dissolved- last week, the Times published an Op-Ed piece co-written by a leading representative of each group: Rubin and the economist Jared Bernstein, respectively. (They met somewhere around the forty-yard line on Bernstein's half of the field.)

Note: Also in that piece, Paul Krugman and Robert Kuttner got the problems with Obama's approach exactly right before he was even sworn in. They've been consistent -- and consistently right -- from the start.

Where Rubin and Bernstein met on the proverbial field matters a great deal because it could have meant the difference between a stimulus that more or less worked and one that didn't have enough power to get the job done. Considering Rubin's credibility issues, meeting on his 25 yard line would have been much more appropriate.

To be clear, "Rubinite" isn't always going to work well as a blanket label. There are very smart people who probably wouldn't have a problem with being labeled "Rubinites" (examples here and here) who aren't pulling their punches about the grave mistakes being made.

The main point is that more influential Democrats need to recognize that the DLC/Third Way-dominated approach to economic policy of the 80's and 90's has been given far more credit than it deserves by its fans in the press (hey there, Matt Bai). It contributed to many of the truly urgent problems we face now and it's a really bad fit for the times we live in.

In the 90's, DLC-types used "New Deal" or "Depression-era" to deride policy closer to the mainstream of the party. They presented themselves as good faith actors tying to break the hold of ideas that no longer served a purpose. But what did they do when the Great Crash of 2008 hit? They returned to Depression economics, but because of their deeply flawed political instincts, insisted on a half-assed version of it. It's one thing to pretend New Deal-style policy is largely irrelevant and label that sentiment "pragmatism." But when they needed results; when a crisis demanded actual pragmatism, not pursuit of a "look at me, I'm triangulating against the New Deal" merit badge; it was Keynes baby Keynes --  just incompetently applied.

DLC/Third Way-types apparently believed that the appearance of "sensible centrism" within the Beltway would somehow substitute for adequate policy. Because nothing says "sensible" like magic-based policy making at a time of legitimate crisis. To paraphrase Steve Benen, self-proclaimed "centrists" (especially those in the US Senate) can screw up anything.

For the record, because this is going to come up often in the coming years, a stronger stimulus would have almost certainly saved the day. The Recovery Act could have and should have been better: less tax cuts added at the outset to attract GOP support, and less emphasis on not potentially "spooking the bond market" and the Beltway press with a larger number. The case for major recovery/jobs initiatives, done in a series of installments if necessary, needed to be made. It wasn't. Instead there was a premature pivot, identified as one in real time, to deficit reduction. And that decision, more than anything else, will be responsible if the president loses next November.

The Democratic Party has to move past the Robert Rubin years, for the sake of all involved. The Rubin wing was right in the sense that there are in fact ideas prevalent among influential Democrats that must be pushed aside as a matter of pragmatism. One of those ideas is that, when in doubt, party leaders should seek the advice of Very Serious Rubinites.    

Being a New Deal Democrat is not about living in the past. (I've always found this to be an ironic accusation coming from a group, the DLC turned Third Way Rubinite wing, that is so hopelessly stuck in 1990's Beltway Think Land). Being a New Deal Democrat is about understanding the past and applying the essential lessons from it to the present.

Hyper deficit-fetishism in times like these is in no way pragmatic. New Deal Democrats know that. They learned the lessons of history. All too many policy-makers did not. There's nothing noble about consigning the country to prolonged suffering that is avoidable; that could be alleviated. There's nothing sensible about turning a blind eye to available evidence and experience. It would be an act of actual pragmatism to recognize that and act upon it. Geithner-nomics doesn't work.

Related: EPI, Roosevelt Institute, CEPR


Earlier in the week, Eugene Robinson flagged the White House's efforts to triangulate against other Democrats.

"We think that obviously there are some Democrats who don't feel as strongly about deficit reduction as [President Obama] does," senior adviser David Plouffe said Wednesday at a breakfast with reporters and columnists. But that's not obvious at all. It isn't even true.

This could easily be flipped to "We think obviously the White House doesn't feel as strongly about jobs and real economic responsibility as most Democrats do."

The president echoed Plouffe, asserting that most Democrats don't want to do anything about the long-term deficit. Did Obama forget about the Progressive Caucus budget, or was he just being dishonest?

The president extended the Bush tax cuts for the most wealthy, escalated the insanely expensive war in Afghanistan, and failed to lead on the massive jobs deficit fueling the budget deficit. Apparently his plan is leave it up to the Confidence Fairy. And that's supposed to be seen as responsible? He's supposed to be the one who is serious about the long-term deficit? He's a deficit hawk because he's open to cuts to Social Security, a program that doesn't contribute to the deficit? Lowering the Medicare eligibility significantly would reduce the deficit, yet the president wants to raise it, and this makes him credible? If there's a leading Democrat who is not being straight with the American people about the deficit, it's the president.

Merely saying "responsibility" over and over does not make you responsible. You can label self-congratulatory cruelty and gutless incompetence "responsibility" all you want, but that doesn't make it true.

Look, if the president is going to feed these nonsense right-wing talking points, other Democrats shouldn't shy away from being direct about where the president has fallen short on the most important issue to voters: economic security.

President Obama is much better than the GOP in many areas. He's done some very good things. But his economic priorities are seriously messed up. I think more Democrats should feel free to say so.

It was always going to be very difficult to try to "achieve separation" from the president if doing so became necessary. But as the president doubles down an approach incapable of getting the needed results, I'm not sure progressive and populist Dems really have a choice. Why defend priorities that we know are backwards and will make an already brutal economy worse?

If the president is somewhere between Tom Carper and Susan Collins, that's fine. Other Democrats should take a close look at ways to make it known that the differences between the president's priorities and their own is significant.  

Department of "Doomed to Repeat It"

The president's political team is reportedly convinced that the key to re-election is to prove his bonafides as a deficit-centric Democrat. They simultaneously claim that they're taking the deficit off the table so they can move on to other priorities.This flies in the face of recent history and a basic understanding of the GOP playbook.

1976-1980: President Jimmy Carter, while clashing with members of his own party, told them that his agenda and rhetoric would help neutralize Republican claims that the our party is all about "tax and spend" liberalism.

1984: Walter Mondale makes the budget deficit one of his signature issues in his campaign against Ronald Reagan.

1988: Michael Dukakis runs as a technocratic deficit hawk.

1992-2000: Bill Clinton becomes much more of a deficit hawk after winning the presidency, partly on the advice of Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan. Clinton wins re-election in 1996 as a deficit hawk, but one that made protecting Medicare a main contrast with his opponents. More to the point, we are not in the Clinton-era economy.

On Compromise

If a politician pitches a compromise that includes something good, like an extension of unemployment insurance in the Bush tax rates deal, or the government staying open as a result of the budget deal, some people will focus on the positive and voice general approval. But when all is said, it's results, not a bipartisanship compromise visual, that really matters to voters. Compromise for its own sake with a party that is half crazy (DeMint) and half "we're going to do whatever it takes to make Obama a one-term president" (McConnell) is not a good or smart thing by any reasonable standard.  

On the larger point, yes, a lot of Democratic voters and Dem-leaining Independents favor compromise in the abstract. But that can be a good compromise. You can start with a very strong position, aggressively make your case, and then show you are willing to compromise to something that is still good.

That's not what we're seeing now. The White House is acting as if the real center is between crazy Republican proposals and "centrist" Dem ones. The president pre-compromises, then compromise again and again with little if anything in return, and then cites the principle of compromise as his reasoning for reaching a substantively and politically terrible deal. This is cheered on by out of touch talking heads in the Beltway Bubble because they seem to love nothing more than watching Democrats maim themselves, refuse to defend themselves, or give ridiculous, deeply unpopular GOP ideas a free ride.

Come on Dems in DC. This can't be about you and any desire you have for approval from Mark Halperin, A.B. Stoddard, and David Brooks. Let's stop buying in to the concept of inherently noble Democratic self-mutilation. Let's stop pretending that tripping ourselves at the outset of a must-win race is an act of virtue and pragmatism.

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The perfect scenario from a liberal pov (3.00 / 8)
If the GOP wants to prevent Obama from being reelected, all they need to do is call Obama's bluff about Social Security/Medicare cuts and let him do it.  

From a GOP standpoint, it's brilliant politics.  They get the cuts to "entitlements" they've been hot for and Obama loses reelection.  

Now, things look even better from liberal standpoint.  Give Obama the Social Security/Medicare cuts he wants and he won't even make it to the nomination.  

This leaves the door wide open for a populist Democrat to step in and wipe the floor with both the GOP, Obama, and the DLC/corporatist shill Democrats he's in love with.  

Here's the campaign slogan for real Democrats:  Had enough yet?  

Remind seniors both the GOP and Obama threw them under the bus.  

Remind those suffering from longtime unemployment they've been screwed by the both the GOP and Obama.  

Remind folks about how the Bush bailouts for billionaires morphed into the Obama bailouts for billionaires.  

Remind folks 2 unpaid GOP wars became 3 unpaid for wars because of Obama.  

And it goes on and on and on.  

I see opportunity here.  Nothing is set in stone as far as 2012.    

[ Parent ]
ThAnswr. Good. To. See. You! :-) (3.00 / 5)

[ Parent ]
what uberbah said... (3.00 / 5)
...and it's nice to hear your voice here at PB... if only more people would see that we have 2 choices:

returning the party back to the goals as stated in the platform


refusing to continue enabling people that run for office just because they have a "D" behind their names.

remind me again: voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for what?

no more enabling from me. right now, i'm writing "bernie sanders" at the top of my '12 ballot.

There comes a time when silence is betrayal. ~Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

[ Parent ]
Thank you, gentlemen. (3.00 / 4)

[ Parent ]
The former Democratic Party (3.00 / 9)
Great essay Mike.  I can't help at this point honestly believe that what we are witnessing now was a part of the grand design prior to Obama being sworn in.  As I like to say now, 'the perfect guy, for the perfect job,' and I find it rather stunning to watch as some Democrats are still making excuses for Obama's behavior.  Notice again, there is no mention of taking the Bush tax cuts off the table, nor is there any mention of seriously cutting defense spending. We are watching this President destroy the Democratic party right before our eyes.


Thanks. (3.00 / 6)
Much appreciated.

With you on this being inexcusable. This is, for lack of a better term, a proving ground for all elected Dems.

The strength of Social Security and Medicare should be held inviolable. I've heard people refer to these vital, beloved social insurance programs as "sacred cows." They're not sacred cows, they're a scared trust and it's time all elected Dems started acting like it. This is our legacy -- and it's a legacy we have every reason to be damn proud of; a legacy we should readily fight to protect. Social Security and Medicare are simply far too important to far too many working people in America to expose to needless cuts and the schemes of an enemy determined to unravel them.  

Nice to meet you, Badabing.  

Also on Twitter and You Tube

[ Parent ]
Wasn't it Barack Obama who called it a "sacred cows?" (3.00 / 5)
I just saw this Liberal group threatens to pull Obama support

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee on Friday delivered what they say were 200,000 pledges from people who will refuse to donate or volunteer for Obama's re-election campaign if he cuts the entitlement programs.

A few more of those and it will start sounding like a sacred trust to him too.  

"Democracy only works when we claim it as our own" -Bill Moyers

[ Parent ]
everything you write is amazing, michael... (3.00 / 6)
this, however, is super amazing...with awesome sauce.

this level of quality writing/analysis needs to be seen by more than a hand full of people. imma do my best to make sure that happens.

linking on my facebook wall...and there's another color-themed political blog where a couple of new PB account holders can be reminded they should swing by to read this piece!!!

There comes a time when silence is betrayal. ~Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Well now having read well over half the diary (3.00 / 6)
No reflection on you Michael, just internet age induced ADD. This is a great diary that covers all the bases.

But I need to point out that we've been down the road of this "eleven dimensional chess" several times now. Any good outcomes so far?

As far as Lawrence O'Donnell is concerned, I think that is just Democratic loyalty speculation. Sort of like the constant claims that Obama is working some progressive value "Behind the scenes." Imaginary closed door meetings on the public option and working out how to end Bush's, now Obama's, tax cuts.

But the sticking point is that the door has been opened by a Democratic President. What if nothing does happen? What will be the results of a Democratic president willing to deal on Social Security to protect the rich?

I look to Obama's Dept Commission for answers. Since they never reached the number of representatives to justify the findings, technically there was no findings. Okay so how did that work out?

Just like politicians who are constantly quoting Simpson-Bowles to the media, now the Republicans and the conservatives are armed with and will use a Democratic president's statements against Social Security for the rest of time.

If you ask me, that's some really bad shit for the people to have deal with.      

"Democracy only works when we claim it as our own" -Bill Moyers

Bingo! (3.00 / 6)
But the sticking point is that the door has been opened by a Democratic President.

And he didn't have to go there.  

From the beginning, it should have been "no deals".  

Or debate/negotiations that start with "Boner, pull my finger".  

[ Parent ]
Or from the beginning it could have been... (3.00 / 6)
The cuts found in the Congressional Progressive Caucus Plan and then "Let us see if we can meet in the middle from there." But instead we wind up with "I'll cut $3 trillion from my Partie's sacred cow if your side will end $1 trillion in tax loopholes for millionaires."

Since the election Obama has a lot of experience with putting up those sacred cows on the altar. The slaughter might not come right now but I can see an endless stream of "The Congresswoman from Illinois is not in touch with the people or even her own Party. Her own Party leader, the President of the United States has said several times that entitlements need to be cut."

And speaking of the Congresswoman from Illinois here's a thought about Obama's "eleven dimensional chess." While I witnessed him going out of his way to turn some unknown from Ohio into a household name, that man that now calls himself House Speaker Boehner, how many times have we ever seen him acknowledge Jan Schakowsky?

As Simpson-Bowles was winding down I heard a reporter ask the President about Jan Schakowsky's plan. He wold not repeat her name, nor acknowledge her plan. He just shut the conversation down and sternly.

After all the times I've hear him repeat the names of Republicans in public, I think the man finds Progressive Democrats to be repulsive. But while he has no time for Progressives in his Party, he gives a whole lot of respect to Republicans.      

"Democracy only works when we claim it as our own" -Bill Moyers

[ Parent ]
I respectfully disagree (3.00 / 6)
Raising the debt ceiling and planning for the country's financial future should have been kept as 2 different issues.  The willingness to negotiate during the debt ceiling debate opened the door and is what has caused this "crises".

What Obama should have done is take to the bully pulpit and remind the GOP just how many times they raised the debt ceiling during the Bush administration.  And then "Boner, pull my finger".  

Obama went into committee chairman mode  which is apparently the only mod he understands.  He's going to get screwed, we're going to get screwed, and he's going to piss off just enough people to lose the election.  Obama is polling at 42% according to Gallup.  He's going to need every vote he can muster and he's bleeding votes daily.  

[ Parent ]
And I respectfully acknowledge your respectful disagreement (3.00 / 6)
But I think we are on two different pages. I'm attempting to point out the way Obama argues everything. He starts from right of center. My reference is about his constant inability to acknowledge the left of his own Party while offering the Tea party driven Republicans plenty of recognition.

I stuffed envelopes for Mario Biaggi when I was ten and I heard him say "You never mention the opposing party members by name and always mention your fellow Democrats by name." I know many people fall back on "Obama is young" but come on, I learned that when I was ten.  

Taking a stand and not allowing the debt ceiling to become a budget battle is a very valid point. The simple argument that the Republicans are fighting a budget battle a second time. In fact pointing out that they are reneging on already approved spending and that is like taking out a credit card and saying "Now I'm not paying," is something the President should be telling Americans.

But the fact is that he did set the grounds for this sort of crap happening over and over and his bargaining chip was we will cut three dollars of government spending for every dollar you are willing to increase revenue by. Pretty lame if you ask me. Reminded me of the way he bargained for health care.

Your point about how many times the Republicans raised the debt ceiling is a sticky point with these double speaking Repugs. Since they have already thrown Bush's budgets to the wolves, they can turn around and say "I didn't like it then but now it is even a larger percentage of the GDP."

They could probably worm out of that one and get away with pointing out to their base that they are not the George W. Bush but the Grover Norquist Party. They can worm out of much because they have no real opposition.  

"Democracy only works when we claim it as our own" -Bill Moyers

[ Parent ]
Mario Biaggi: That's a blast from the past. (3.00 / 4)

[ Parent ]
Great diary, MC. Really geat (3.00 / 5)
Lawrence O'Donnell is once again full of shit, like he was on the Senate rules and reconciliation, and the estate tax fairly recently while screaming at Jane Hamsher.(Can I get an Amen Keith is back?) I am certainly on some Obama sycophants enemies lists by now(a good development), but celebrating not being able to raise the debt ceiling or that we might not default is only a so called achievement by the most delusional Obama supporter and we have seen that on the GOS lately and it's made me a bit ill.

You have shown that Obama is even more in trouble with reelection than I thought, as I figured being an incumbent in a time of war despite my recent hatred of his inability to govern(that's what it is when one can't negotiate a debt ceiling increase like every other president) puts him in an advantageous position, but I think Rick Perry is the one to worry about.

One big problem is I don't trust the president at all and I feel Obama is using this deficit hysteria to cut down the New Deal a la Shock Doctrine style.

I take issue with a few things. I do admit Brad DeLong is a more knowledgeable Rubinite than most, but I don't think Rubinite is a term to be ashamed of at all. DeLong embarrassingly defended Ezra Klein's BS critique of Inside Job when Dean Baker(superior while DeLong still admires Greenspan which should be embarrassing to most economists at this point) took issue with it as you know and Yves Smith utterly destroyed Ezra Klein. (God I loved it so much because Klein's argument and arguments for insurance reform are proven wrong even though even Ezra is not liking this deal. I don't care though. Hes a villager and sometimes even villagers will sound the alarm if the village is burning)) I will give PatriciaVa props for calling out excuses on the chained CPI as I have done as well while getting traction referencing Dean Baker of course.

The point is if one is proven wrong and one has embarrassed the economics profession, their repentance needs to be consistent. For instance Summers has spoken up about the need for more stimulus after he stopped a bigger one from being offered from Christina Romer via 1.2 trillion. It's good that he is speaking out about it or did before he left, but what does he want? A medal?

Basically I agree with you and mcjoan that Obama and Plouffe's BS critiques about deficits were effectively countered by the progressive caucus and their plan. I worry about it effectively in the long term though. Instead of bowing down to "yeah, but not now" argument of deficits and NOT calling out Obama's total ignorance of how the federal budget operates the truth about deficits should start to be advertised to the public(maybe it can't right now but we need to at least start educating the public on this). It's totally ignorant to say that a federal budget is like a family budget. Bowing down to that is going to cause big problems in the long term considering the deficits we need for the investments in jobs and money in workers pockets we need. For now though, I think the progressiveness caucus deficit reduction proposal is a good one that does so off of the working poor and middle class's backs.

For more on this, check out this piece:

The WH and its Independents Deficit Disorder

I make many of the points you did, but also with this emphasis. As I reference, Professor James Galbraith's take is the best I have read on this matter and I'm basically echoing a lot of what he says.

Really great piece, MC. Keep up the good work. Sorry I have been absent from here.  

Correction: the Progressive caucus deficit reduction proposal is a good one that does so NOT off of the working poor and middle class's backs. (3.00 / 3)

[ Parent ]
The great fear ............ (3.00 / 4)
There has always been the belief in the Obama White House that the GOP candidate will be too crazy to be electable.  Hell, I think it's what has sustained them.  They act as if it's gospel.  

However, I've always said that if the GOP nominates anyone semi-sane, Obama can start packing for Illinois the day after the RNC convention.  

Here's the rub:  What is too crazy in the face of continued high unemployment, continuous war, and a president who's leadership abilities are being questioned?  Obama is polling at 42% at Gallup.  He's losing ground.  

Simply put, at what point does Michelle Bachmann look like an attractive alternative because Obama is so weak?

Scary thought, but anyone who gets the nomination has a chance to win.

Obama and his advisors have been playing a dangerous game.  I think they're literally dancing on the edge.  

[ Parent ]
They also plan to raise a billion dollars from Goldman Sachs and everyone else who owns the treasury (3.00 / 4)
and they also have unbridled faith in the magic Internet Gnome David Pouffe who along with deficit pixie dust courting the independents and so called bond vigilante voters(who don't exist) that didn't show up in response to this same kind of idiotic "appeal" last time for the 2010 elections the DNC via Tim Kane and WH were involved with.

A candidate doesn't have to be sane, all they have to have is appeal and to stick to their beliefs as if they stand for something. I think Rick Perry is one to be worried about for the WH, especially at a turbulent time like this.

[ Parent ]
Very good points. (3.00 / 4)
However, I've always said that if the GOP nominates anyone semi-sane, Obama can start packing for Illinois the day after the RNC convention.

It stings to type this, as opposed to gaming it out and repeatedly coming to the same conclusion, but I think you're mostly right.

If the most accurate gauge of chances for re-election is a mix of economic metrics (unemployment, income) and the rate of change (and to a certain extent who gets blamed for what) the president is a one-termer. Anyone but Bachmann beats him. Georgia, Texas, and Arizona won't come in to play in this economy, so the GOP nominee has a very clear shot at 270.

Key parts of Obama's '08 coalition are being hit the hardest by the economy he isn't leading on (and is now going along with making worse). "Better than the GOP" isn't the great motivator the president's team thinks it is, and the demographics trump economics theory of re-election, which still seemed plausible six months ago, is just too much of a stretch now. At least with these demographics (still great for progressives longer-term, but not anything close to a complete game-changer) and this brutal of an economy, it's over.

I've dreaded this scene for months now, because it was all so predictable and in many ways preventable:

It's election night. Indiana, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina have been called for Romney. News outlet cover the exit polls showing Obama getting great marks on trying to be bipartisan. Almost as soon as they finish, they call enough remaining battleground states to decide the election, roll the "45th president" graphic and tell the audience they'll be hearing from "President-Elect Romney" shortly.

All the ad buys in the world can't save the day if the fundamentals are stacked against you.  

Also on Twitter and You Tube

[ Parent ]
This is what happens when .............. (3.00 / 2)
This is what happens when, in place of good policy, marketing people like Plouffe are raised to the level of political guru's.  

However, as should be painfully obvious, Campaign Obama was nothing but marketing.  

It isn't going to work again.  Many people took a chance on voting for an untested half-term senator from Illinois with no executive experience but great oratory skills.  Many of those people feel "we got screwed".  

This debt ceiling debacle will hit both parties hard.  The American public will say "a pox on both your houses".  Unfortunately for the Democrats, they have more to lose with Obama.  

I will now give away for free what can be the "zinger" of the campaign season.  Whether a Republican candidate or a Democratic challenger, the scenario is the same.  

After listing the many and varied broken promises made by Campaign/President Obama the Democratic/Republican candidate can look at Obama and say:  If I fail to keep my promises after 4 years, you can fire me too.  

Game over.  

[ Parent ]
priceman - check you facebook email... :D (3.00 / 2)

(-5.75,-4.92) "Compromise sounds a lot like capitulation, doesn't it?" --Elizabeth Edwards

[ Parent ]
Really good (3.00 / 3)
"Independents Deficit Disorder" post. You nailed it.

Ceding the debt ceiling as an access point for the wrecking crew is just insane. It's painfully clear what it leads too. And yeah, Chained CPI is an elaborate way to disguise what are more accurately described benefit cuts.

With you on the House Progressive Caucus budget and the president's bizarre triangulation. He's taking a shot at Congressional Dems, but he's the one who isn't being truly responsible.

Joan McCarter is an outstanding blogger. A must-read. Definitely a champion of the effort to protect Social Security from needless, regressive cuts.

The Inside Job post was one of Klein's worst, IMHO. The Michael Lewis example wasn't anywhere near as persuasive as what he probably thought it was. It came off sophistry.

Enjoy hearing from you as always, my friend. Don't sweat the not being around as much as you'd like to be thing.  

Also on Twitter and You Tube

[ Parent ]
Thank you, for ... (3.00 / 4)
... a rather candid and comprehensive discussion of the issues and differing perspectives.

And, in response:

Hmmm, we shall see ...

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A stirring tale of how progressives built America and lessons on creating the next Big Change Moment, from OpenLeft's Mike Lux.

"As inspiring as it is informative." -Arianna Huffington

"Mike is that rarest breed: a populist insider." -Wes Boyd

"Better than an OpenLeft flame war." -Chris Bowers


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