Passage of Bush tax further erodes Obama's liberal base as we move closer to 2012 elections
The first pass of the delicate political minuet spawned by the Republican victories on November 2nd is behind us. Obama caved to the GOP and agreed to: extend the Bush tax cuts to all taxpayers for two years, extend the inheritance tax cut at 35% with a $5 million exemption and reduce the employee social security payroll tax by two percent for a year in return for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and extensions of the child tax credit, the earned income credit and a student tax break.
Obama’s angry TV presentation of what is actually a framework agreement which must still be approved by the two Houses, was a serious violation of one of his core campaign pledges.
Naturally he tried to blame the Republicans for the whole problem and did his best to protect his left flank but his demeanor made it plain that the agreement has left him one miserable Marxist.
It is even possible that we could witness the spectacle of the deal being rejected by the Democratic Caucasus in one or both Houses, in which case Obama might find himself having to rely on Republican votes to get the compromise bill passed.
His leftist Dem base is furious, further indicating that, in the opinion of the Washington political class, the conservatives won this round. So the Republicans are up one and each party will continue to work toward relative advantage with the center while trying to maintain the support of its base. Neither will find this a simple task but neither dares abandon the effort.
For the Dems, all stems from Obama’s promises, achievements to date and expectations of future behavior.
For the Republicans all depends on whether they can roll back some of Obama’s achievements, block future Obama initiatives and compromise only as much as they must to avoid the image of mindless opposition. In fairness to Obama, he brought little of substance to the presidency by way of experience or accomplishment other than political agitation and oration, so one can hardly expect him to do a good job. But he has found the rigors of daily governance even harder than he had anticipated.
His base, leftist true believers, had exulted in the certainty that Obama’s election had ushered in the transformation of the United States into a modern Marxist state in which a much more authoritarian government assumed direction of the daily lives of the people at all levels while taking control, if not of the means of production, at least of the items produced, the level of profit, flow of capital and distribution of wealth.
Abroad he would follow a more modest apologetic policy, admitting America’s past sins and wickednesses while seeking accommodation with all.
Even when he had overwhelming numbers in both houses of Congress he failed to create a leftist utopia. At the same time other nations have had the temerity to refuse to recognize the wisdom inherent in Obama’s pronouncements and, at least in foreign affairs, he has had to fall back to policies followed during the Bush administration. And in the midterm elections his policies were overwhelmingly rejected by the American people.
The revelation that their socialist savior cannot deliver their dream, and that he is fast turning heretic, has inflamed many on the far left to threaten to withdraw support for Obama if he departs from whatever they regard as orthodoxy. But, for now at least, these threats will gain little because Obama and his base both know that he is their man and that they have nowhere else to go.
For the threats to matter he would have to so irritate them that they sit out the 2012 elections.
Despite the Dems’ temporary numerical advantages, Obama’s current political hand is weak, and thus the compromises he had to make, no matter how heretical to his base, were smaller than they would have been had the issue been permitted to slide into the next Congress.
Obama dared not risk the charge that he and the Dems failed to agree on an issue which would have been raised time and time again in the Republican-controlled House.
Now however, Obama faces the risk that, these tactics having worked well once, the GOP will try them again and again during the next two years. The Republican problem is in many ways the mirror image of that of the Democrats.
The Republicans know perfectly well that their election was a testament to dissatisfaction with Obama and the leftist Dems rather than support for the GOP. Moreover, the most strident elements of the conservative GOP base, the Tea Parties and 9/12’er’s are deeply mistrustful of all politicians including Republicans.
To their credit, these groups continue to insist upon adherence to the Founders’ conservative principles beginning with a smaller less powerful central government with lower taxes and greater individual freedom.
And they recognize that the Republican Party is the only possible vehicle for realization of these goals. But it is not yet clear to what degree their zeal for rapid conservative reform is tempered with an appreciation for the reality of the impact of such reforms. The sad truth is that the United States has not been the nation of the Founders for a very long time.
Since the 1930s or before, we as a people have slowly gotten used to feeding at the government trough – to turning to the federal government as the first responder for solutions to problems which earlier would never have entered the federal realm.
Weaning us off that teat will be painful and whatever weaning takes place will have to await the day when the GOP has control of the White House and sufficient numbers in both houses of Congress to assure passage of conservative legislation.
An impatient conservative base will have to be sophisticated enough to sustain its support of the GOP as it reverses a little and blocks a lot while still compromising on tactics but never principles. Then the base must – absolutely must – rally all of its support in 2012 to defeat Obama and add to the Republican numbers in both Houses.
Only at that point will significant conservative change become possible and even then it must be handled delicately lest it overreach and risk chaos or, at the very least, loss of popular support. The people of any nation tend to resist massive, rapid, broad-based change.
Any real debt reduction reform program will involve significant changes to social security, medicare and medicaid, among other programs. If these are not handled slowly and very very carefully the voters will reject the Republicans in 2014 just as they did the Dems in 2010 and, one prays, in 2012.
As we ease into 2011 it is clear that Obama will have to deal with an outraged base and that he will have a lot of fence-mending to do. This is where we will learn if the man and his advisors have any real political skills beyond the campaign. He will able to mend this particular fence but he cannot disappoint his base time after time.
The experienced Republican House leadership sees this and can be expected to use its control of the all-important capacity to originate funding bills to force Obama to choose between getting a part of what he wants (while giving up enough to further anger his base) or getting so little that he must run against a Do-Nothing Congress and the “Party of No”.
If he does, it will all come down to public perception.