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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Centrist Compromiser Vs. Obstructionist Ideologues

The false equivalency commentators of the MSM are juxtaposing the speeches of President Obama and Speaker Boehner last night in predictable “on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand” reports. But WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. has a more perceptive take, for those who prefer to take it straight:

President Obama made clear tonight that the debate over the debt ceiling is not left vs. right. It’s center vs. right. There was nothing remotely “left” in this speech, unless you count higher taxes for corporate jet owners and a few other populist bits.
He summarized his approach this way: “Let’s live within our means by making serious, historic cuts in government spending. Let’s cut domestic spending to the lowest level it’s been since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Let’s cut defense spending at the Pentagon by hundreds of billions of dollars. Let’s cut out the waste and fraud in health care programs like Medicare — and at the same time, let’s make modest adjustments so that Medicare is still there for future generations. Finally, let’s ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.”

Dionne adds that the exchange is likely to clarify the GOP brand for those viewers who were still unclear: “…Republicans have defined their party as being committed to low taxes for the wealthy above everything else. If anything good can come out of this strange episode, it is that no one will ever be able to doubt that proposition in the future.”
Dionne also credits President Obama with doing a good job of explaining the reasons for the economic crisis and nailing the GOP for their double standard: “It was a direct hit at Republicans who seemed not to worry about deficits until Obama took office — and now blame him for much of the red ink they themselves spilled.”
But “The most persuasive argument in Obama’s speech,” according to Dionne, had to do with calling the Republicans out on their plans for holding the economy hostage in the future:

Based on what we’ve seen these past few weeks, we know what to expect six months from now. The House will once again refuse to prevent default unless the rest of us accept their cuts-only approach…And once again, the economy will be held captive unless they get their way.”

But Dionne believes the Republicans may be putting themselves into an indefensible position with just one way out:

Obama’s speech spoke more to middle-of-the-road Americans than Boehner’s did because Obama was clearly talking to them. Boehner has to prove over and over that he’s faithful to the folks at the right end of his caucus, and it’s starting to take a toll. That’s why Republicans may yet find themselves wanting to get the debt-ceiling matter out of the way without forcing another round of this madness.

Dionne acknowledges that “this whole mess is not making any politician in Washington look good.” In a struggle between a flexible centrist and a faction of increasingly rigid ideologues, however, any advantage is more likely to benefit the former.

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