Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Days before a close election, Obama publicly looks forward to - deficit cutting and bipartisanship!

President Obama will be very visibly focusing of emergency management with the "Frankenstorm" for much of the time between now and the election a week from today.

But prior to the storm, he was back at his postpartisan. deficit-cutting schtick to which he seems remarkably committed.

In this case, it seems to be in defiance of what the most obvious and conventional campaign calculations would dictate. If his campaign thinks there is really a great passion to slash the federal budget including annoying frivolities like federal disaster relief and emergency preparedness, then maybe it makes sense.

But in the middle of a depression and ongoing climate disaster, nobody but
David Brooks much wants to hear about Democrats cutting the deficit. And in the last two weeks of a close Presidential campaign, you would think that even the most cynical electioneering would make Obama want to emphasize the differences with the Republicans, if not for his own sake for the sake of the downticket races.

Romney and the Republicans would have been especially vulnerable on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid if Obama had kept up a sustained attack with heavy emphasis on fighting to preserve benefits on those programs. But since on Wednesday of next week, whether Obama wins or loses, the fight against his Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be the most urgent domestic political event. It's understandable, if still surprising, that the White House may be calculating that it would make it too difficult for him to win those cuts if he campaigned prominently against such cuts leading up to Election Day.

Talking about "working across the aisle" is standard campaign stump rhetoric. It's especially important for Republicans who need to take some of the edge off the damaging programs and unpopular positions they take. But Obama is going out of his way to predict new-found piece and harmony with Republicans in Congress after the election. Is he serious? Does he not care about the downticket races? Would he maybe prefer having a Republican House and Senate?

There is something to be said for his hopes for Republican cooperation. If his goal is to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, since the Republicans in Congress hate those programs and want to privatize or eliminate them, they made decide to let him have those cuts and take the political fallout for them. And the Republicans have cooperated on Obama's foreign policy; we really can't say they've been obstructionist on foreign policy during his first term. When they largely agree with his approach, as they generally do on foreign policy, they have shown they can be willing to cooperate.

Still, after four years of ruthless obstructionism on domestic policy, after four more years of progressive radicalization of the Republican Party, it really is wishing for a lot to say some of the things Obama has been saying publicly. Sabrina Siddiqui reports in Obama, In Morning Joe Interview, Predicts War Inside Republican Party If He Is Reelected Huffington Post 10/29/2012:

President Barack Obama said in an interview Monday that the Republican party would have to overcome an internal war if he were reelected, but expressed hope that the partisan gridlock in Washington could come to an end.

"There are a whole range of issues I think where we can actually bring the country together with a non-ideological agenda," Obama said in a pre-taped interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." ...

Asked by host Joe Scarborough what would be different if, in a second term, Obama was once again dealing with a Republican majority in the House, the president expressed more optimism that Democrats and Republicans would come together to tackle the debt and deficit.

"I truly believe that if we can get the deficit and debt issues solved, which I believe we can get done in the lame-duck or in the immediate aftermath of the lame-duck, then that clears away a lot of the ideological underbrush," he said. "And then now we can start looking at a whole bunch of other issues that, as I said, historically have not been that ideological."
It's hard to know what to make of that. The "deficit and debt issues" basically involve everything that needs to get done in politics. So that hardly makes sense. It's almost too much too believe that Obama really thinks that the Republican Party won't continue to use "deficit and debt issues" to beat him and the Democrats over the head, even thought they don't actually care about either.

The implication of Obama's statements on this is that he expects there to be some kind of moderate wing fighting a right wing inside the Republican Party. That might be feasible if there were a moderate wing left. It would be stretching it to say there's even a moderate remnant left. There are factions within the Republican Party grouped around individuals (politicians and billionaires). There are major religious factions (traditional fundamentalist Protestants, fundamentalist Catholics, fundamentalists demon-chasing Pentecostals and fundamentalist Mormons. Some parts of the Party may be closer to this business lobby than they are to that one.

But this looks to me like a recipe for continuing radicalization. I don't see any of those factions mounting a major dissent in favor of women's rights, or in opposition to the segregationist voter-suppression laws the Party has adopted nationally as a key strategy to keep the electorate as white as possible. A pro-union faction? Ha!

Obama also just told a radio interviewer (Michael Smerconish, Obama Talks Second Term Plans Huffington Post 10/28/2012):

Well, I think the most important thing is, after the election -- and I believe I'm going to win -- to once again bring the Republicans together with my administration and Democrats and say to them, the election is over; we still have some big problems to solve, and the goal of making me a one-term president is behind us. And the question now is, how do we move forward in a way that strengthens middle-class families, makes sure that job growth is strong, and that wages are going up.

Probably the first piece of business is going to be to go ahead and fix our deficit and debt issues, and make a decision about how big our government is and how we're going to pay for it. And I put forward a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan - we've already cut a trillion dollars' worth of government spending. We can do the rest by a sensible combination of spending cuts and some revenue.

And if we can spend the first four, five, six months getting that done, so that the American people feel like the parties came together and put us on a more solid fiscal footing, where we don't have to worry about taxes going up sky high for everybody, we don't have to worry about massive cuts that would hurt our economy and our growth, then I think that that will break the fever here in Washington. [my emphasis]
All this postpartisan happy talk is 12 years after Bush v. Gore, nearly three years after Citizen's United and four solid years of Republican obstructionism on domestic policy and nonstop poo-flinging from their media operations, Obama is still talking about how he's going to get the Republicans to behave like nice bipartisan lambs. In order to (gulp!) spend the first half-year or so of his 2nd term reducing the deficit and implementing the Simpson-Bowles let-grandma-eat-catfood ideas on cutting benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

And with an economy still has years to go to reach the level of employment we had just before the depression started in 2007 and interest rates still up against the zero bound, a push for deficit reduction in late 2012-early 2013, when we should be planning more stimulus, is begging for a "1937" effect, when Franklin Roosevelt's premature turn to budget-cutting pushed the economy into a new recession and prolonged the Great Depression. As Paul Krugman just wrote (Cliff Confusions 10/29/2012):

While I have access, let me point you to an excellent post by Suzy Khimm making a point I should have made: the only reason to worry about the fiscal cliff is if you’re a Keynesian, who thinks that bringing down the budget deficit when the economy is already depressed makes the depression deeper. And the same logic actually says that we should not just avoid spending cuts, we should raise spending right now.
With Obama focused instead on getting his Grand Bargain as quickly as possible and spending six months whacking away at the deficit, the phrase, "I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue" comes to mind.

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