Obama Does A Clintonian Backflip
In a joint press conference today, Presidents Obama and Clinton gathered to attempt to placate the progressive rebellion against the Obama-GOP tax scheme. In perfect irony, this foreshadows the Clintonian Backflip that we can likely expect from the Obama administration for the next 2-6 years.
Barack Obama was elected on a platform of change. Candidate Obama spoke of comprehensive immigration reform, withdrawing from Iraq at a rapid pace, enact meaningful caps on carbon pollution, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, closing Guantanamo, reforming health care with a strong public option, and many other things that are precisely what the country needs to get back on it’s feet and rise above the tyranny and injustice that was allowed to fester under the Bush/Cheney regime.
To his credit, Obama and the new Democrats have overcome some stiff conservative opposition to take credit for a moderate change of course, at the worst a temporary slowdown of the damage inflicted from the establishment on the American people. The non-partisan political watchdog group Politifact gives him credit for 123 promises kept so far compared to only 24 broken.
There have also been some measurable changes in direction in the country. There have been a few catalogues of the reform wins over the past two years compiled at What Obama Has Done [Comprehensive Edition], Democratic Change Update, and WTFHasObamaDoneSoFar.com. These have not been epic wins however, and have been more than overshadowed by the failure of passing big reforms.
As predicted by me last February, the Republicans used a playbook of obstruction and negativity that was virtually identical to the one they used in 1993-1994 to derail the modest reforms of President Bill Clinton.
This playbook consists of 5 distinct steps:
Step 1: Avoid responsibility for previous GOP failures
Step 2: Increase negativity to epic levels
Step 3: Call to drain the Congressional swamp
Step 4: Release a formal contract
Step 5: Retake Congress, hamstring reformer President
In 1994, the Democrats did not recognize to what lengths their opponents would go to win an election, and paid for it severely. The Republicans took both chambers of Congress. In 2008, the Democratic leadership seemed to suffer from another bout of collective amnesia, and attempted a futile strategy of compromise that only fed the conservative obstructionists, who would then make more demands. The result was another election catastrophe.
After a brief battle in 1995, Bill Clinton bent over backwards, and started to capitulate to most Republican demands. Instead of reform, America got Republican-lite, just a brief interlude between harsh conservative presidents. Clinton did a backflip.
The Republican Minority Leader in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated recently that “If President Obama does a Clintonian backflip, if he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him.”
Finally. After two years of an unprecedented campaign of obstruction, delay, and sabotage on literally every piece of legislation, it appeared as if he was finally signaling an end to the political warfare. Unfortunately, McConnell also stated: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Add to this remarks from the House Republican leadership that vow that there will be “no compromise” and one begins to understand the dilemma President Obama is in. The Republicans have him right where they want him, on the defensive and second guessing his stance on reform.
In this situation, the president and Democratic leaders are left with only two options: fight back or surrender. In reality the balance of power in America is split between a federal judiciary stocked with right wing activist judges and one chamber of Congress comfortably in the hands of staunch conservatives. Democrats have control of the Executive branch and the US Senate, although with the conservative and centrist Democrats there, the latter is certainly not under the strong sway of progressive reformers.
The first big test of this new balance of power has already arrived, both packages of the Bush Tax Cuts that were passed using the reconciliation maneuver are set to expire at the end of this year, and the Republicans have vowed to use the filibuster to stop any package that does not include an extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, regardless of the cost to the national debt.
Alternet reports, “In reality, the hostage takers laid their “trap” a decade ago, as former Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett helpfully explained to The Daily Beast: “We knew that, politically, once you get [a big tax cut] into law, it becomes almost impossible to remove it. That’s not a bad legacy. The fact that we were able to lay the trap does feel pretty good, to tell you the truth.”
Despite dire warnings from progressives that this would be the last straw in their patience for the Democratic leadership under Barack Obama to actually get reforms done, the President made his choice: surrender.
Progressives are now in open revolt against someone who had the strongest support, both domestically and internationally, and respect of any American leader since John Kennedy. The Obama-GOP tax scheme is a nearly $1 trillion spending bill that does very little to create jobs and blows a hole in the deficit.
Obama claims he had no choice, that the Republicans were holding the American people hostage, and that he had to take the best deal he could get, and the White House spin doctors have been hard at work trying to sell this for the last 48 hours. They claim that the deal is actually very good for the Democrats, and cite evidence such as the payroll tax holiday and capital investment write offs for business, both of which are more in line with fiscal conservatism. The payroll tax holiday we even part of the Republican Roadmap For America.
Further, the lowered estate tax breaks are trying to be sold as a ‘bipartisan’ part of the bill, when this is nothing more than another sell out to wealthy Americans. Even the extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits only last 13 months, setting up another battle in a year that will require even more concessions by the Democrats in order to extend them further, while the tax cuts for the rich will be extended for a full 24 months.
Adding insult to injury, this “compromise” plan actually is larger than either plan for all income brackets.
The trillion dollar Obama-GOP tax scheme is a sham. It needs to be opposed by any means necessary. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) struck a blow to this deal today by engaging in an old style filibuster, speaking for 8.5 hours and counting, with a little assistance from Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and others.
This is precisely what progressives need to do in order to derail the Republican playbook and fight for real reforms. For all the compromising he did, the political enemies of President Clinton were only emboldened, and continued to attack him throughout his second term. Unless Obama can find his will to fight, it will be even more intense this time around.
Paul Krugman of the New York Times writes: “Now, the government shutdown ended up hurting Republicans politically, and some observers seem to assume that memories of that experience will deter the G.O.P. from being too confrontational this time around. But the lesson current Republicans seem to have drawn from 1995 isn’t that they were too confrontational, it’s that they weren’t confrontational enough.”
The joint press conference with Presidents Obama and Clinton today was emblematic of the probably course of the Democratic leadership over the next two years: abdicating authority by offering ever greater compromises to ever greater conservative demands. The Republicans believe that if they keep being more unreasonable, the Democrats will capitulate and continue to give into their demands, and until Obama realizes the futility of his appeasement, that is precisely what will happen.
Obama has begun his Clintonian Backflip, and the movement for change and reform in America must now find a new leader.
Saturday 2:02am Edit: Much more on the Bernie Sanders filibuster here.
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