Thursday, November 11, 2010


The headline of this Huffington Post story by Howard Fineman and Sam Stein is "White House Gives In On Bush Tax Cuts" -- but that's not the only news Fineman and Stein have to tell us. First, the main story.

President Barack Obama's top adviser suggested to The Huffington Post late Wednesday that the administration is ready to accept an across-the-board continuation of steep Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest taxpayers.

That appears to be the only way, said David Axelrod, that middle-class taxpayers can keep their tax cuts, given the legislative and political realities facing Obama in the aftermath of last week's electoral defeat....

"There are concerns," he added, that Congress will continue to kick the can down the road in the future by passing temporary extensions for the wealthy time and time again. "But I don't want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point." ...

Well, that's what I said last week -- what's the point of having this fight year after year and losing it every time? It would have been nice to actually try to win the fight back in, say, early '09, when Democrats had the wind at their backs, but there are two modes for Democrats in situations like this -- afraid to win and unable to win. They were in the former mode briefly, and now they're going to be in the latter, for a long time to come.


I've been expecting some sort of cave-in on the Bush tax cuts, so it doesn't really sting anymore, but here's another bit of the Fineman/Stein story that I find freshly dispiriting:

... A student of history and a onetime political reporter, Axelrod expressed curiosity and even some optimism about the tea party, suggesting that Obama could work with them on matters such as a ban on spending earmarks and on winding down the war in Afghanistan.

If so, Obama would turn the Clinton-era triangulation strategy on its head, reaching out not to the moderates in the other party but to the new breed of conservatives who could bring the ideological arc of Congress full circle.

Can the White House work with them? "It is a fascinating time in our history," he said, "and I don't think anybody really knows. I mean I have watched carefully some of these folks on television. I don't think this is nearly as predictable as people think." ...

Oh, bloody hell.

Earmarks? I'm dubious, but maybe. But winding down the war in Afghanistan? Being weak on defense, like a sandal-wearing hippie? Sorry, but even if there are a few Paul-ish teabaggers willing to express skepticism about the sacrosanct nature of the military and what it does, they're going to be steamrollered -- not only by non-'bagger establishment Republicans, but by the vast majority of their old-school flag-waving teabagger colleagues.

But this notion is clearly in the air out there in Democrat Land. On her show last night, Rachel Maddow was talking about Republicans who might support cutting defense spending:

... What's different this year, what might be the one interesting and potentially constructive thing that results from the conservative movement's partial takeover of the Republican Party this year, is that it might not be just Ron Paul who's willing to talk about this now. There is a split in the Republican Party between those who say defense spending is untouchable and those who at least say they're willing to look at maybe cutting it.

... this year, for the first time, Republicans are not united on that anymore. There is something new under the sun. Senator-elect Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul; Senator-elect Mark Kirk of Illinois; Senator-elect Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma; Senator Johnny Isakson; Senator Bob Corker; Governor Mitch Daniels; Congressman Paul Ryan -- all of these Republicans have suggested in varying degrees in recent weeks that cuts in defense can be on the table....

Think Progress has details about most of the names on that list ... but, um, really? We're supposed to believe this is a sea change? For one thing, half of the people on Maddow's list are already in Congress (and one of the people she named is a governor). What's been the impact of their vaunted skepticism?

And, yes, Maddow acknowledges that there's still plenty of GOP flag-waving out there. But she thinks there's hope. I don't, because Republicans are simply not going to abandon any line of attack that's worked so successfully for them for so many years -- not when we're entering a presidential election cycle. Yes, teabaggers and right-wing media demagogues put foreign policy on the back burner for the most part in the past two years ... unless you count all the talk about closing Gitmo and about holding terrorist trials in New York and about Obama "bowing" and about Iran and ... am I forgetting anything? The "Ground Zero mosque"? Every word that comes out of Liz Cheney's mouth?

They're going to work more foreign policy into their rhetoric very, very soon, especially if the White House goes through with any withdrawal in Afghanistan. The folks on Maddow's list are going to be ignored. If the White House thinks it's going to triangulate with these guys, then we're in 2009 again, with these guys as the new "cooperative," "bipartisan" "moderates" who, in key moments, are neither moderate nor bipartisan nor cooperative.

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