Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cliff Jumping: today’s wicked liberal temptation

Barack Obama is strong in the polls and is enjoying his second honeymoon in Washington. Once again, he’s Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”.

However, this lovely year is dying and, as in 2008, the year approaching is killing the holiday spirit. Rather than boast about the last campaign or act as though it holds all the cards, Obama’s White House keeps trying to compromise with Republicans.

Rather than only exempting income under $250,000 from higher tax rates, he now proposes to exempt income under $400,000. Furthermore, he’s agreed to constrain the growth of Social Security payments. Overall, he’s offered a plan that is less liberal than many Democrats would like, but sufficiently conservative to rally the support of business and moderates. Overwhelmingly, they see their interests best served by incremental restraint, incremental deficit reduction, and incremental revenue enhancing tax changes—whatever a majority of legislators and the President agree is necessary to sustain the recovery and avoid another crisis that would make America look stupid.

Obama doesn’t talk about bi-partisanship anymore; he just scorns extremists and those who avoiding making a deal. Also, he says he’s prepared to keep negotiating. This is making some influential liberals very uncomfortable.  Are Democrats reverting to Wimps? Timothy Noah asks in today’s post for The New Republic.

Calling a politician a “wimp” can be dangerous. Remember George Bush’s first term? However, this isn’t Obama’s first crisis, nor is it his first term. Politically and legislatively, he’s done quite well settling for what often appeared at the time as less than half a loaf.

Daredevil liberals presume that Obama finally has sufficient political capital to intimidate the more pragmatic Republicans and shouldn’t be compromising anymore. If those blockhead Republicans don’t give in voluntarily they can be bullied into after Washington, Wall Street and American self-confidence goes over the “Fiscal Cliff”. Whoopee!

If only politics was only theatre and its artists controlled the scripts. Winning on fiscal policy, however, isn’t ever clear-cut or permanent. New Deal Democrats didn’t get through their agenda before they were thrown out. Reagan and Thatcher conservatives didn’t undo big government or even change the public’s habit of turning to the state for help and solutions.

Before risking another recession that—in advance—looks manageable, liberals should recall why they feel like winners, and why that feeling could be fleeting.

They won, in large part, because millions of Americans decided that Obama offered a more careful Presidency than the alternative. And they want a careful President because the economy and America’s stature are recovering.

Maybe there is no honorable deal to be had over the next ten days. However, insisting Obama win big in this lame duck Congress carries immeasurable risk. Historically, economic prosperity has been good for liberal incumbents. And retrenchment has been very tough.

Avoiding another recession and the scorn of the world are not only the responsibility of wimps. Obama’s extraordinarily liberal agenda—immigration reform, now gun control, implementing universal healthcare, advancing gay rights, and possibly, securing election finance reform—needs the climate of generosity and confidence that economic prosperity inspires.

Going over the “Fiscal Cliff” could destroy John Boehner. However, returning to mean times could save the Tea Party in 2014. 

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