We always liked working with Jim Moran. He’s like all of us, imperfect (yes, yes, we know). For all of that he’s a straight shooter. So when The Hill says “This is a lack of leadership on the part of Obama,” Moran (D-Va.) “I don’t know where the f*** Obama is on this or anything else. They’re AWOL”, we sympathize.
We also smiled seeing Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) declare “Our caucus will not submit to hostage taking and we will not submit to this deal.” Inslee is a class act and walks the walk. We worked with him and his office on legislation during the Clinton years to overcome the usual Clintonian deference to financial service interests at the expense of consumers. Both Moran and Inslee have seen this movie before, having been in the minority 1994-2006.
But both also know far more than pundits that House Dems are the real Walking Dead. They got bit. Sure, they got bitten in large measure after carrying Obama’s water for two years with no political cover from him. Obama was worse than absent; his political abstinence actually galvanized the Movement’s rise. So House Dems got screwed twice over. Remember how easily Gibbs tossed off losing the House this past summer. Like complaining about remembering to rotate car tires.
To survive the Walking Dead the rules are clear. Self-preservation is the new good, especially if one strikes a moral pose. As Atwater said, once you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made. Obama knows Moran, Inslee — any of them — are gone. Toast. Like any Walker, they’ll just stagger around aimlessly, lifelessly and pose no threat. Walkers are dangerous only gathered en mass. Like say, a House majority. Even then, as we saw, he didn’t really care anyway.
Over at Kos they’re noting per NYT that Obama’s EPA is already postponing new regulations to please corporate interests and climate change deniers. The Kos folks express a desire for policy based on science. Touching, that hope. How’s that audacity tasting now?
For Obama to flog audacity in 2008 like a Taco Bell jingle, we can be pardoned thinking we’d see some kind of Napoleonic fire. Audacity changed history at Austerlitz. At Marengo. Even Dresden in the end game. Napoleon’s domestic reforms audaciously modernized the French civil code and transformed Europe as a whole. (Obama’s a constitutional scholar, didn’t you know?).
Alas, no. Wrong Napoleon. Audacity? We got a 2 year-long Michael Cera movie. Turned out we got Napoleon III. You know, the one whom von Moltke and Prussia crushed at Sedan in 1870. After capturing that Napoleon, Bismarck went on to forge the new German Reich dictated in Versailles. The Movement didn’t show such military or political genius crushing Obama’s ‘audacity of hope’. But it’s hard not to see Obama today in his own Sedan, surrounded by enemies, surrendering to circumstances of his own making, economy aside.
Of course, permanent government types see Obama’s steely disregard for the Democratic Walking Dead and Rightward lurch as the smart play for 2012. Let’s assume that Obama’s problems are really the economy, not his political abdication and disengagement. Krugman plays it out as a thought experiment. Conceding the initial political premise, he deconstructs the actual economics and timing:
Unemployment benefits aside, all of this is very much second-best policy: consumers would probably spend only part of the payroll tax break, and it’s unclear whether the business break would do much to spur investment given the excess capacity in the economy. Still, it would be a noticeable net positive for the economy next year.
But here’s the thing: while the bad stuff in the deal lasts for two years, the not-so-bad stuff expires at the end of 2011. This means that we’re talking about a boost to growth next year — but growth in 2012 that would actually be slower than in the absence of the deal.
This has big political implications. Political scientists tell us that voting is much more strongly affected by the economy’s direction in the year or less preceding an election than by how well the nation is doing in some absolute sense.
When Ronald Reagan ran for re-election in 1984, the unemployment rate was almost exactly the same as it had been just before the 1980 election — but because the economic trend in 1980 was down while the trend in 1984 was up, an unemployment rate that spelled defeat for Jimmy Carter translated into landslide victory for Reagan.
This political reality makes the tax deal a bad bargain for Democrats. Think of it this way: The deal essentially sets up 2011-2012 to be a repeat of 2009-2010. Once again, there would be initial benefits from the stimulus, and decent growth a year before the election. But as the stimulus faded, growth would tend to stall — and this stall would, once again, come in the months leading up to the election, with seriously negative consequences for Mr. Obama and his party.
Obama in that case screws himself — and all Non-Rightists, again. There goes the Senate to boot. He will have no one else to blame. Not the Walking Dead shuffling in the House minority. Not his volunteers. Not his financial supporters. Ultimately, not even the voters.