Far From “Post-Partisan,” Obama Is the Most Divisive President in Decades

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In a post earlier this month, I referred to Obama as “the most divisive, hyper-partisan president since Nixon.”  I was prepared for push-back from Democrats contending that the second George Bush was more divisive.  The Iraq War certainly became divisive over time, but it started with broad bipartisan support.  Of Obama’s biggest initiatives, Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote, and “Porkulus” had only a handful.

Now the nice folks at Gallup have provided polling data documenting just how divisive Obama has been (hat tip: Peter Wehner).  Gallup headlines its article “Obama’s Fourth Year in Office Ties as Most Polarized Ever,” but to me, the most interesting data is in the chart reproduced above, showing the gap between Republican and Democratic approval rates averaged across the presidents’ entire incumbency.  Obama’s average gap thus far is 70 points, on pace to shatter G.W.Bush’s prior record of 61 points.  (Hm… 70 breaks a prior record of 61… where have I heard those numbers before?)  Interestingly, Nixon, who stands out in my mind as a divisive leader, came in only fifth in Gallup’s rankings.

Gallup emphasizes the negative trajectory:

The trend toward increasingly partisan evaluations of presidents over time is also evident in the fact that no president before Ronald Reagan had more than a 41-point party gap in approval ratings, but four of the last five presidents (the exception is George H.W. Bush) have had better-than 50-point divisions in approval ratings by party.

So should we let Obama off the hook because of the historical accident of our highly partisan times?  Naw.  In 2008, Obama held himself up as a post-partisan beacon. But from the very beginning of his presidency, he has seemed intent on creating friction rather than reducing it.  On his third day in office, he froze Republicans out of the Porkulus negotiations by telling them pointedly, “I won.”  He went on to champion a healthcare package that was rammed through Congress in strict party-line votes — including votes scheduled for the middle of the night in the rush to pass the bill before people realized what was in it.

Recently, of course, we’ve had the Fiscal Cliff end-zone dance.  That was followed by the inaugural address — a venue where presidents typically try to unite the country and soothe the passions stirred up by the recent campaign.  But in his second inaugural, Obama turned up the heat. Michael Gerson summarizes the stridency:

Those who oppose this agenda, in Obama’s view, are not a very admirable lot. They evidently don’t want our wives, mothers and daughters to “earn a living equal to their efforts.” They would cause some citizens “to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.” They mistake “absolutism for principle” and “substitute spectacle for politics” and “treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” They would have people’s “twilight years . . . spent in poverty” and ensure that the parents of disabled children have “nowhere to turn.” They would reserve freedom “for the lucky” and believe that Medicare and Social Security “sap our initiative,” and they see this as “a nation of takers.” They “deny the overwhelming judgment of science” on climate change, don’t want love to be “equal” and apparently contemplate “perpetual war.”

The fruits of Obama’s antagonism will be harvested soon.  With the debt ceiling kicked down the road again, the stage is set, as Newt Gingrich described, for battles over the sequester and the continuing resolution.  The sequester’s draconian automatic spending cuts take effect March 1 unless Congress votes otherwise, and I expect House Republicans will be virtually unanimous in letting the cuts occur, unless they can win cuts of comparable size elsewhere from the Democrats.

Gingrich Thinks GOP Should Save Its Powder in Debt Ceiling Debate

I’m not a fan of Newt Gingrich, but despite his unappealing attributes, he is an intelligent and thoughtful man who understands how Washington works, and who sometimes has ideas worth hearing.

He believes strongly that the debt ceiling is the wrong fight for the GOP to use what little leverage it has to force spending cuts. On reflection, I think he’s right. The debt ceiling would be a much better battleground than the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but Gingrich argues persuasively that two other looming deadlines offer better options.

President Obama set the stage Saturday with his weekly radio address when he announced that he will insist on a clean debt ceiling. In doing so he actually outlined for Republicans the two fights they can win. …

He suggested that the time for Congress to draw the line on spending is before they “rack up the bills” — to paraphrase the president.

We have two immediate opportunities to heed the president’s words: the Sequester bill that is coming up in 60 days and the Continuing Resolution at the end of March.

There is an enormous difference between the Continuing Resolution, the Sequester bill and the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling involves the faith and credit of the United States. It can not be held hostage because the crisis impact of failing to pay the government’s debts would be immediate, worldwide, and shattering.

Every element of the business community and the news media will spend the next two months beating up Republicans if the debt ceiling is the focus of the conflict. This past weekend’s media focus is just a taste of what is coming.

If Republicans fall for the debt ceiling trap they will once again be isolated in a corner, identified as negative extremists, and ultimately forced to back down with maximum internal conflict and bitterness among conservatives and Republicans.

Will the House GOP heed the words of the former Speaker? Some of them certainly will vote against allowing the country to go further into debt. But for the reasons Gingrich states, I expect enough of them will step back from the brink (or they will “cave in,” if you prefer that metaphor) to pass a debt limit increase.

But there’s no guarantee.  Republicans who vote to raise the debt ceiling without getting spending cuts of an equal amount will face intense fire from their right, including the risk of facing a more conservative Republican in the next primary election.  As former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen wrote in the Washington Post:

If Republicans stick to their guns, come February, Obama will agree to deep spending cuts in exchange for a debt-limit increase. There is a reason why every significant debt-reduction bill in the past 27 years — starting with the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act in 1985 — was linked to a debt-limit increase: It’s the only thing that forces Washington to enact spending cuts. With a president in office who believes “we don’t have a spending problem,” it’s the only thing that can force them today.

If the magic-coin episode [the silly idea to mint a trillion-dollar coin – KP] teaches Republicans anything, it’s that Democrats know the president is cornered. So if Republicans blow this opportunity — if they buy Obama’s bluff and capitulate as they did on the fiscal cliff — they’ll need more than a magic coin to save their political hides.

Meanwhile Obama — the most divisive, hyper-partisan president since Nixon — continues to do everything he can to goad Republicans into reacting angrily.  During the fiscal cliff drama, he started his end zone dance before his team had even scored, in a graceless campaign-style rally on New Year’s Eve. He preemptively insisted he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling — apparently the legislative branch is simply supposed to do his bidding.  And in a hastily called news conference yesterday, he relentlessly used terms like “absurd” and “irresponsible” to describe the opposition:

Republicans in Congress have two choices here:  They can act responsibly, and pay America’s bills; or they can act irresponsibly, and put America through another economic crisis.  But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.  The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used.  The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.

And they better choose quickly, because time is running short.

Obama got away with ramming Obamacare down an unwilling America’s throat without a single Republican vote, while employing every legislative trick in the book in a race against time.  He paid for that by losing the House in the 2010 election, but won reelection for himself in 2012 — in part because Romneycare made his opponent uniquely unsuited to capitalize on the president’s Obamacare vulnerability.

Obama doesn’t know how to cooperate with Republicans, he only knows how to demonize them.  So far that’s been working for him.  Republicans need to choose their battles carefully.

(Gingrich photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

Is a Debt Ceiling Showdown Worth the Risk?

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw

A think tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center has been updating a thorough and dispassionate consideration of what exactly will happen if there is no deal to raise the debt ceiling.  The Center’s 48-page slide deck predicts that absent a debt ceiling increase the “X Date” — the first day that the Treasury will no longer have sufficient funds and daily income to pay all of its bills on time — will arrive between February 15 and March 1.  That’s five to seven weeks from now.

The potential consequences are scary stuff.  It’s never happened before, so there is no template.  The Treasury has two basic alternatives:  1) prioritize some payments and refrain from paying others; or 2) pay each day’s bills in full only after enough tax revenue has been collected to cover all of them.  By then, of course, the next day’s payments will already be late.

Regardless of what the Treasury does, it will at least arguably be breaking the law.  If it elects to pay certain bills in full and delay others, it will be picking winners and losers on a chaotic daily basis, as Congress and unions and suppliers and every imaginable interest group pursues every remedy available to them to get on the priority list.  BPC  quotes Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke as saying that going past the X Date “would no doubt have a very adverse effect very quickly on the recovery. I’m quite certain of that.”  Not to mention the stock market, and the country’s credit rating.  Also, are the Treasury’s information and processing systems sophisticated enough to thread all these needles day after day? In the face of all of this, I’m persuaded that I was far too dismissive of the potential effect of hitting the debt ceiling in 2011.

So why would House Republicans risk all that by refusing to raise the debt ceiling?  Because they believe they have no better option.

America is on an unsustainable financial path.  When a financial system is unsustainable, eventually it blows up in costly and chaotic ways.  Recall the bubble that burst in September 2008, when Lehman went bankrupt and Merrill Lynch sold itself over a weekend to Bank of America.  The longer the day of reckoning is postponed, the worse the carnage will be.

The 60-plus Representatives who self-identify as members of the Tea Part Caucus believe, correctly I think, that their constituents have sent them to Congress to reverse the growth of spending and taxation now, rather than let our children and grandchildren deal with a bigger mess later.

Don’t be taken in by arguments that the debt ceiling has nothing to do with future spending, only with past spending.   Capping the debt ceiling is analogous to when a credit card issuer refuses to make any further increases in a family’s credit limit. Whatever already has been paid is water under the bridge.  The family will have to prioritize what it pays going forward.  The difference with the debt ceiling, of course, is that the family’s financial fate will have very little impact on the overall economy.

Republicans were dealt a losing hand last month in the misnamed fiscal cliff crisis, where holding the line would have meant income tax increases for nearly all working Americans.  Digging in here is more easily defensible as a refusal to let the country go deeper into debt.  Yes it will hurt the economy, which is fragile just now.  But there will never be a convenient time to begin the necessary, wrenching, fundamental changes in the way America conducts its business.

In the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove describes how House Republicans should approach the negotiations:

For their part, Republicans finally appear reasonably united around something practical and reasonable—the “Boehner Rule,” named after its author. It requires matching any debt increase dollar for dollar with spending cuts. Here, the GOP will likely find wide public support.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks.

The Coming Debt Ceiling Fight Will Make the Fiscal Cliff Drama Look Tame

There was no way for Republicans to win the battle over the misnamed fiscal cliff, and they did not.  Their sole accomplishment was to move the threshold of the “millionaires and billionaires” tax from quarter-millionaires to nearly half-millionaires.  The cliff deal actually increases spending, and pushes a decision about spending cuts back by two months.  It’s like the dramatic scene at the end of a blockbuster movie — it sets up the sequel.  (Or maybe sets up the sequester.)

Obama campaigns for the fiscal cliff deal

In his unseemly end zone dance late on New Year’s Eve, President Obama declared “I will not have another debate with this Congress” about the debt ceiling.

Actually, Mr. President, you will.

Obama’s last public statement of 2012 was very carefully worded, and is worth unpacking in some detail. In full campaign mode, with the faces of supporters serving as a backdrop, Obama claimed credit for the tax agreement that will squeeze a few hundred billion dollars out of the “wealthiest” (actually, “highest-income”) Americans.  He then said:

Now, one last point I want to make — while I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed.

Note that he never uses the term most familiar to the public: “debt ceiling.” More about that in a moment; for the time being, savor the artistry behind how he frames the conflict.

He won’t debate with Congress over whether “they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed.”  Um, Mr. President? Somebody actually signed all those laws, and for the last four years it’s been you.  And Congress doesn’t pay the bills.  Your executive branch does.

Let me repeat: We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred. If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.

Actually, you can “not pay bills” that have already been incurred — or rather, you can defer paying some of them.  Corporations and individuals do it all the time.  And yes, there will be consequences, some of them severe. In a June 2011 report released during the last debt ceiling crisis, the Bipartisan Policy Center helps demystify the debt ceiling by describing the difficult decisions that would have had to be made that August without a debt ceiling increase. One thing that will not happen the day after the debt ceiling is reached is a default on bond payments — there will be plenty of revenue to continuing paying ongoing debt obligations indefinitely.  Dramatic and disruptive cuts in government spending would occur elsewhere.

People will remember, back in 2011, the last time this course of action was threatened, our entire recovery was put at risk. Consumer confidence plunged. Business investment plunged. Growth dropped. We can’t go down that path again.

We’re already going down that path, Mr. President.  We’ve been on that path for decades.  Generations of politicians in both parties have made unkeepable promises.

At some point there is going to be a wrenching restructuring of government and the modern welfare state. The invaluable contribution of the Tea Party is to insist that we must begin that restructuring now, rather than leaving it as an even larger problem for our children and grandchildren.

The unique circumstances of the fiscal cliff left Republicans in the awkward position of arguably having to fight for a tax increase for everyone.  House Republicans, or at least enough of them, wisely backed down after letting the Senate do the dirty work of agreeing to a deal.

The optics are very different in the debt ceiling debate — starting with the names of the crises. “Fiscal cliff” sounds like a calamity, but “debt ceiling” can be championed as a prudent refusal to go further into debt.

Don’t be taken in by the inevitable claims that “to not raise the debt ceiling is akin to refusing to pay your credit card bill,” as Suze Orman stated in 2011.  Here’s my reaction at the time:

Nope.  It’s akin to making minimum monthly payments on the credit card, while applying for an increase in your credit limit.  Tea Party Republicans are saying, this is it — no more increases in credit limits, you’re too far in debt already.

In that post I also said:

All of this may sound like an argument against raising the debt ceiling — but in fact, I hope the ceiling gets raised, the sooner the better.  That’s because the stakes right now are higher than whether the arbitrary line in the sand gets drawn at $14.3 trillion or $16.7 trillion.  It would be very disruptive, in unpredictable ways, to bounce off an unmoving debt ceiling — and I fear the Republicans would get the blame for the disruption.

Let’s give Obama  the $2.4 trillion debt ceiling increase to get him past the election — that’s at least less than the $3.1 trillion debt increase that already has happened on his watch.  The GOP should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good — they’ve already succeeded in changing the context from “no” spending cuts to “how much” in spending cuts.  The single most important thing Republicans can do right now to improve the financial situation is to vote the most free-spending president in history out of office.

Well, the vote-him-out gambit didn’t work — but Obama’s re-election has also eliminated the most compelling political argument against holding the line on the debt ceiling. The House Republicans have control of the credit limit, and they should stand fast and refuse to increase it unless they can secure meaningful, unhypothetical spending cuts equal to a multiple of any increase.

Photo grabbed from government-made (and thereby public domain) White House video.

A Bishop, a Rabbi and an Imam Appear on “Morning Joe,” Advocating Peace

The Web Goddess works for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, and for over a year has been supporting her boss, Bishop Mark Beckwith, in his work with the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace.  I first discussed this effort after an interfaith service on the 10th anniversary of September 11.

Yesterday Bishop Beckwith and his interfaith colleagues, Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz and Imam Deen Shareef, were guests on “Morning Joe” with Joe Scarborough on MSNBC.  Their measured and thoughtful discussion of the spiritual implications of the Newtown massacre was a sharp contrast to the preceding shoutfest about the fiscal cliff.

The complete segment can be found on the Morning Joe site, which also has a transcript and a nifty ability to create and embed a sub-clip.  For my Episcopal friends, if you can’t spare 8:44 to watch the whole thing, the 1:13 sub-clip below has Bishop Beckwith discussing fear and a culture of violence.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Time’s “Person of the Year” Essay Provides Insights on Obama’s Victory

It’s no surprise, of course, that Barack Obama was named Time‘s Person of the Year.  In presidential election years, the winner of the election has been named POY in 12 out of 22 times, including 9 of the last 13 and 4 of the last 4. (That’s original research; I counted them up myself.  You’re welcome.)

But I was surprised when I read the magazine’s POY essay. I was expecting a glowing hagiography, reminiscent of when the just-elected Obama was sanctified by the Nobel Peace Prize committee.  Instead I found a clear-eyed assessment of the re-election effort and why it was successful.

The passage I found most persuasive is set up by a statement from the head of the campaign’s research team that “undecided voters… were making a very trust-based assessment between Obama and Romney.”

This became the through line of the brutal and at times unfair Obama attacks on Romney — the cracks about car elevators, the specious mention of his potentially felonious Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the false claim that he supported an abortion ban without a rape exception, the endless harping on a Swiss bank account once held in his wife’s name. It all spoke to a central message built around trust: One man, despite his failures, had voters like you in mind. The other man, by contrast, knew how to make a lot of money for people you will never meet.

Of course, Romney turned out to be Obama’s biggest ally in that narrative.

Indeed he did.  Romney’s “47 percent” blatherings probably ended whatever chance he might have had at victory. As the left gleefully pointed out, he ended up with 47 percent of the popular vote.

One final thought: Is anyone else puzzled by Time‘s decision to dramatically darken the Obama “Person of the Year” cover photo?  Didn’t they learn their lesson in 1994?

Newtown and Chengping: Stark Contrast in the Gun Control Debate

On Friday a madman entered a small-town elementary school and launched an attack on the children, leaving more than 20 casualties behind.  But I’m not talking about Connecticut.

In a coincidence almost too bizarre to believe, a school attack occurred on the same day in the village of Chengping, in Henan Province, China.  News coverage from Newtown is drowning out the atrocity in Chengping, but two key differences jump out.  In China, the casualty toll is 23 injured, zero killed, no life-threatening injuries. That’s roughly the inverse of Connecticut, where along with 26 dead there was only one injured survivor.

The second difference is that in China, the madman had a knife, not a gun.

I should emphasize at this point that I have no love or admiration for the Chinese government, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live there.  The CBS News article indicates that school attacks are, if anything, even more prevalent in China than here:

The attack marks the latest in a series of violent assaults at elementary schools in China. In 2010, a total of 18 children were killed in four separate attacks. On March 23 of that year, Zheng Minsheng attacked children at an elementary school in Fujian Province, killing eight.

One month later, just a few hours after Zheng Minsheng was executed for his crime, another man, Chen Kanbing wounded 16 students and a teacher in a knife attack at another primary school in Fujian. The following month, on May 12, a man named Wu Huangming killed seven children and two adults with a meat cleaver at a kindergarten in Shaanxi Province. That attack was followed by an August 4 assault by Fang Jiantang, who killed three children and one teacher with a knife at a kindergarten in Shandong Province.

In 2011, a young girl and three adults were killed with an axe at an elementary school in Henan Province by a 30-year-old man named Wang Hongbin, and eight children were hurt in Shanghai after an employee at a child care center attacked them with a box cutter.

So a total of 22 dead in China in six school attacks, beginning in 2010.  Horrific as that is, one young man left more dead behind in just a few minutes in Newtown.  The weapons in the six incidents in China: knife, knife, meat cleaver, knife, axe, box cutter.  It would appear that guns are harder to obtain in China than here. Perhaps that’s a good thing, although it comes bundled with a highly repressive government.

Gun control has never been a primary issue for me, and I have mixed feelings about it.  I wrote about the multiple shootings at Fort Hood and in Tucson without explicitly discussing Second Amendment issues, although I expressed admiration for the bystander with a legal concealed weapon who ran toward the gunfire in Tucson, prepared to even the odds.  I’m sympathetic to the argument that the presence of a good guy with a gun could help minimize the carnage when a madman opens fire.

Despite the Second Amendment’s reference to “a well-regulated militia,” in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled in Heller that “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia,” and I think they got it right.  We can’t ban guns without overturning the Second Amendment, and there is no prospect of that.

But perhaps we can make guns harder to obtain, without becoming China in the process.

(Public domain photo from Wikipedia)

Lesson from the Mislabeled “Fiscal Cliff”: Please Spare Us Any Future Countdowns

A breathless Market Watch

Gimme a break.

Remember Y2K?

I rang in the year 2000 in a windowless Wall Street bunker, part of a multidisciplinary rapid-response team standing by to spring into action and muster resources from across the company in the event of a disaster anywhere in the world.

I performed this solemn duty while playing video games on my laptop.  I also practiced with a putter and golf ball someone else had brought. Every three hours the team assembled for a scheduled conference call with the company’s smaller command centers around the world, giving everyone a chance to tell jokes.

All this comes to mind, of course, during the breathless countdown to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”  Wolf Blitzer shows off the ticking clock every afternoon on CNN, and there are competing websites where you can get your own ticking clock widget for your blog or website. Please don’t.

Here’s Rex Nutting of the Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch.com to put it into perspective:

In truth, nothing much will happen to the economy on Jan. 1 or Jan. 2 or Jan. 3, despite the expiration of tax cuts and the automatic reductions in federal spending. … The fiscal cliff is a misleading metaphor. The laws will change on that day, it’s true, but the impact will be spread out over many, many months. In fact, the effects are already being felt, particularly in financial markets. Businesses, investors, workers and consumers have begun to prepare for the changes, and that’s caused the economy to slow a bit already.

It’s not a Niagara Falls, with billions of gallons going over a cliff. It’s more like a bathtub slowly filling up. And, on Jan. 1, it’s going to spill over the edge. Eventually, it will flood the house, but that’ll take time.

Hey Rex, tell it to whoever put a countdown clock on your own website’s homepage! Mercifully, the countdown craze for this manufactured crisis has not yet spread as widely as the craze for the last manufactured crisis — the debt ceiling struggle in 2011.  Here’s my take on that countdown:

Much of the news media is guilty of malpractice for pretending that August 2 was a consequential deadline.  The cable news networks and even the Washington Post had clocks ticking down the number of hours and minutes until midnight August 2, sometimes labeling those clocks as a countdown to default.  But if the clock had struck midnight without a deal in place, the awful consequences would have been… absolutely nothing.

The country would continue to pay most of its bills, including all of its debt-servicing bills, through the time-honored business practice of “maturing their payables” — making some creditors wait.  The next major step would be a partial shut-down of government, which certainly would have ratcheted up the drama.  But we were weeks away from any danger of default.

This countdown is perhaps slightly more real than the debt ceiling because at least it ends on a date where something actually will happen, whereas the deadline for the debt ceiling was an estimate pulled out of Tim Geithner’s ear three months in advance.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce jumped on the countdown bandwagon early, but to their credit they’re not displaying it now.

As a commenter pointed out in my previous post, the January 1 deadline was created by an act of legislature, and the same legislature can vote at any time to stop the clock or overturn the law altogether. If the President and the House Republicans don’t reach a deal before January 1, both sides will begin discussing plans to undo much of the damage triggered by the law.  Then the Republicans will have to fold their tent on the tax issue, unless they want to vote against a tax cut for the middle class.

One more Y2K memory: Later that holiday weekend, when I was off duty, someone found an actual problem to report! I got an urgent call at home from the communications person who was staffing the increasingly irrelevant command center.  I was the intranet guy at the time, managing the corporate homepage for our far-flung internal website. On a locally managed site overseas (I forget where), the Y2K preparations had missed a problematic bit of code.  A script had updated by adding 1 to the two-digit field for the year, resulting in an internal page dated January 1, 19100.

OK, I said.  I’ll call them Monday.


Fiscal Cliff Notes: It’s Hard to See Any Winning Scenario for the GOP

Who'll take the plunge?There’s a school of thought among conservatives that letting the country go over the “fiscal cliff” may be the least-bad option.  The “sequester” — the automatic across-the-board spending cuts that will accompany the tax increases set for January 1 if no deal is reached — may be the only way to accomplish any spending cuts.  Here’s Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal:

Conventional wisdom holds that the sequester is a mindless anti-spending Godzilla. But the sequester, because it is set in legislative stone, possesses what Washington today lacks with the public: credibility.

The only issue on the cliff negotiation table held true by every serious person is that the entitlement crisis is going to crush the country. But nothing is dearer to this president than higher taxes on people defined by him as the wealthiest. If the president’s DNA prevents him from a compromise that also includes a sequester-strength commitment to disarming the entitlement bombs, much less discretionary spending, take the sequester. Better the fiscal cliff than pitching the American people over the bottomless entitlement cliff.

But polls make it clear that the public would blame the Republicans more than the Democrats if we go over the fiscal cliff.  And that’s not the only problem the GOP would have.

Play the game out: let’s say there is no deal by January 1, so taxes increase automatically for all working Americans.  Democrats quickly will propose legislation to reduce taxes on all but the top two percent of earners. Obama will vow to veto any tax cut for the highest earners, secure in the knowledge that such a veto would be easily upheld.  Then the Tea Party caucus  — the segment of the Republican Party which has tax cutting as part of its brand identity — would either have to support the Democratic proposal or explain that they are opposing tax cuts for the middle class as a matter of principle because the cuts don’t also extend to the highest earners. Ugh.

House Speaker John Boehner, at some risk to his speakership, took a giant step toward the president by proposing a tax increase of $800 billion on the highest-earning Americans.  The new revenue would come from eliminating or limiting loopholes and tax deductions — which would have less of a negative effect on the economy than a straight increase in the top marginal rates.  As Kathleen Parker wrote,

Boehner’s good-faith attempts at a deal, offering new revenue through reforms as well as leaning toward some limited tax-rate increases, have been met with mockery. Obama’s laughable idea of a balanced deal includes taking control of the debt ceiling and doubling revenue demands, while offering little in the way of spending cuts.

To go along with the tax increase, the President actually is proposing a spending increase in the short run. The plan includes some new spending, and all of the proposed spending cuts would be delayed by a year, on the pretext of reducing the immediate impact on the economy.  A year is a long time, and Republicans today are likely to find themselves in the same boat as Ronald Reagan — agreeing to tax increases in return for later spending cuts that never happen.

A deal in the next 22 days looks highly unlikely. Obama holds the trump cards, and he’s shown no inclination to make any concessions.

(Public domain photo from Wikipedia.)

The Only Thing Hamas Likes Better Than Dead Israelis Is Dead Palestinians

It’s on. If there’s an over/under on how long it will be before Israel sends its mobilized ground troops into Gaza in its rekindled war with Hamas, put me down for five days. (Update: Oops.)

President Obama seems to be saying exactly the right things:

“Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory,” Obama said at the start of a three-nation tour in Asia.

“If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that’s preferable,” he said. “It’s not just preferable for the people of Gaza. It’s also preferable for Israelis, because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they’re much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded.”

Yes, it would be nice if stopping the missiles could happen without “ramping up.” But does anyone seriously think that Hamas will quit firing missiles? (A tactical pause of a few days doesn’t count — I mean, Hamas needs to stop firing missiles.)

Israel and Hamas are both using social media to make their cases, as you can see from the graphics accompanying this post. (If you get this blog by RSS feed, thanks! But you’ll probably need to click through to the blog to see the graphics.)

This isn’t Israel vs. Palestine, it’s Israel vs. Hamas. Hamas may have won an election in the Gaza Strip, but they’re an occupying power, not a representative government. (Anybody expect Hamas to hold another election anytime soon?)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “I Stand With Israel.”