Jonathan Chait directs my attention to a remarkable Michael Gerson column today. It might set a new mainstream media record for compressing the largest number of conservative pathologies into the smallest possible space. First this:
In cliff negotiations, Obama had one overriding goal: to make Republicans vote for rate increases on the wealthy. For 20 years the refusal to raise taxes has been one of the core issues that held together the disparate groups of the GOP. If Obama saw his job as bringing together a broad coalition to fix the long-term debt problem, he would have maneuvered Democrats to take on some of their core issues as part of a package, just as Republicans had to do. But Obama did not view his job this way. He wanted Republicans to swallow their humiliation pure.
That's not even close to reality. Obama's first fiscal cliff offer was a $1.6 trillion bargain that included something like $600 billion in spending cuts. His second offer contained about $900 billion in spending cuts, including reductions in both Medicare and Social Security that Democrats would have had a hard time swallowing. This was only three weeks ago, but apparently Gerson has forgotten already.
Then he goes on to admit that refusing to raise the debt ceiling would be irresponsible. But:
Given this weak Republican position, Obama must be tempted by a shiny political object: the destruction of the congressional GOP. He knows that Republicans are forced by the momentum of their ideology to take positions on spending that he can easily demagogue. He is in a good position to humiliate them again — to expose their internal divisions and unpopular policy views. It may even be a chance to discredit and then overturn the House Republican majority, finally reversing his own humiliation in the 2010 midterms.
Holy cow! Obama might be tempted to expose Republicans' internal divisions and unpopular policy views? The fiend! And Republicans are helpless to resist because
tea party crackpots the momentum of their ideology doesn't allow them to be reasonable. They literally have no choice except to surrender to fanaticism. What's next on Obama's agenda?
Force the GOP to surrender on the debt limit, with nothing in return. Require Republicans to accept new taxes in exchange for any real spending reductions. If they agree, their caucus is fractured (again). And if they refuse (which they are likely to do), paint them as obstructionists and extremists who are willing to destroy the economy/the nation’s credit rating/the military for their own ideological purposes.
Obama wants Republicans to accept new taxes in exchange for spending reductions? Apparently the man will stop at nothing. And we'll all pay the price:
There is one main downside to this approach. It delays any serious action on long-term debt for at least another two (and probably four) years. It is the path of a government that moves from fiscal crisis to crisis, gradually undermining global confidence that it can manage its own affairs. Etc.
Actually, America's finances aren't in bad shape. Obama has already cut the deficit by about $2.4 trillion over the past couple of years, and he's stated repeatedly that he's willing to negotiate another $1.5 trillion as part of the sequestration talks. That would put the federal budget on a pretty sound footing. There's no Armageddon here unless the GOP insists on creating one.
So there you have it. Obama refused to negotiate over the fiscal cliff. His only goal is humiliation and unconditional surrender. The Republican position on taxes should be viewed as a law of nature, so it's unfair to expect them to back off their fanatic position by even a dime. And the end result of all this will be to turn the United States into another Greece.
Gerson has synthesized every Republican phantasm into a concise 800 words. This is how they view things. And then they wonder why they have so much trouble negotiating with someone whose policy views are still firmly rooted in the real world.