With Friends Like These ...
I'm watching an exasperated John King on CNN right now visibly stunned that the liberals don't see the savvy genius of Obama's move to freeze Federal Workers' pay. He says:
King: The president here, he knew, the House was going to be in Republican hands in January. A pay freeze was was going to be in their budget. So he decided to be the engine not the caboose, to get out ahead of this, which is smart politics for the president. Get out and get some credit on this and show the voters, "I hear you" we're going to do something.
Here's Larry Mishel who runs the Economic Policy Institute, a labor backed think tank in Washington, says "this is another example of the administration's tendency to bargain with itself rather than Republicans, and in the process reinforces conservative myths, in this case the myth that federal workers are overpaid."
I'll keep going on this point. On the Daily Kos today Jed Lewison writes, "So... instead of actually doing something real about 'sky high deficit spending' (like pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq ahead of schedule), we get a symbolic gesture that will reduce federal spending by less than 0.05 percent.And with that symbolic gesture we witness President Obama's unfortunate alter-ego, President Gimmick."
This is from the Left.
(Hearty derisive laughter from the panel.)
Paul Begala: Yes but I do think his point about capitulating rather than negotiating is a valid one with this president. The pay freeze is probably a good idea but should have come out of negotiation. What do the Republicans give, when the president gives...
Gloria Borger: Why not give something first though? People don't like government and this is an easy gimme for the president.
Begala: What are the Republicans proposing? Then you get it on the Republicans turf. Why don't you say I'll freeze federal pay and cut this in return for this and that program but you guys need to come with taxes on the rich at least say people who make over a million bucks don't get a tax cut. My Lord ...
Borger: Well maybe there's something else he can negotiate.
I'm sure there is. Why not throw in debtor's prisons? It wouldn't be enough to totally appease them, but it would go a long way toward proving they are "responsible."
They prattled on a bit with both Dana Bash and Borger agreed with John King that this was very smart politics because it was something that was easy to give to "make the point." Then John King turned to "analyst" Erick Erickson:
King: To that point, if your the Republicans and the president has made this gesture tonight, the man who will be House speaker said "good for you Mr President, this is something we would have done anyway." [When, by the way, did the House gain unilateral power? Last I'd heard they were practically superfluous and everything depended on getting 60 votes in the Senate.]
Do the Republicans now reciprocate or do they just demand more?
Erickson: I think they probably demand more seeing as he folded so easy on this one. Why not? The problem is that they are fighting on the wrong ground. If you look at the data the federal workforce is only 200 thousand people larger than it was in 1960. With the inflation of population growth that's ridiculously small...
Borger (scoffing): So are earmarks!
Crickets from the panel on the "folded" comment. Erickson said something stupid about federal workers at the state and local level needing to be cut and then he and King went back and forth about taxes, with Erickson parroting the usual "we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem" as if that makes any sense at all.
Then Borger just couldn't stand it any longer:
Borger: Can I just defend what the president did today? Sometimes I believe presidents have to make symbolic gestures. Ok? And this was symbolic, just look at your pie chart. And you're about to get a report from the deficit commission you're about to sit down tomorrow with congressional leaders. People care about deficit reduction, they don't like the federal government very much, they think that federal employees are treated differently on their health care and on their pay increases, so he made a symbolic gesture. What's wrong with that?
I guess the reasons why it's wrong as stated by Begala, Larry Mishel and Jed Lewison were so completely outside of her comfort zone that they aren't even worth considering.
They all went on to agree that the deficit is caused by wars, tax cuts for the rich and the recession yadda, yadda yadda whatever. Who cares, everyone needs to sacrifice! Then they also agreed that both sides are equally to blame for the bad relations that poison the meeting tomorrow between the president and Republican congressional leaders (who are on record saying that their most important priority is his defeat at all costs.)
At that point King actually let fly with this old trope (I'm not lying):
King: Why, why is it so bad? Why can't you go back and I guess we're going back too far, to the days of Reagan when he and Tip O'Neill would spar like hell but they weren't afraid to have a drink... Why is that gone?
Look, when the president's staunchest defenders are villagers like Borger and King, you know he's on the wrong track. In fact, you really don't need to know anything more than when they say something is "smart politics" to reject it out of hand and start over.
I hope the White House is not taking any comfort from this support from beltway gasbags. It's a Democratic disease to think that pleasing the wealthy celebrities who make up the political punditocracy is a good guide to successful governance. These are, after all, people who are so caught up in their useless false equivalence that they continually ask why the relations between the two parties are so hostile. Sure it's rhetorical, but the problem is that in their view it's perfectly obvious that if only the president would just pass the Republican agenda everything would be fine. And what could be wrong with that?