Saturday, December 18, 2010

Obama's Clear Liberal Voice, Part II

In my last post, I highlighted a few remarks Obama said in his press conference announcing the tax deal he cut with Republicans last week, in order to show that his remarks were more focused on his disagreement with Republicans and their policies than with progressives.  Next, I'll cover what he said during his Q&A:

Question 1

The first question asked Obama why people should trust him on the issue of letting the tax cuts for the rich expire after his tax deal "flip flop" which he did for political reasons.  Obama insisted that this wasn't about politics, but about helping struggling Americans, including the unemployed.  Saying:
And I will continue to fight before the American people to make the point that the Republican position is wrong.
Pretty unequivocal.  No bipartisan, touchy-feely stuff here.  The Republican position is wrong.

He then went on to say exactly what any good liberal would say:
Now, if there was not collateral damage, if this was just a matter of my politics or being able to persuade the American people to my side, then I would just stick to my guns, because the fact of the matter is the American people already agree with me. There are polls showing right now that the American people, for the most part, think it’s a bad idea to provide tax cuts to the wealthy.

But the issue is not me persuading the American people; they’re already there. The issue is, how do I persuade the Republicans in the Senate who are currently blocking that position. I have not been able to budge them. And I don’t think there’s any suggestion anybody in this room thinks realistically that we can budge them right now.
Now, the only difference between him and his left-wing critics is that he says he's tried fighting and his critics say he hasn't fought hard enough.  But these are just differences of opinion, not ideology.  And notice, his answer was focused on why Republicans are wrong, and couched in terms of liberal policies helping Americans, while insisting that Republican policies didn't. 

He was asked a follow-up question as to why he wasn't able to get it done in the last two years, to which Obama replied that tax cuts for the wealthy were the Republican "holy grail" and described it as "their central economic doctrine," which is why they refused to budge on the issue.  Subtle yet definite jab on Republicans.

And again, he sounded like his liberal detractors when he said:
I think our proposal to make sure that the middle class is held harmless, but that we don’t make these Bush tax cuts permanent for wealthy individuals, because it was going to cost the country at a time when we’ve got these looming deficits, that that was the better position to take. And the American people were persuaded by that.
And notice, his response was exactly what liberals were complaining about with the tax deal: That we can't afford them because they're too expensive.  I've heard repeated complaints about this tax deal by people suggesting that Obama is "trying to put lipstick on a pig."  But it's obvious that he's calling the pig a pig and complaining about the guys who made him buy it.  Never once did he suggest that the tax cuts for the rich were a good idea.

So the only difference between Obama and his left-wing critics is that he says he gave up fighting with them after several weeks of trying, while his critics say he gave up immediately.  And seeing as how I know the fighting lasted for weeks, I've got to score this one for Obama.  But all the same, there is no policy dispute here, merely a disagreement on political strategy.

Question 2

He was then asked if the stimulus portion of this deal was going to be as strong as the Recovery Act.  He said it wouldn't be as strong, but again insisted that getting more money to the middle-class and unemployed was a great stimulus, because they'd have more money to spend.  Sounds like a liberal to me.

Question 3

He was then asked about progressives who will attack him for rewarding Republican obstruction, to which he started by making another dig on Republicans, saying:
I’ve said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.
Hostage-takers.  He called them hostage-takers.  Does it sound like he's loving his Republican opponents?  No.  He's likening them to unscrupulous criminals and insisting that he didn't want to give in to their demands.

He then went on to explain why it's so important to protect the unemployed and middle-class, which is the only reason he gave in to the hostage-takers.  He then went on to say how he'd have enjoyed a battle with Republicans, because he's seen the polls and knows America is on his side.  He then explained how it'll be easier for him to fight Republicans in 2014, because they won't be able to hold America hostage next time. 

Of course, that's debatable, as he mentions the added difficulties of a Republican House and a smaller Dem Senate; but he says he's willing to take that chance because he'll be in a stronger position when Republicans can no longer hold us hostage like this.  And I've got to agree with his analysis on that, as it matches my own.  I wouldn't want to be a Republican presidential nominee trying to justify this unpopular policy.  This year, Republicans didn't care about public opinion.  The Republican nominee will.  Just ask John McCain.

Now note, he was directly asked about progressives disagreeing with him, but rather than impugn their integrity, he brought it to Republicans by calling them hostage-takers and insisting that their policies are dangerous for America.  Sounds like a liberal to me.

Question 4

He was then asked about his claim that walking away from negotiations with South Korea led to a better deal with them, yet he wasn't willing to walk away from negotiations with Republicans.  And he responded that the difference was that there wasn't a time limit on the South Korea deal, while two million Americans would be hurt if he didn't get a tax deal by January 1.

As a follow-up question, he was asked if he'd use the next two years to overhaul the tax code, and he said he would.  As he explained, his first two years were all about fixing emergencies, and now that he's fixed these emergencies, he can focus on long-term measures, like improving our education system, spurring innovation, improving America's infrastructure, and paying for it all. 

He then said:
And in that context, I don’t see how the Republicans win that argument. I don’t know how they’re going to be able to argue that extending permanently these high-end tax cuts is going to be good for our economy when, to offset them, we’d end up having to cut vital services for our kids, for our veterans, for our seniors.
He wants to help needy Americans, spend more on schools and infrastructure, and he wants to pay for it by taxing the rich more and creating a more equitable tax system.  And he insists that Republicans will lose this argument because their position isn't popular.  Call me crazy, but this guy sounds like a liberal to me. 

Question 5:

He's asked if he had considered including the raising of the debt limit as part of the tax deal, and he says he didn't because he believes that Republicans aren't going let the government collapse, adding:
But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern. You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but I believe he just called John Boehner a "bomb thrower," though he thinks Boehner will be more responsible now that he has to be. 

And again, I've got to agree with that.  Republicans had nothing to lose and everything to gain by saying "no" to Obama the last two years, and they weren't bluffing about this at all.  But now that they're expected to do something, the rules have changed.  Republicans are always more effective in the minority, and they're about to prove that again next year.

Question 6:

And then, we get to the final question, which is the one in which Obama caught a lot of flak from progressives for attacking them.  And it's like we're to imagine that the prepared speech I cited in the previous post and the first five questions of the Q&A didn't exist, and knocking progressives is the only thing he did.

He's asked about people on the left who are disappointed in him and how he can reassure them that he's not going to let them down again.  Now mind you, this is basically a rewrite of question three, and counts as the second time he was asked about progressives who don't like him.

And even this time, he takes it to Republicans saying:
Well, over the next two years, they’re going to have to show me what it is that they think they can do. And I think it becomes pretty clear, after you go through the budget line by line, that if in fact they want to pay for $700 billion worth of tax breaks to wealthy individuals, that that’s a lot of money and that the cuts -- corresponding cuts that would have to be made are very painful. So either they rethink their position, or I don’t think they’re going to do very well in 2012. So that’s on the first point.
And he's perfectly right about that.  It was easy for Republicans to sit on the sidelines and criticize Obama when they weren't responsible for anything.  But now it's time for them to put up or shut up, and if they can't find $700 billion in spending cuts that people don't hate them for, then they're going to be punished in 2012.  And that's my thinking exactly.  Saying "no" is the easy part.  Getting to "yes" is always more difficult.

He then goes on to explain what his "lines in the sand" are, which are that he won't make the tax cuts for the rich permanent or allow the taxcuts for the middle-class expire.

He then moves on to talking about the Public Option debate and details all the things the healthcare law did, but how all those things weren't enough because he didn't get the Public Option, too.  And yes, he referred to his left-wing critics as having a "purest position" and being "sanctimonious."  And he explained how he had to compromise because he didn't want the middle-class and unemployed to suffer. 

The Underpants Gnomes Strategy

And he ends the Q&A with:
And so the -- to my Democratic friends, what I’d suggest is, let’s make sure that we understand this is a long game. This is not a short game. And to my Republican friends, I would suggest -- I think this is a good agreement, because I know that they’re swallowing some things that they don’t like as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing them on the field of competition over the next two years.
And that's it.  That's all he did.  Did he insult progressives?  Did he say they had bad policies or were too liberal?  Did he impugn their intentions?  No, he didn't.  He said how he tried to do the things they wanted him to do, but couldn't get all of them and was attacked for it. 

And the knock on him is based entirely on a hypothetical argument which suggests that the president can make Congress do things it doesn't want to do.  Yet, they don't treat it like it's a hypothetical argument.  They treat it as fact: Obama could do more...somehow.  At a guess, I'd say this elusive presidential power comes from the same place the Underpants Gnomes get their profits.  No president has had this power, yet Obama's critics attack him for not wielding it.  Disagree?  Then tell me the president who had these powers.

And overall, throughout this press conference, liberalism was at the core of everything he said.  He could have pretended that the tax cuts for the rich were somehow good for the economy to make his compromise look better, but he didn't.  He said they were worthless, dangerous, and needed to go away, while insulting the people who forced them on him.

And again, this sounds like a liberal to me.

Obama the Idiot

Yet, somehow, these words weren't good enough.  It's like we're to imagine he intentionally takes a strong enough liberal position that he's tied to the policies, yet doesn't want to take a strong enough stake that he'd actually win.  That way, he looks like a loser for losing, and gets blamed by the only people he was trying to woo.  In other words, Barack Obama is the dumbest man in the world.

Because if he didn't want to pass liberal polices, he'd say he did, and the refuse to compromise.  And then, the bills would die and the liberal base would praise him for being tough, yet he could have avoided adopting the policies.  And since the majority of Americans support his policies, he wouldn't get hurt by this.  So following liberal advice would be the easiest thing for him to do, assuming he didn't want their policies to pass.  And yeah, you should read that paragraph twice and tell me how I'm wrong, because I assure you, I'm not. 

Conversely, he could have pulled a Clinton by using conservative arguments, in order to piss off the far-left, and then picked his battles by fighting on conservative turf by picking the position that was to the immediate left of the Republican position.  And he'd avoid making any stake in a liberal policy, because he wouldn't want liberal policies and also wouldn't want to lose when they didn't get passed.

Occam's Liberal

Yet, we're to imagine it's something different: That Obama takes liberal positions, just so he can lose because he doesn't really like liberal policies.  How does that make any sense?  Why would he stake a position on something he plans to lose?  And of course, "losing" is defined as only getting most of what we want.  While to many progressives, Obama would "win" if he got none of what he want, just as long as he didn't compromise on it.  Huh?  How does losing everything beat losing a few things? 

Seriously, think about all this.  How does the "Obama's a sell-out" argument even work?

As usual, the simplest explanation is probably the right one: He wanted to pass these policies because he knew they were good policies that would help America and make his job easier, but wasn't able to do it all.  I'm open to suggestions as to how any other explanation makes sense, but it'd have to be one that didn't involve Obama being stupid and/or crazy.  And if you think Obama purposefully hypes liberal policies in order to lose and get yelled at by the base, then you're assuming he wants the economy to suffer and wants to lose the next election.  In other words, that Obama is stupid and crazy.

And that's the reason Obama's frustrated with progressives.  It's not because he thinks they're liberal wackos who need to STFU.  It's because he's trying to do the right thing, achieves many of these right things, but gets yelled at for it because he didn't get everything.  And all the same, he only talked about them once during the press conference after having been asked about them repeatedly, and was still nice to them.  And for that, he gets yelled at and I get yelled at for defending him.  How odd.

1 comment:

Betsy said...

Thank you for your clear exposition. Frustration and worry make critics of us all. I personally have NEVER been so filled with frustration and unhappiness about politics in all my 68 years (and I have seen a lot!) The Republicans have gone completely insane in this political cycle. They seem to be just mean, heartless and callous and out for only money and power.
Anyway your comments always help me discuss Obama with other frustrated people.