Redux Redux

by digby

As I watch Ben Nelson and Susan Collins on television telling everyone what the vaunted "centrists" dictate is acceptable in the stimulus package, I can't resist once again re-posting this post I wrote over a year ago. (Sorry, I can't help myself.)

Just in case anyone's forgotten or are too young to remember --the former Democratic senator from Oklahoma and current Unity 08 poobah, David Boren, is an egomaniac who stabbed Bill Clinton in the back repeatedly when he was trying to pass his economic plan in 1993. (As did Bob Kerrey and Sam Nunn, among others.) After months of Clinton kissing Boren's ass and treating him like the perfumed prince he believes he is, Boren went on "Face The Nation" and announced that he just couldn't support his president.

He had already insisted on getting rid of the proposed BTU tax and wanted a "compromise" that would have dropped all the new taxes on the wealthy and make up the money by capping Medicare and Medicaid and getting rid of Clinton's planned EITC for the poor. He, like Bob Kerrey and many others, were obsessed with "fixing" social security and other "entitlements" in order to cure the deficit.

But there was one thing he believed in more than anything else:

From The Agenda:

Gore asked, what did Boren want changed in the plan in order to secure his vote?

Like a little list? Boren asked.

Yeah, Gore said.

Boren said he didn't have little list. Raising the gas tax a nickel or cutting it a nickel or anything like that wouldn't do it, he said. He had given his list to Moynihan like everybody else in the Finance Committee. It was over and done with, and Boren likened himself to a free agent in baseball. "I have the luxury of standing back here and looking at this," Boren said. His test would be simple: Would it work? If not, it didn't serve the national interest.

Gore said he was optimistic for the first time.

Boren shot back. "There's nothing you can do for me or to me that will influence my decision on this matter." he added. "I'm going to make it on the basis of what I think is right or wrong."

Nobody responded for a moment. Clinton then stepped in. Why didn't Boren think it was in the national interest? he asked.

It wasn't bipartisan,
Boren answered. To be successful in this country it had been demonstrated over and over, an effort had to be bipartisan, Clinton had even said so himself, Boren pointed out. Even most optimists, Boren said, thought they were still not even halfway there.

No Republican voted for the plan. Clinton knew that he would never get any Republicans to vote for a plan to raise taxes on the wealthy after the handful who had done so in 1990 were burned at the stake by the conservative movement. But sure, they would have voted for a "compromise" that raised no taxes, dropped all investment in infrastructure, any help for the poor and capped spending on the sick to cure the deficit. That's bipartisanship, village-style.

Bob Kerrey eventually agreed to vote for the plan making it a 50-50 tie --- which Al Gore broke, passing the plan. (It passed by one vote in the House, as well.)

Right after the vote Kerrey went on the Senate floor said:

"My heart aches with the conclusion that I will vote yes for a bill which challenges Americans too little.

"President Clinton, if you're watching now, as I suspect you are, I tell you this: I could not and should not cast a vote that brings down the presidency...

"Get back on the high road, Mr President,"Kerrey proclaimed. Taxing the wealthy was simply "political revenge," he said. "Our fiscal problems exist because of rapid, uncontrolled growth in the programs that primarily benefit the middle class." Clinton needed to return to the theme of shared sacrifice, he said, and should have said no to the deals and compromises.

And then he went back on his word to Clinton that he wouldn't demand a bipartisan commission to study how to cut all those middle class "entitlements."

David Broder loves David Boren and Bob Kerrey and thinks the country is best served by rabid conservative ideologues and preening Democratic narcissists who lay down for Republicans and fight their own president every step of the way if he wants to enact any kind of progressive legislation. That's called "getting things done."

If you want to defeat that dynamic, you have to take on the Republicans and win the ideological war. There are always Senators who want to stab their leadership in the back and make themselves feel powerful and there are always radicals and there are always villagers. And there are also true ideological differences among the Americans they represent. You can't make them all get together and agree. It's just not the way the system is designed. You have to win the votes of the people and then lead your party to pass your agenda. Making bipartisanship an end in itself is a recipe for failure because it empowers dry sockets like Nelson and Collins and David Broder --- people who believe in the Goldlocks theory of politics even in times of enormous challenge and crisis.

The stakes are too high to cater to flat earth Republicans at this point. Here's Krugman, commenting on David Broder's belief that Obama should take one from column A and one from column B:

You see, this isn’t a brainstorming session — it’s a collision of fundamentally incompatible world views. If one thing is clear from the stimulus debate, it’s that the two parties have utterly different economic doctrines. Democrats believe in something more or less like standard textbook macroeconomics; Republicans believe in a doctrine under which tax cuts are the universal elixir, and government spending is almost always bad.

Obama may be able to get a few Republican Senators to go along with his plan; or he can get a lot of Republican votes by, in effect, becoming a Republican. There is no middle ground

Obama has (finally) been saying something very important the last couple of days and that is that the Republican theories failed. People don't know what to think right now about economics, but that is the first, vital step toward deprogramming them from thirty years of conservative brainwashing. And it isn't particularly nice or bipartisan. Fine. Bring it on.

Update: I'm listening to the press conference today and now the reporters are all questioning why Obama would "add to the debt" when he says he's been left with such a huge debt by the Republicans.

Is economics no longer a required course?