Krugman: “President Pushover”

From Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Book (link here) via Paul Krugman:

[Obama’s past concessions have] established in both Democrats’ and Republicans’ minds the thought that Obama was a weak negotiator—a “pushover.”

No news there, and in my mind, not true in the actual world (see below). But it is true in the ad-man world of “perception is reality,” the world of the easily fooled (look around; you see a few).

In that sense the “President Pushover” meme matters, and that’s what Obama’s selling himself as, whether he wants to or not. He still has this large hopey-changey aura from legions of our low information voters clinging to his cloak, but the noticing ones (early adopters of the next round of change) are dropping away rapidly.

The real news from Ms. Drew is her view of inside-the-White House thinking.

It all goes back to the “shellacking” Obama took in the 2010 elections. The President’s political advisers studied the numbers and concluded that the voters wanted the government to spend less. … [T]he political advisers believed that elections are decided by middle-of-the-road independent voters, and this group became the target for determining the policies of the next two years.

Note that those middle-of-the-road voters are the “easily fooled” mentioned above. (For more on low-information voters, read this from Chris Hayes; an eye-opener.)

Ignore the fact that this thinking has nothing to do with integrity, or ideas, or policy, or Audacity, or Hope; it’s pure what’s-best-for-me-now. Here’s Krugman on what’s wrong with this thinking from a political standpoint:

As I recall, two things happened last year: voters were angry about the weak economy, and older voters believed that Obama was going to take away their Medicare and send them to the death panels. And so the way to win those voters back is to cut Medicare and weaken the economy?

Exactly. If the Double Dip Fairy shows up (is that its little head just at the door?), and if the Republicans attack Obama on Social Security and Medicare (duh), all bets are off for 2012.

So what’s really going on? I think Ms. Drew is right in her analysis of insider White House thinking. I asked earlier if the GOP was trying to crash the economy on purpose. There are three players — the Obamas, the Boehners, and the Cantors (Tea Party players). Your analysis depends on whether you think it’s Obama & Boehner vs. the Tea Party, or Boehner & Tea Partiers vs. Obama.

My best guess is the former (Obama-Boehner) with the outcome vs. the Tea Party still in doubt. The Tea Party, I think, really does believe that the only apocalypse is the one in the book they worhsip, that Geithner can dance away from trouble for months if he has to. Obama and Boehner seem to be 99% agreed, with most of the fiddling being done on appearances. (Does Obama need to appear to force new revenue? Does Boehner need to appear to reject it?)

Me? I’m rooting for the Tea Party to force a last-minute clean bill, but I believe in the Happy Ending Fairy.

If all three players are in it together, we’re sunk. In that light, I found this from Digby to be very thoughtful. It’s from Michael Hudson speaking on KPFA radio (my emphases):

It’s a good cop-bad cop charade. The Republicans are playing the role of the bad cop. Their script says: “You cannot raise taxes on anybody. No progressive income tax, no closing of tax loopholes for special interests, not even prosecutions for tax fraud. And we can get a lot of money back into the economy if we give a tax holiday to the companies and individuals that have been keeping their money offshore. Let’s free the wealthy from taxes to help us recover.’

Mr. Obama can turn around and pretend to be the good cop. “Hey, boys, let me at least do something. I’m willing to cut back Social Security. I’m willing to take over what was George Bush’s program. I share your worries about the budget deficit. We have to balance it, and I’ve already appointed a Deficit Reduction Commission to prepare public opinion for my cutbacks in the most popular programs. But you have to let me get a little bit of revenue somewhere.”

In the end the Republicans will make some small token concessions, but they’ll get their basic program. Mr. Obama will have sold out his constituency.

Click here to see the interview audio link.

That’s the analysis that says that either Boehner–Obama–Tea Party are all play-acting for our benefit (we’re screwed); or that Boehner–Tea Party will force President Pushover into the worst possible deal (we’re screwed). President Pushover or Deceiver-in-chief? It may not matter.

And the outcome? Place your bets now, folks; the last dice are coming out.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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