I know I'm supposed to be thrilled because President Obama and the Democrats are, for once negotiating as if they have a strong hand:
... Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they're facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.I applaud this new approach. But there's one problem with it: toughness is not the Democrats' brand. Reasonableness is the Democrats' brand. The GOP base votes for Republicans knowing that they're stubborn, intransigent, my-way-or-the-highway sons of bitches. The base likes that about Republicans. And even swing voters seem to tolerate that about Republicans, probably because Republicans are good at persuading swing voters that intransigence is sometimes necessary -- particularly on economic issues, because Democrats love taxing and spending so much.
...Previously, Obama's pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House's belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn't, the media would side with them, realizing they'd sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don't believe that anymore.
Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don't negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House's preferred policies, let them propose their own.
By contrast, Democratic voters -- apart from the small percentage of us who are strongly left-leaning -- like Democrats in part because they seem willing to work with the other side. (And remember, polls consistently show that self-described conservatives vastly outnumber self-described liberals, which means that, if Democrats are winning elections, they're winning by gaining the votes of the big chunk of self-styled moderates.)
So, right now we have the GOP leaking the president's opening bid on averting the "fiscal cliff." And the Republicans have the "liberal media" eating out of their hand. Here's how The New York Times describes the current Obama proposal:
The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, met strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced the goal of finding $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other social programs to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.Those three paragraphs could have come straight out of a GOP press release.
He did propose some upfront cuts in programs like farm price supports, but did not specify an amount or any details. And senior Republican aides familiar with the offer said those initial spending cuts might be outweighed by spending increases, including at least $50 billion in infrastructure spending, mortgage relief, an extension of unemployment insurance and a deferral of automatic cuts to physician reimbursements under Medicare.
"The Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts," Mr. Boehner said after the meeting. "No substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House over the last two weeks."
This is a snapshot of one moment, of course -- perceptions will change. But right now, we shouldn't think the president is winning the spin war. He's losing it. Yes, the public supports tax hikes on the rich, and, yes, the public knows Republicans are being intransigent on that, but it's likely that the public wants Democrats to make concessions because the public always wants Democrats to make concessions.
Of course, if Democrats win the negotiations, it probably won't matter who won the spin war. But the spin war is likely to influence how the negotiations go. And the Republicans are winning on spin.
I'll add that Republicans are actually doing a good job of faking reasonableness themselves. Sending out a few folks, such as Representative Tom Cole, to concede the Democrats' tax-the-rich point is brilliant -- the public won't notice that the party has no intention of actually doing that. Charlie Pierce notes the Kabuki nature of this:
Cole's limited appeal to reason was so profoundly ignored that nobody even got mad at him for having proposed it. Boehner still likes him....Of course Boehner still likes him, as does the rest of the GOP. He's not out there trying to move the discussion. He's out there to put a falsely reasonable face on an unreasonable party.