Is Obama a Political Masochist?

Liberals are furious as the president caves on federal pay freeze and tax cuts for nothing in return

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Many of his supporters wondered whether President Obama would, in the wake of a brutal election, fight for a progressive agenda or cower under his desk. It's cowering all the way, baby, liberal Paul Krugman concludes after the president ordered a freeze of federal workers' salaries--a move that managed to be both "trivial in scale" and "misguided in direction," the economist writes in The New York Times.

"About that pay freeze: the president likes to talk about 'teachable moments,'" he continues. "Well, in this case he seems eager to teach Americans something false." The freeze will have little effect on the deficit, as halving the government payroll would only cut spending by 3 percent, argues Krugman.

He might have found "Obama's pay ploy ... justified if he had used the announcement of a freeze as an occasion to take a strong stand against Republican demands--to declare that at a time when deficits are an important issue, tax breaks for the wealthiest aren't acceptable. But he didn't," and Krugman's unimpressed by the freeze as a "peace gesture."

Plenty of other liberals are fed up with this apparent double-cave, too:

  • Why Even Bother Winning Elections if Your Opponent Always Gives In? Eugene Robinson wonders at The Washington Post. Republicans are "about to prove, once again, that you can get your way in Washington without a congressional majority--if you have a firm sense of purpose. Maybe the Democratic Party will find one someday." Democrats should be winning on the tax issue, Robinson writes, but, "The White House, for the umpteenth time, has approached a negotiation by signaling in advance its willingness, if pushed to the wall, to make major concessions--in this case, a temporary tax-cut extension for the rich. It doesn't take a genius to recognize this as a flawed bargaining strategy. ... The White House doesn't seem to have made clear what the objective is, much less how to get there."
  • The Facts Are on Democrats' Side, Libby Spencer argues at The Impolitic, and they should use them instead of conceding the fight. "If the situation was reversed, you can sure that Republicans would be" pointing out that tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 would equal, over 75 years, the same amount as the anticipated Social Security shortfall. "Instead our Democratic party is 'negotiating' ways to give the GOP every cursed policy blunder they want, and without any guarantees that the GOP will deliver on their promises. In fact, recent history suggests they won't. ... the least the Dems could do, if they're intent on caving like a bowl of melting Jello, is demand the trade-off votes get taken first. As a 'good faith' gesture."
  • We Need a Hardcore Republican Hater, John Cole insists at Balloon Juice.
I thought it was absurd all the hand-wringing right out of the gate in 2009, but it has been two years now. We've seen nothing but capitulation from the Dems and the WH, and the Republicans are being rewarded for their behavior. ... Is there honestly not one advisor in the WH who has Obama's ear who hates the Republicans? Because that is what we need. ... No more playing nice. ... Stop trying to find common ground and start heightening the contradictions.
  • Obama Is Just a Conservative, Taylor Marsh concludes. He's said he's a Blue Dog Democrat before. And not only is he conservative, but he is "sheepishly so, making the entire political exercise in which we’re all engaged a farce. If Mr. Obama could at least act with courage of his inner conservative that could at least be respected."
  • Let's Primary This Milquetoast, Riverdaughter writes at The Confluence.
For the good of the country, Obama must be primaried, regardless of the perceived incivility and the probability that the entire op/ed page of the Washington Post will get the vapors. ... Once you start to roll the idea of a popular primary challenger around in your heads and let Obama know you're seriously thinking about it, you will start to get the Change! you voted for. ... Start making some noises that you've changed your minds and now 'she who must not be named' is looking pretty good right about now.  Make it sound convincing.  Praise her statesmanship, her presence on a world stage, her calm and steely resolve. See what happens.
  • Who Can We Turn To? AMERICAblog's Gaius Publius asks. "The Democratic party can no longer look to Obama for leadership; it has to look elsewhere. For Krugman, that means Congress, at least for now. Me, I'll need to see it; after all, it is Cave Week."
  • Obama Will Have to Wait Two Years, Jonathan Chait argues at The New Republic, and let the tax cuts expire then.
If Obama is reelected, he simply has to veto any extension of the upper-bracket tax cuts. If it means all the tax cuts die, so be it. Why, you might wonder, would he be willing to do that then but not now? Well, hopefully the economy will be in better shape. (If it isn't he probably won't be reelected anyway.) On top of that, canceling all the Bush tax cuts would have a real depressing effect on the economy, which in turn would also harm his reelection chances. ... He'll be in much stronger position on taxes two years from now. ... Obama and the Democrats blew a huge political opportunity by failing to pick a fight on the middle-class tax cuts. But they do have a chance to gain a long-term policy win.
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