Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Some comparisons are obvious...

of course, of course. But still, this echo gave me a bit of a chill.  One passage in my rebuttal of Drew Westen's attack on Obama bounced around the web quite a bit, e.g., in the LA Times online:
Sprung, blogging at Xpostfactoid, compared Obama's challengers on the left to Martin Luther King Jr.'s critics during the civil rights era. "Let's not forget that many African Americans at times regarded King as an appeasing sellout, much as many progressives now see Obama as one," Sprung wrote. "The Panthers and the Nation of Islam were more satisfying to many. King called out his adversaries, but he never shrank from engaging with them. Neither has Obama — though the results have not always been what his base could have wished."

Obama, of course, quotes King all the time, and is not shy about identifying with him or Lincoln (and damn the obvious "Mr Obama, you're no..." rejoinders).  As in Iowa yesterday:
"I think that we forget when [Martin Luther King Jr.] was alive there was nobody who was more vilified, nobody who was more controversial, nobody who was more despairing at times. There was a decade that followed the great successes of Birmingham and Selma in which he was just struggling, fighting the good fight, and scorned, and many folks angry.  But what he understood, what kept him going, was that the arc of moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.  But it doesn’t bend on its own.  It bends because all of us are putting our hand on the arc and we are bending it in that direction.  And it takes time.  And it's hard work.  And there are frustrations."
Of course, it was Westen who used Obama's frequent invocation of King's "arc of history" as a stick to beat him, comparing him unfavorably to King. It's not surprising that Obama would seek to turn the comparison around, unprompted by obscure bloggers (or blog commenters - see this striking perspective offered in response to a Steve Benen post -- it also pinged around quite a bit).

For myself, I retain hope if not exactly faith at this point that Obama, like King, will ultimately outlast his rabid adversaries -- that he will find effective sticks to back his soft speaking.  But I do think that one aspect of his conduct in the debt ceiling negotiations has been somewhat obscured in the fog of political war.

Like most progressives, I was very frustrated that Obama got sucked into negotiating deficit reduction under shadow of the debt ceiling -- that he trusted Boehner to cut a deal that would obviously advance Obama's political fortunes.  That was I think an error of judgment -- an extension of Obama's way overripe hubris in thinking he can push Republicans into a constructive deal without some means of electoral compulsion.  But what I think got lost in the loss is the fact that Obama can hardly be charged with a failure to engage, or fight. In fact he pounded Republicans repeatedly for their anti-tax fundamentalism, and the evidence suggests he got through to the American people, who overwhelmingly favor his "balanced" approach to deficit reduction.  What was so frustrating was that in the course of the long-drawn negotiations he apparently yielded so much policy ground -- first seeking a deal with Boehner with a headlined 4-to-1 cuts-to-tax-increase ratio, then acceding to a deal with no tax hikes at all.

But as I've suggested repeatedly, I think that underlying these apparent retreats is the fact that Obama doesn't want to raise taxes more than approximately $800 billion -- $1 trillion over ten years. Ultimately, backed by the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, that is probably what he will get, paired with a nominal $3 trillion in spending cuts, which even if they are carried out translate to $2 trillion plus interest saved.  That's what he sketched out in April, that's what his 2008 proposal to end the Bush tax cuts only for the wealthiest 2% suggested, and that will be his bottom line as the Bush expiration looms, if the supercommittee fails to cut a deal this fall. The Boehner deal will be born piecemeal. And depending on how the cuts are structured, the partial birth in the legislation signed on Aug. 2 may not ultimately prove to have been a loss on policy grounds.

Of course,Obama may be on his way out of office when the endgame arrives. In which case, it will fall to a likely minority of Democrats in the Senate to filibuster radical further tax cuts.  Can't say that scenario fills me with confidence either.

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