Both sides love the Madman Theory

Madman Theory

by digby

Over at Kevin Drum's place Andy Kroll has written a piece excoriating Eric Cantor for failing to be a serious leader:

Apparently, Cantor forgot that the US is not under one-party rule, and that his constituents elected him to do what's expected of all politicians: compromise. The Biden-led deficit negotiations are intentionally bipartisan, and to claim that Democrat-backed tax increases are non-negotiable, as Cantor believes, defies logic. It's not negotiating if one side refuses to give any ground whatsoever. Either Cantor is more intransigent and bound to conservative orthodoxy than we thought, or he's setting up House Speaker John Boehner to be the fall guy who cuts a deal with the Democrats on a short-term deficit reduction plan. Or both.

Maybe. Or maybe they're just playing "good cop--bad-cop" in the great kabuki pageant known as the debt ceiling debate. (That's when negotiators on both sides already know the outcome and everything that comes before is a matter of posturing and performing for people who have interests that are not being served by the deal.)

In any case, Atrios is right -- it certainly is "negotiating" if you know for a fact that the other side is terrified of the deal falling apart (and will do anything to prevent that from happening) to walk out and hold fast once you've achieved your end of the bargain. In fact, that's good negotiating. Assuming that Democrats really give a shit about raising taxes, which I doubt, they are left holding the bag (surprise!) because the "revenue enhancements" they now require oddly weren't requested until the cuts had been agreed to.

Kroll concludes with this, which I think is sort of cute:

What's clear is that any deficit reduction plan must include new revenue of some kind. After all, it was partly the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 that got us into this mess in the first place. Not filling that $2.6-trillion hole with new revenue would be madness.

Sez who? The GOP Madmen? Evidently Kroll has never heard of the Madman Theory:

Nixon explained the strategy to his White House Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman:
I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, "for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button"and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.

Perhaps the Democrats really truly wanted a clean bill but were persuaded that the Republicans would meet them halfway if they agreed to negotiate. But they really should have anticipated that there was a possibility that the Tea Party freak show would leave them with no choice but to give in or call their bluff. Indeed, it's so obvious (and so foreshadowed by the public statements of all parties) that I simply don't believe they didn't anticipate it. Each side has something to gain by that pretense --- Obama gets his Geithnerian cuts without having to take responsibility for it and Boehner gets to bring back some serious scalps to his teabaggers. But it seems obvious to me that they both wanted the same things from this deal and knew what the end game would be before they started -- to raise the debt ceiling and enact large cuts in spending.

Obama said last night at the DNC LGBT event in New York:

There is an important debate in Washington right now about cutting the deficit. And it is absolutely critical that we cut the deficit. Like families all across America, government has to live within its means. And I'm prepared to bring down our deficit by trillions of dollars -- that's "trillions" with a "t."

He says he plans to do this without sacrificing winning the future, so that's good.

Whatever the case about these debt ceiling "negotiations", there are only two ways to look at how we got to this place: The Democrats are either naive little children who have no idea what they are dealing with or they were well aware (due to their numerous public and private statements to that effect) that the Republicans had every intention of raising the debt ceiling but were more than willing to let them deploy the Madman strategy in order to get those "trillions with a t" in spending cuts without being the bad guy. There is no other option.

It's not that the Democrats or Republicans are good or bad negotiators. It's that beyond how to sell the outcome to their respective constituencies, there aren't any real negotiations going on at all.

Update: No More Mister Nice Blog has an interesting observation on this piece as well. I would just add that in the Village this is referred to as "holding hands and jumping over the cliff together."