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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Best Deal He Could Get?

We’re going to be arguing about this one for a while, and when we’re done the historians will be mulling it over in their books about the Obama presidency. My guess is that they are going to have tough time making it understandable to readers who wonder– “How in the hell did a liberal Democratic president with a healthy majority in both houses of congress, agree to a deal that extends Bush’s tax cuts for the rich?”
Some will shrug it off, “perhaps he wasn’t that liberal after all.” Others may liken him to General McClellan, Lincoln’s reluctant warrior-chief. The more meticulous historians will walk their readers through the tight timetable Obama was dealing with and the certain senate filibuster the House-passed tax bill the President preferred was facing, before finally settling on the least-bleak option he had.
Arguably, the President’s clock management and bully pulpit deployment should have been better. And jeez, couldn’t he at least have forced the GOP to eat a tax hike for millionaires at a time when corporate profits are shattering records? (Not that it would have reduced the budget deficit much). And as Paul Waldman notes in The American Prospect, the offer of a federal pay freeze now looks even more like a moral and strategic blunder.
What is undeniable, however, is that our politics are dysfunctional when a sharp Democratic president with healthy majorities in both houses can’t pass a moderately progressive tax bill. A lot of smart progressives are sharply critical of Obama’s leadership on the issue, including Paul Krugman, who sees the deal weakening the President’s re-election chances and Katrina vanden Heuval, who makes a persuasive case that it was more a problem of limited presidential will and vision than one of structural limitations.
I come down sympathetic to Obama, although I doubt that this was the very best deal he could get. Ezra Klein, on the other hand, makes a plausible argument that it certainly isn’t the worst case scenario. He didn’t, after all, accept permanent tax cuts for the rich. And as Jonathan Bernstein emphasizes in his New Republic post, “The Tax-Cut Deal Is Actually a Win for the Democrats,” Dems did deliver on tax cuts for the middle class.
None of this will matter much if the economy confounds the pundits and somehow comes roaring back before July or August, ’12, in which case Obama will begin to look like Clinton on steroids. Not bloody likely, but investment in manufacturing has been sluggish for a long time now, so a little hope is not out of the question.
Where we go from here is an all out effort to enact the remaining Democratic priorities, including DADT, the Dream Act and any other doable reforms we can cram into the agenda before Boehner takes over the House. With these reforms enacted and added to the Obama Administrations accomplishments thus far, along with some discernable economic gains, he’ll have a record to run on.

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