After the Democratic “shellacking” in the midterm elections, everyone wondered how President Obama would respond. Would he show what he was made of? Would he stand firm for the values he believes in, even in the face of political adversity?
On Monday, we got the answer: he announced a pay freeze for federal workers. This was an announcement that had it all. It was transparently cynical; it was trivial in scale, but misguided in direction; and by making the announcement, Mr. Obama effectively conceded the policy argument to the very people who are seeking — successfully, it seems — to destroy him.
So I guess we are, in fact, seeing what Mr. Obama is made of.
It gives us exactly no pleasure to acknowledge this stuff.
Another way to slice through this column is via the pay freeze. For Krugman, Obama did exactly the wrong thing, a meaningless gesture that nevertheless conceded the Conservative narrative. “[F]reezing federal pay is cynical deficit-reduction theater. … The actual savings, about $5 billion over two years, are chump change given the scale of the deficit.”
Contrast the meaningless federal pay freeze with the actual hit the deficit will take if (when) Obama caves in on the Big Boy tax cuts: “Meanwhile, there’s a real deficit issue on the table: whether tax cuts for the wealthy will, as Republicans demand, be extended.”
In other words, Obama could have used the pay freeze as a way to emphasize the hard line on real deficit reduction. Did he?
[H]e didn’t. Instead, he apparently intended the pay freeze announcement as a peace gesture to Republicans the day before a bipartisan summit. At that meeting, Mr. Obama, who has faced two years of complete scorched-earth opposition, declared that he had failed to reach out sufficiently to his implacable enemies. He did not, as far as anyone knows, wear a sign on his back saying “Kick me,” although he might as well have [my emphasis].
Krugman then asks the inevitable — Why? What on earth is the White House thinking?
He offers several possible answers. For example: It’s almost as if Obama’s systematically trying “to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake”. Ouch. (The Professor misses the obvious answer — the White House does what Our Owners want them to do — but hey, we’re all guessing here.)
Regardless, for Krugman as for others the new bottom line is the title of this piece. The Democratic party can no longer look to Obama for leadership; it has to look elsewhere. For Krugman, that means Congress, at least for now.
Me, I’ll need to see it; after all, it is Cave Week.