Monday, April 11, 2011


President Obama is addressing the issue of the deficit, as you know, in a speech he'll deliver on Wednesday:

After months of criticism that he has not led on budget talks, Mr. Obama will urge bipartisan negotiations toward a multiyear debt-reduction plan that administration officials said would depart sharply from the one proposed last week by House Republicans.

The Republican plan includes a shrinking of Medicare and Medicaid and trillions of dollars in tax cuts, while sparing defense spending. Mr. Obama, by contrast, envisions a more comprehensive plan that would include tax increases for the richest taxpayers, cuts to military spending, savings in Medicare and Medicaid, and unspecified changes to Social Security.

I'm having a fairly standard lefty reaction: I'm giving him some credit for talking about defense cuts and taxes on the rich. The problem, however, is that he's endorsing the right-wing idea that belt-tightening is what we need right now.

In a sane country, obviously, a Democratic president would be fighting for the more economic stimulus right now as well as for tax increases on the wealthy -- and there'd also be some bad-cop, really lefty Democrats fighting for massive amounts of stimulus and huge tax cuts increases on the rich. That's the triangulation I want.

But even beyond deferring to the right-wing frame, Obama and the Democrats are doing a lousy job of negotiating and triangulating. In fact, it appears that Obama's the far end of the triangle. Even within the "we must slash the deficit immediately" right-wing frame, there could be liberal Democrats calling for as progressive a way as possible of doing that, and the party should be seeing to it that such a plan is pushed to the fore, so that would be the left end of the triangle. Then, at least, Obama's approach could look like the "sensible center."

But I see nothing of the sort out there -- certainly nothing that's being promoted. In fact, there will be a third plan advanced soon in addition to Obama's and Paul Ryan's, and that one guarantees that Obama's plan is going to be seen (preposterously) as the radically left-wing one:

Another impetus to Wednesday's move is the White House's belief that a bipartisan "Gang of Six" senators will announce this week that they have reached agreement on a debt-reduction package similar to that of the president's fiscal commission.


I know what the "Manchurian president" theorists are going to tell me in comments: that of course Obama doesn't want a plan on his left, because he really wants what the Republicans want. He really wants to negotiate a plan that's close to the Ryan plan.

Yeah, but he wants to be reelected, right? On a purely selfish level, this is lousy political strategy for Obama. This makes low-information swing voters think he's an (euuuwww) liberal, whereas having a plan on his left would make them think he's a reasonable, moderate guy, which is what they want -- and that would be true even if he had exactly the same plan.

And besides, if he's really a secret Republican, and he really wants what the Republican want, why didn't he just endorse his deficit commission's plan himself, appear at a press conference grinning and shaking hands with Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles -- and then let Ryan and the Republicans denounce that as too liberal and drag that to the right?

No, he's not a secret teabagger. He's who he is. He's just not all that politically shrewd.


UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn also thinks a plan to the left of Obama's is needed, to make the triangle work.

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