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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bargaining With Political Sociopaths

by digby

Listening to Harry Reid extol the patriotism of the three remaining Republican "moderates," makes me wonder what he would have said if these so-called centrists had truly defied their leadership and simply voted to pass a decent stimulus without turning it into an circus sideshow, thus blunting the effect and giving the Republican wrecking crew the ongoing ability to hold this economy hostage for purely political reasons.

Just as a point of contrast, in 2001, Bush stole the election and right out of the box proposed massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Here's how that went down:

BROWNSTEIN: April 2001, George Bush comes in $1.6 trillion tax cut. The House passes it, exactly as written. Senate cuts it $450 billion. He gets half of it back in conference.

Granted, that was a Republican free money plan for rich contributors, so there was bipartisan support. But, it shows that a president with very shaky popularity who didn't even win the popular vote and had a scant one vote majority in the Senate, can dominate the process even when there isn't an emergency. Bush went on to turn the congress into his loveslave after 9/11.

I think the Obama administration believed that his major victory, the failure of Bush's policies and the sheer magnitude of the crisis would necessitate the kind of lockstep cooperation that Bush had after 9/11 when they passed the Patriot Act nearly unanimously or at least have the kind of bipartisan support that Bush's free money plan got after this dubious election victory. But if the shoe had been on the other foot, and the rightful president Al Gore had been in office, the first act of business wouldn't have been to gather around him, they would have immediately instituted impeachment proceedings. That's who they are.

But he really didn't seem to understand that he's not dealing with a sane opposition party, much less one that is cowed by crisis or the popularity of the president. I hope they've learned that even if the Republicans want to pass a bill (which I suspect was the case with this one) they will publicly oppose it for political reasons, weaken it as much as possible and then deny Obama his "bipartisan" win.

The only way to get real bipartisan support is to pass conservative proposals. I have no doubt that they'll get some GOP cross over to continue to bail out the banks despite grassroots anger at the financial elites. There are always a few designated conservatives who will do what it takes to protect the aristocrats and there will be some vote trading among those who need to vote against it in order to keep their seats with those who stand no danger of losing theirs. It's the NAFTA process, whereby both parties want to service the elites, but have to pretend to care about the rubes.

But the real problem will be made manifest down the road when the adminisgtration starts "negotiating" on progressive initiatives. If they believe that they have to do this one from column a and one from column b approach, then they are going to get taken to the cleaners over and over again, much as Clinton was. (Only Clinton had peace and a big, fat bubble to prop him up and give him a second term.)

Likewise, if they think they can make a fiscal responsibility Grand Bargain with a bunch of tax cutting thugs, they are engaging in wishful thinking. It's clear that the Republicans have no intention of ever engaging in bipartisanship that isn't a phony compromise that favors --- Republicans. That'swhy even talking about entitlement reform in the middle of this crisis is a bad decision. They should be talking about "health care" reform period, which people understand to be an expansion of benefits and a lowering of costs, not a cutback.

Obama will make a huge mistake mistake if he even thinks about bargaining away social security in order to get health care just as the baby boomers are retiring. They have been paying double into social security since 1986, most of their working lives, on the understanding that their cohort was gigantic and needed extra money to pay for the program. They have just lost a huge chunk of their retirement savings in the stock and housing markets, right on the cusp of their retirement, something they were assured could not happen. Even if he tries to sell social security "reform" as the price for saving medicare, it won't matter. If Obama wants to see a generational uprising, wait until he gets a load of the aging boomers, pissed off and freaked out. No matter how much he reassures them that he only means to screw younger workers, they will not stand still for it. (And a few of them may even love their kids.)

Obama does not have to tackle every single problem he sees on the distant horizon during his first term, especially one that doesn't exist. If he puts social security in the mix with health care under the rubric of "entitlement reform" he will weaken the first and destroy his chances of enacting the second. There are no Grand Bargains with political sociopaths. All you do is give them the opportunity to kill your agenda.