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Thursday, April 11, 2013

My Take on the Politics of the Moment

I agree Chained CPI is bad policy and even bad politics in terms of 2014 optics. But I don't know that I agree Chained CPI is worse policy than the ongoing disintegration of governance via sequestration or worse politics than complete stasis in terms of 2014 optics. The actual alternatives matter you know, not just the ideal alternatives to actual proposals even where we agree on what the ideal or even more sensible alternatives would be.

I think Obama really does want a deal on guns, on immigration, and on ending sequestration in a way that raises revenues. That's where he's staked political capital in the aftermath of the second inaugural address, and that's how he's behaving too as far as I can see. I don't think he's only posturing about wanting these deals or that he's crazy to think less-than-perfect better-than-nothing deals are indeed doable on guns, on immigration, and on ending sequestration in a way that raises revenues.

I think he's calculating that getting these deals is a better set-up for 2014 than absolute stasis forced by GOP obstructionism would be, and I think he's right about this since recent history after 2010 bears this out (not to mention he's right that the best possible positioning for Dems in 2014 if stasis rules the day come what may is one in which he is trying to compromise in the face of irrational GOP intransigence while Dems themselves howl about the effects of compromise on seniors, students, working people, and so on). The point isn't that seniors, students, working people are dispensable pawns here, but that one weighs the impact of Chained CPI against the impact of ongoing sequestration on the same or just as real stakeholders and also as the environment in which actually worse GOP proposals are floated and so on.

The President (the GOP's Big Bad after all) has to take a real hit to get any Republicans to the table and any such real hit will also of necessity be a hit on citizen majorities given the President's mostly progressive priorities whatever his pragmatism. Else, what would the GOP leverage for 2014 against the optics of their own capitulation? This has to be Presidential capitulation up against Congressional GOP capitulation, tit for tat, otherwise why come to the table at all? The President's budget called the Republican's bluff and the proof is right there in the ongoing disarray and division in the Republican's response to that budget. But once we grant the reality and significance of the Presidential hit here, we have to go to the small print where protections against the most vulnerable are carved out and where the structural enablements for retroactive fixes and progressive elaborations are always in place to determine just who the winners and losers really are. This isn't an eleventy-dimensional chess fantasy anymore, but repeatedly demonstrated history when it comes to Obama dealmaking, in both its strength and its weakness when we're talking about the ACA or financial reform, say. To the extent that the GOP is playing out their public politics in a largely symbolic theater at this point, it's not even that they don't understand this last point so much as they don't care as much as you would expect them to if you are a policy-minded lefty. Don't forget that compromises at the level of detail coupled with broad brushstrokes combativeness keeps the dumb-dumb GOP base comparatively quiescent, while making dumb-dumb independents purr over "stuff getting done" whatever the facts are, while signaling to corporate and partisan funders/players that GOPers can still play ball despite the nutter noisemakers.

Don't be so sure everything the Senate accomplishes will die in the teahadi House, when the path to passage via helpful Democratic majorities is now well-established and gun measures are supported by 95% of the people while everybody knows immigration reform has to pass for the GOP to survive as a national party. With each passage under such a regime the next one becomes easier as well. Overcoming sequestration via an ugly deal that will be called a Grand Bargain in any case will have its chance after popular gun safety reform and necessary immigration reform have had their chances first.

The scrum over optics for 2014 will take place in the aftermath of outcomes on these questions. The odds for Dems retaking the House in 2014 are historically unprecedentedly high but must be considered doable given the equally unprecedentedly GOP fever swamp and nothing changes that big picture, but I do think Obama is right that making a real effort to get these three deals is better than not doing so both for 2014 and for, actually, the country. This is far from saying that the results are optimal or even good, only that they are better than the actually existing and actually possible alternatives. You know, politics.

Those who propose that Obama doesn't really want the deals he says he wants and is struggling to get because he seeecretly wants to screw the poor or is signalling through pretend deal-making that he reeeeally wants to screw the poor and all that looks to me exactly as nutty as right-wing white-racist blathering about kenyislamofascisocialism. Hell, I AM a socialist, I want single-payer, lifelong free education, and basic income guarantees funded by steeply progressive income and property taxes in the midst of nationalized and sustainably equitably administered public and common goods. We're on the road, not at the destination, building it as we go, and there are differences that make more of a difference along the road than the fact that none of them happen to be the destination. Again, Chained CPI is a bad policy, but Obama seems to think it's the least bad way to get past the worse bad of ongoing sequestration or of all GOP whackadoodle all the time. I'm not entirely sure that's right, but it's far from a stupid or evil thing to think. We should push him, but not give comfort to our enemies or mistake him for one. He's just the occupant of the executive branch, one more tool in the toolkit. And he's doing pretty well, all things considered.

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