It appears to be true that the President wanted tax revenues to be part of this deal. But it is absolutely false that he did not want these brutal budget cuts and was simply forced -- either by his own strategic "blunders" or the "weakness" of his office -- into accepting them. The evidence is overwhelming that Obama has long wanted exactly what he got . . .With that as a starting point, the discussion at Corey Robin's blog post swirls around the question - is Obama getting what he wants, or is both stupid and incompetent, repeatedly rolled by a group of fire-eating Republicans? If one takes the fight over the stimulus package in early 2009 as one's template, it is pretty clear that, right down the line, Obama has received what he wanted. In that case, the Republicans in Congress kept pushing to keep it smaller, the Democrats adding bits here and there only to have them taken out until the stimulus was almost exactly the size and scope the President originally asked for.
As I wrote back in April when progressive pundits in D.C. were so deeply baffled by Obama's supposed "tactical mistake" in not insisting on a clean debt ceiling increase, Obama's so-called "bad negotiating" or "weakness" is actually "shrewd negotiation" because he's getting what he actually wants (which, shockingly, is not always the same as what he publicly says he wants). In this case, what he wants -- and has long wanted, as he's said repeatedly in public -- are drastic spending cuts. In other words, he's willing -- eager -- to impose the "pain" [The New Republic's Jonathan] Cohn describes on those who can least afford to bear it so that he can run for re-election as a compromise-brokering, trans-partisan deficit cutter willing to "take considerable heat from his own party."
From regulatory reform for the financial industry to health care reform to the various incarnations of the budget and debt limit debates, the results usually end up where the President wanted them. Furthermore, that the President didn't push harder for a jobs bill, for cap-and-trade legislation, for the card check bill that has been a long-sought piece of legislation from labor, that he has not only continued but extended many of the Bush Administration policies on the use of drones in Pakistan, indefinite detention, domestic surveillance, ignoring the role of Congress in committing American troops to combat in Libya - all of these make clear that, rather than a dime's worth of difference, there isn't even a penny's worth of difference between the positions Obama works for and the general goals of the Republican Party.
Don't forget, last year Obama could barely be pushed out of the White House to campaign for Democrats in Congress. Is that because he wanted to appear above the fray? Or is it, perhaps, because he saw the Congressional Democrats as a hindrance to the achievement of his preferred policy goals? Because the leadership, particularly of the House Democrats, is far more liberal than he or the leadership of the Senate Democrats (Harry Reid is best described as Rockefeller Republican, is pro-life, and receives a whole lot of campaign money from Wall Street), getting the Republicans in charge of the lower chamber would allow him to work with a group that has a similar set of policy goals while at the same time giving him political cover in the face of partisan complaints from liberals.
The constant lament among liberals that the Republicans are being unreasonable, that it is all the fault of the Republicans that we are in our current mess is just blind to the reality that we are exactly where Pres. Obama wants us. I don't blame Republicans. I see the entire system as working exactly as it is designed to work.
Which is an even more frightening thought. . . .