From almost the first days after Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans had the measure of the man. They saw he didn’t feel strongly about core Democratic economic principles. Even more important from their perspective, he was easily rolled. All Republicans need do was take hard stands, show an unwillingness to give ground, and President Obama would cave.
Running for reelection in 2012 Mr. Obama went to great lengths to try and assure his own party that he had learned his lesson in this regard. He would set out strong positions and stick with them if reelected.
He was reelected, with a huge electoral and a very solid percentage victory over the protect-the-interests-of-the-rich candidacy of Mitt Romney.
The stage was set for a new Barack Obama. A Fighter-in-Chief. A man who would say: “I won on a certain platform. The people want me to keep my promises, govern in a way that accommodates the wishes they clearly expressed with their votes. And what they clearly wanted was to reduce wealth inequality in this country through tax policies that tapped the richest among us who have been getting excessive tax breaks for decades.”
A single easily recognizable number summed up this promise: He would fight for a total increase on top 2 percenters’ income — capital gains and dividend taxes, plus do away with some deductions only employed by these people — and such changes would total $1.6 trillion over 10 years.
That $1.6 trillion over 10 years tax increase on the very rich was in fact Mr. Obama’s first negotiating position coming out of the 2012 election. House Speaker John Boehner then laid out his own first negotiating position — revenue increases of $800 billion over 10 years. The negotiations began.
The negotiations ended yesterday with Congress approving the deal Mr. Obama worked out with the Senate Republicans. It has revenue increases of $600 billion over 10 years, $200 billion less than Speaker Boehner’s first offer.
In essence, the election desires expressed by voters in 2012 were nullified by President Obama’s waffling-cum-caving negotiation style. Beyond this blown opportunity for really meaningful tax changes, Democratic positions on entitlement programs that will be decided in coming months have been seriously, perhaps terminally, undermined by a Democratic president that a defeated-at-the-polls Republican Party know will always roll if seriously challenged.
Mr. Obama has said often and very publicly that he will not give in on Social Security and Medicare “reforms” that Republicans want. Yeah, right. And of course there will be those changes to the tax code that lower rates for big business by doing away with so-called “loopholes.” Will Mr. Obama be rolled on these? Do you really have to ask?
On matters that aren’t economy-based, will Mr. Obama also buckle? Like whether to appoint Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary when neocons and the Israeli lobby oppose the former senator. Our Buckler-in-Chief will cave on this one, too. And anywhere else the GOP decides to fight really hard.
It’s better for the country and the world, of course, that Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney last year. If that thought gives you comfort, fine. But…
We needed a strong leader at a very critical time, economically and politically, on both domestic and foreign policy issues. We got instead a great campaigner who speaks well but lacks a mighty vision — even a discernible vision of any kind — for the country, and the strength of character to bring it about.
As an American I hope the guy in the White House for the next few years shows at least enough gumption not to make it totally impossible for his successor to reverse the damages he has fostered, abetted, or simply allowed to happen. That’s what I hope. I ain’t betting on it.
(My two most recent novels are: Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan and The Bellman’s Revenge.)