The Democratic Party desperately shoved through a debt deal that manages to be wildly unpopular with the American public, disastrous to economic growth and job creation and, not incidentally, opposed to every core principle of shared sacrifice that liberals supposedly hold dear. This will go down in history as the moment Democratic liberalism died. Finally brought down by the repeated blows from the far Right? No. The fatal wounds were entirely self-inflicted.
The vast majority of Americans favor raising taxes on the very rich and oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Let me repeat that. The vast majority of Americans favor raising taxes. That includes majorities of Independents and Republicans. Nonetheless, Obama refused to force-feed the Republicans heaping spoonfuls of tax increase peas with a glass of persuasive poling on the side to wash it down. Instead we got the proverbial shit sandwich, which given that no one is happy with the deal and partisanship is even greater now as a result, may have solved the economic crisis but enshrined a political one. Even with the prevailing winds of public opinion strongly at their back, Democrats caved to Republican threats and grandstanding.
Of course, the fact that raising the debt ceiling was coupled with deficit cuts was a Democratic capitulation from the start. The wise and independent Economic Policy Institute writes in its post-mortem:
This proposed debt ceiling deal tentatively concludes a needlessly manufactured crisis and will do great harm to our nation. The debt we are undertaking now and scheduled to undertake over the next ten years is solely the product of past decisions (primarily unfunded wars, an unfunded prescription drug benefit and two rounds of tax cuts under President George W. Bush) and the recession-related revenue losses caused by the financial crisis generated by financial deregulation and weak oversight…. There is no economic necessity to undertake spending cuts or deficit reduction plans at this point in the economic recovery, when high unemployment is expected to persist for several more years. Jobs should be the priority and jobs are the path to get our nation’s fiscal situation to a responsible place.
In other words, what’s needed to cure our economic stagnation is not spending cuts that will further cripple the middle class but more spending on infrastructure and jobs to kick start the future. Yet at precisely the moment that we should have been talking about spending more instead of cutting spending, Republicans pigeonholed the political conversation into slashing Social Security, food stamps and Medicare. Democrats agreed to play ball on Republican’s ideological home field. And then kicked the ball through the other side’s goal. It is, unfortunately, my liberal suckers thesis played out to the letter.
I voted for Barack Obama. I volunteered to help him win. And yes, I was swept up by the fantastical Camelot of hopes and dreams. But like many progressives, I’m reminded today that 2008 was about the mission, not the man. And if we cling to the hope that Barack Obama, as one of the few charismatic leaders on our side, might any minute now take up the mantle of progressive ideals that he has so clearly eschewed so far, that is a reflection less on his power over us than our own power of self-delusion and desperation.
Michael Tomasky brilliantly observes that while Republicans fear their base in the sense that they treat them with respect and kid gloves. Democrats fear being associated with their base and thus make “aggressive public moves to demonstrate that they aren’t really like their base.” Which is all the more absurd — or pathetic, really — given that the Republican base is in fact an extreme fringe while the Democratic base represents a very large, very mainstream segment of America. More voters stayed home in the 2010 mid-term elections than voted, and yet the Tea Party has managed to hold a powerful ideological sway not only over the Republican establishment but, clearly, President Obama and many Democrats. The Tea Party is an audacious fringe with mainstream influence. Meanwhile, progressives represent the moral mainstream yet have barely fringe influence.
I’m sick of being taken for granted, in general but especially when something like basic tax increases on the very rich are not only good for our economic future but something that the American people overwhelmingly support. If the President isn’t listening to us now, when will he? Obama didn’t just stab Democratic liberalism in the back — he may have cut himself off from his base permanently.
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