It is difficult to describe this emotion. I’m used to disappointment, fairly comfortable with heartbreak, and am well acquainted with rage. Over the course of my lifetime, my presidents have been Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and now Obama…and each, in his own way, has been worse than the last.
How can I say that? Easy. The problems of Nixon are still with us, and have grown worse by orders of magnitude through each successive administration. Certain presidents have exacerbated the situation beyond their expected purview, but generally speaking, each one has adopted the worst ideas of his predecessor, and in nearly every instance, has made those problems worse.
But this…this is too much.
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The timeline as I understand it: the far-right GOP caucus in the House decided to use the debt limit as a hostage to fortune in their decades-long quest to eliminate Social Security and Medicare. The current Democratic president saw this, and in a pure anti-Lakoffian flail that explains everything you need to know about the man, accepted the deranged premise put before him and went to work on the annihilation of the social safety net…but with the proviso that we find some new tax revenues by closing some loopholes…maybe…please?
Not good enough. House Speaker Boehner walked away from the debt-limit talks, not once but twice, because he can’t control his caucus and because he had this Democratic president right where he wanted him. The president blew up – in as much as “No Drama” Obama ever blows up – and wondered what is needed for the GOP to say “Yes” to anything. Read between the lines of that presser, and you get this: “I tried to give them Social Security. I tried to give them Medicare and Medicaid. I gave those things willingly, despite cries of outrage from my ungrateful, foolish, obnoxious left flank, and asked only for a pittance in tax revenues in exchange. Shame on the GOP for not rampaging these social programs when I offered them the chance to do so.”
Web forums all across the Democratic Party spectrum celebrated the president’s resolve. He showed them, didn’t he?
Well…wait. I saw a president in a state of high piss-off because he tried to give away Social Security and Medicare, but couldn’t convince the far right to take the proffered opportunity. They’ve been trying to do this very thing for three generations, and here is Obama practically sweating bullets in his desire to give them the victory they have pined for since Goldwater was in short pants. Sure, it’s proof that Boehner is at the mercy of the Tea Party freshmen in his caucus, but in which universe is this called victory? This Democratic president was angry because he was being denied the opportunity to preside over an historic roll-back of the New Deal?
Oh, but we weren’t done yet. The “Grand Bargain” was still in the offing, now splintered into two or three or twelve different iterations, but all ultimately coming down to the same thing: trillions in cuts for the most vulnerable Americans, no new tax revenues from the rich or anyone else, and the bonus prize sought most passionately by the Democrats was the chance to kick this whole fight down the road to 2013, so none of these failures would be forced to address the question before their next all-important election cycle.
Sell out Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for a chance at an easier ride at the ballot? Where do I sign?
The Bush-era tax cuts for rich people appear nowhere in the discussion, despite the fact that eliminating them would go most of the way towards resolving this “crisis.” We are still fighting three wars, and the “defense” budget remains largely untouchable. I have not heard an American politician talk about jobs in over a year, even though a robust jobs program would add revenue to the budget hand over fist.
At the time of this writing, matters stand thusly:
We don't yet know what the final deal to raise the debt ceiling will be. But now that Harry Reid is developing a proposal with $2.7 trillion in cuts and nothing in revenues, it's a safe bet that it won't include any tax increases. Which means that whether Republicans realize it or not, they've won. The question now is whether they can stop.
John Boehner is proposing a deal with about $1 trillion in spending cuts and a short-term increase in the debt ceiling and a bipartisan congressional committee charged with developing a large deficit reduction package that would be immune to amendments and filibusters and would be the price of the next increase in the debt ceiling. Harry Reid is developing a package of spending cuts that Democrats could accept and would reach Boehner's $2.4 trillion mark.
If you take the Republicans' goals as avoiding a deal in which they have to vote for tax increases and denying Obama a political victory, it looks like they have succeeded. That success has come with costs – they've done themselves political damage, are risking a crisis that could do the economy tremendous harm, and have left the Bush tax cuts unresolved, which means they might end up watching taxes rise much higher than if they'd taken Obama's offer – but it's still been a success.
A great many people who should know better continue to look at this situation as if Mr. Obama has some fantastic rabbit he…is…just…waiting to pull out of a hat, thus foiling the GOP and securing our future forever. For a brief moment a couple of weeks ago, I shared that optimism, but the last several days have slapped me soundly out of that fugue state.
I see a president on his knees, hands outstretched, offering the best ideas and policies liberal governance has ever devised up to the voracious carnivore of GOP opportunism. I see the end of the New Deal, and a far crueler America emerging from the aftermath. I see a Democratic president voiding his bladder on all that he is supposed to uphold.
Mr. Obama got on those knees again Monday night, on national television no less, and once again begged the GOP to devour Social Security and Medicare. He gobbled up the flawed, flayed premise of the far-right's deranged argument, again, and pleaded for the chance to give away the core of what he was elected to defend.
I thought I was done being ashamed of my president.
I was wrong.