Republicans have done a great job over the past two years of tearing the Democratic Party apart. Their posture of relentless obstruction has pushed President Obama to compromise even more than he wanted to,1 and the logic of politics says that any bill that passes, regardless of how it turns out, should be embraced as a legislative triumph. The resulting combination of compromise and the glorification of compromise has seriously alienated the progressive wing of the party2 and provoked open warfare within the liberal base. Good job, Republicans!
So what would be the best strategic response of liberals to the debt ceiling deal? It’s really pretty obvious: we should be singing its praises; we should be gleefully pointing out that its spending cuts are heavily backloaded and might never happen — and that lots of them are sort of imaginary anyway; we should be dancing in the streets over the heavy focus on defense cuts; and we should be crowing about how this deal makes expiration of the Bush tax cuts all but inevitable. In short, we should be applauding the way the tea party got rolled yet again by its own leaders.
Is this stuff all true? Not really. Or not entirely, anyway, though all of these items have a germ of truth to them. But focusing on these points would help to incite open warfare in the Republican Party, which is pretty close to it already. This would be great for liberals and well deserved by conservatives.
But we won’t do it. Hell, I haven’t done it. It might be a terrific strategy, but we’re not really constitutionally cut out to do this kind of thing. That’s kinda too bad. It would fun once in a while to give conservatives a dose of their own medicine.
1I’ll get questions about this, so let’s get concrete about it. If Obama had had more votes available to him, I believe he would have supported a stronger healthcare bill that included a public option; he would have supported a second stimulus; and he would have supported passage of a cap-and-trade bill. He wouldn’t have supported a stronger financial regulation bill and he wouldn’t have changed his national security/civil liberties posture (though I do think he would have shut down Guantanamo if he could have). If this is how things had gone down, he’d still have critics on the left, but in general liberals would be far, far more united behind him.
2And, yes, Obama has made it even worse by his obvious eagerness to disown his own base. But I think the nearly unanimous Republican obstruction to his agenda has been a much bigger factor.