Some commentators wonder why President Obama always engages in brinksmanship. Why can’t he meet Republicans halfway, they ask, the way Bill Clinton did. Let me try to respond.
One blogger suggests that Obama prefers to play chicken, taking the nation right to the edge of a fiscal disaster because it will increase the likelihood that the GOP will cave. Perhaps, but there’s more to it.
Many of us warned that Obama is not, by nature or ideology, a conciliator. He is not a centrist, and he’s not someone who is interested in the other side’s ideas. He knows what he wants to do, and he is hell-bent on doing it. He is not just playing hardball as a matter of strategy; he has no interest in compromise and is angling to get his way entirely. And he wants to further damage the Republican brand in the process.
The way Obama probably looks at it is that either Republicans will cave and he will get most of what he wants, or the Republicans will hold fast and he can effectively blame them for taking us over the fiscal cliff. You’ll note that in neither of these explanations is there a hint that Obama is motivated to do what is best for the country. He intends to act in his own best interests and those of his party, and decidedly against the interests of the GOP and, ultimately, the nation.
To better understand what we’re dealing with and what the stakes are in these negotiations, let’s take a look at what people mean when they say we’re headed toward a fiscal cliff in January — as distinguished from the much bigger cliff we’re heading for if we don’t get our deficits and debt under control very soon.
The immediate fiscal cliff includes the largest tax increase in a single year in our nation’s history ($494 billion), dangerous defense cuts via sequestration, a Medicare reimbursement fiasco and an expiration of federal funding for extended unemployment benefits.
Despite these looming concerns, Obama hasn’t approached these budget talks in good faith, but in a way that even former defenders recognize is designed to result in an impasse. Indeed, Obama’s proposal is so manifestly unreasonable that even members of his own party – Democratic senators and congressmen — have consistently rejected less extreme versions of it in its unanimous votes against his budgets.
Consider: He chose Timothy Geithner to be his lead negotiator. Geithner has repeatedly shown he is not serious about entitlement reform. He and the president have failed even to put a proposal on the table. Also, they’ve proposed no real short-term spending cuts, twice the level of tax increases Obama campaigned on, more stimulus spending, an intransigent demand for an economy-smothering tax rate increase on the “wealthy” as opposed to decreases in deductions, and the topper: a demand that Congress surrender to this reckless spender of a president its constitutional prerogative over spending limits.
The upshot is that Obama is demanding Republicans agree to policies that will further damage the economy and ensure the nation’s financial demise even sooner than is now inevitable. Adding insult to injury, Geithner is arrogantly boasting that Republicans will cave.
Republicans are agreeing to let Obama increase taxes (by reducing deductions for upper income earners) even with the anemic economy, but are demanding from him, on behalf of the nation, serious discretionary spending cuts and major structural entitlement reform. If Republicans cave in exchange for Obama’s vague, illusory, insincere promises to cut spending and reform entitlement down the road, they will be complicit in accelerating the nation’s fiscal destruction.
Some painfully superficial analysts argue that Obama is right to offer an extreme position as his first volley, because that’s the way negotiations work. But Obama’s hardball offer is not merely a different approach to the shared goal of restoring the nation’s fiscal health. It unequivocally guarantees national bankruptcy while the Republicans’ proposal is designed to avert that disaster.
Obama is playing chicken, all right, but he’s not driving his own car; he’s driving the United States of America. People can quibble endlessly over whether he is intentionally trying to harm America. The better way to frame it is that Obama is, by his own admission, trying to fundamentally transform America.
His transforming vision means continuing to expand the welfare state, major tax hikes, increased spending and obstructing reform of our already insolvent entitlement programs, the major debt drivers that are leading us toward the real “fiscal cliff.”
Obama’s policies in furtherance of his vision — as clearly laid out during the campaign and even more so during these “fiscal cliff” negotiations — left unchecked will complete the fiscal destruction of the nation.
So if you insist, don’t call it intentional destruction. Call it, euphemistically, “the intentional fundamental transformation of America that will necessarily destroy her.”