Mad Wombat

A moderately liberal Democraticly-themed blog

How Peter Daou Shunned Reality

Peter Daou, not shockingly, had decided to write a piece blaming all of the world’s problems at the feet of Obama and the Democratic Party at large.  And while the Democratic Party isn’t blameless for the current situation – their general messaging often does suck, though the media filter doesn’t help with that – Daou seems to ignore certain facts, or even worse, just makes them up.

He first asks the following set of questions:

How can the Tea Party exert such outsized influence?
Is President Obama an awful negotiator incapable of getting progressive results or a good negotiator getting exactly the anti-progressive results he wants?
Do Democrats stand for anything? If so, what?
Are Republicans reckless enough to destabilize the US economy for political ends? If so, how do they get away with it?

The answer to the first question (and the last question too) is easy: they control one House of Congress and thus can effectively block anything they damn well please unless they get their way. If one is just talking about some random bill, it’s not really a problem, because no action just means the status quo happens.  But when it comes to something like the debt ceiling, taking no action is about the worst possible action that can be taken.  That is why they exert an enormous amount of influence: because they have the will and ability to cause devastating damage to our economy, simply by saying “no.”

The fact that this isn’t obvious to Daou explains quite a lot as to his attitude in his post.  The GOP always held the cards in the debt ceiling fight because they knew Obama had to extend it, at virtually any cost.  Is it any wonder that, under these circumstances, any deal would be more in the GOP’s favor than ours? It’s rather surprising to me, given what leverage they had, that they agreed to the deal that they did (see my post on why the debt ceiling deal isn’t all that bad, considering).  Indeed, many in the Tea Party felt that Obama would agree to pretty much any demand they made, not because Obama wasn’t principled, but because he had no other choice.  That’s one reason why the Tea Party think they lost this battle. They feel the GOP gave in too soon to Obama’s resistance to go any further.  Meanwhile, on the other side, many liberals seem to be engaged in the fantasy that the GOP would have either folded under public pressure, actually passed a clean bill, or, even worse, that default wasn’t all that bad of an option after all.

Daou then decides to completely go into fantasyland later in his piece:

Imagine an Obama presidency where the health care debate started with a fierce fight for single-payer; where Gitmo had been closed; where gay rights were unequivocally supported; where Bush and Cheney were investigated for sanctioning torture; where climate change was a top priority; where Bush’s civil liberties violations were prosecuted rather than reinforced; where the Bush tax cuts expired; where the stimulus was much bigger; where programs for the poor, for research, jobs, infrastructure, science, education, were enhanced at the expense of war and profits for the wealthy; where the Republican assault on women’s rights was met with furious resistance. I could go on and on.

When it comes to many of these issues, Obama did try to get them passed.  It was Democrats in Congress themselves, many of them progressives, who blocked closing Gitmo.  Cap and Trade passed the House and died in the Senate, like so many other bills did. The same with the public option.  As far as gay rights, last time I checked, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is over and they are arguing against the parts of DOMA that apply to the federal government.  Of course, many on the left have long since demonstrated that there is nothing Obama can do on gay rights that would satisfy them.  And then we have the old complaint about the Bush tax cuts. Nevermind that Daou’s preferred result would have resulted in taxes being raised on everyone, likely dooming any chance Democrats and Obama had in 2012, not to mention blocked unemployment insurance, DADT repeal, and START.

One uncomfortable truth that Daou is going to eventually be forced to accept is this: The Democratic party, while having a significant progressive element to it, is not a majority progressive party.  Indeed, Daou laments “many progressive thought leaders believe…the Democratic establishment has little in common with progressivism.”

While I might not go as far as saying that there is “little in common” – I think most moderate democrats and progressives share the same general goals – the methods to reach those goals, or exactly how encompassing the ends should be differ.  Bush’s tax cuts are a great example.  Both moderates and liberals wish to end them. I take great offense at the suggestion that my support for the tax cut deal somehow proves that I never wanted to end them. However, liberals seem to take an “end them at any and all costs” approach to Bush’s tax cuts for the rich while moderates (and many pragmatic liberals) generally tend to see things more holistically.  Ending the Bush tax cuts are important, and we still want to see that happen. But are they worth not extending unemployment, not ending DADT, not ratifying START, and oh by the way raising the taxes on the middle class right as a recession ends as well?  Moderates, I believe correctly, decided to give the GOP their Bush tax cuts for two more years in exchange for all of those other items.

In the end, should it really surprise Daou that the leader of a party which is moderate and pro-compromise when necessary is, himself, moderate and pro-compromise when necessary? Progressives surely gnash their teeth greatly over this, but, with all due respect, they are not representative of the majority of the party.

(As an aside, I never really got how cutting spending is bad bad bad right after a recession, but it’s A-OK to raise taxes on the middle class. Both policies have the same general effect: taking money out of the economy. And the general attitude that middle class tax cuts were so small that no one would be hurt by them being repealed is both wrong and shortsighted. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that many of them wouldn’t have to face the consequences of their own policy preferences.)

Daou then tops it all of by completely going bananas:

But it’s precisely the Democratic establishment’s decrepitude that enabled the rise of the Tea Party and the 2010 defeat.

This shouldn’t come as a news flash but, the Tea Party has been around since before Obama even became president. They may not have called themselves the Tea party yet at that point, but they existed.  To claim that anything Obama did “enabled the rise” of the Tea Party is flat out wrong. Obama’s very existence led to their rise, enabled by a press who is intrigued by any shiny object the right decides to put in front of them.

About the only point Daou makes that I can agree with is that Democrat’s messaging in 2010 was abysmal. But bad messaging is different than having a lack of principles.  Obama has argued since the very start, and continues to today, that revenues are essential to solving our problem.  He has given numerous press conferences stating this fact. The American people agree with him on this point. But the fact that he ultimately agreed to a deal that didn’t include revenue doesn’t mean he was lying or he’s not principled, nor does it mean he’s necessarily a bad negotiator.  It means he concluded, almost certainly correctly, that getting revenues just wasn’t possible under the current circumstances. Additionally, one gains nothing by leading the charge of the light brigade, where everyone heralds you as heroes, but you still end up dead.

Meanwhile, if one gets past the hair on fire analysis and actually take a lot at the bill, there are several aspects to it which are actually not so bad for Democrats, including:

  1. Delays almost all cuts until after the election, allowing whoever gets elected in 2012 to alter the deal in whatever way they see fit.  The chances of this deal actually remaining as it is through the next 10 years is essentially zero, which is one of the main reasons why the Tea Party voted against it.  If you want to change the deal, then vote for people who would be willing to make it better for you. The Tea Party is certainly going to be doing that.
  2. It still keeps expiring the Bush tax cuts on the table. In fact, Boehner made a great concession by basing the entire deficit reduction framework on the assumption that Bush’s tax cuts would expire.  That’s going to be a hard position to come back from, as any attempt to extend them would be considered a deficit busting move by the very framework the GOP agreed to.
  3. It shifts the leverage from the GOP, who was using the debt ceiling, to Democrats in the committee, who will have a good chance of forcing the GOP into the difficult position of choosing between eating large cuts to defense or accepting new revenue
  4. Obama and Democrats can now shift to jobs, which they have already started doing, instead of dealing with the mayhem that default would have caused.

Was it an ideal deal? No. Does it have everything either I or Obama wanted in it? No, but that is usually the nature of compromises.  What it did do is give Democrats the chance to fight on these issues another day, under far more favorable circumstances than we were fighting under during the debt ceiling battle.  Rarely does anything good happen when the person you are negotiating with is holding a gun to your head.  Obama was successful in punting the vast majority of the budget cuts to a time when Democrats will be on far more even ground – if the base actually decides to turn out and support them.

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