Progressives Are Blowing Hot Air Over Obama’s Tax Cut Deal

Progressives Are Blowing Hot Air Over Obama’s Tax Cut Deal

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Progressives and liberal Democrats are furious over President Obama’s tax-cut deal. Their venting includes  threats of a Senate filibuster, screams for everyone from defeated Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold to Hillary Clinton to challenge Obama in the Democratic primary in 2012, and vows that progressives will not spend a second working for Obama’s reelection or contribute a dime to his campaign.

This hot air is pure bluster. The political reality that Obama faced—and that progressives and liberal Democrats are loath to admit but must face nonetheless—is that the president had no choice but to hold his nose and make the deal. The reasons are simple. The GOP held all the cards.

It’s nice to talk about Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and to insist that the president should have used those majorities and the bully pulpit of the Oval Office to do a Harry Truman/ FDR and give the GOP hell as hypocrites, obstructionists, and toadies of the rich and super-rich, and then defiantly tell the American people why he’d veto any tax-cut bill that that retained tax breaks for the wealthy. He would have drawn wild cheers and back-patting from liberals and progressives, but come January and beyond, when the paychecks of tens of millions of workers suddenly shrunk, and tens of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses screamed bloody murder about tax hikes and the effects on capital investment and jobs, and millions of unemployed were hung out to dry without a nickel of income to support their families—well, guess on whose head the wrath of the nation would have fallen.

Then there’s the reaction of GOP hard-liners. They froth at Republican leaders for giving up more than they could have/should have on extending unemployment benefits and Social Security payments that far more Americans than the tax giveaway to the rich.

The shouts that Obama should just turn the tables on Republicans and dump the blame back on them also ignores this simple fact: He’s tried to do that all along, and the message has been skillfully twisted and used against him by the GOP echo chamber. Liberal Democrats are screaming that Obama should have been fighting harder and louder all along; one could just as easily ask why most of these progressives didn’t launch their own national campaign to back Obama and educate their constituents. But they didn’t, and because of timidity, fear, and in some cases flat-out belief that the GOP was correct and tax cuts for the fat cats weren’t totally bad, they left Obama to do the heavy lifting. In other words, many Democrats—through cowardice or belief in the phony and discredited trickle-down theory that giving the rich more cash will magically translate into more investment, jobs, and economic growth—sat on their haunches.

It’s odious to give money to people and companies that don’t need it and will hoard it, not creating one job, or saving one foreclosed home, or helping sustain one small business. But it would have been more odious to watch the GOP noise machine night after night trot a homeless laid-off worker, or a family pushed over the edge after losing their child tax or earned-income credit weeping, on national TV about how Obama—and not the Republicans, despite the fact that they would rightly have deserved the blame—pushed them into the breadlines.

The conventional wisdom from liberal Democrats is that Obama left himself wide open for the fury he has unleashed because he promised so long and so vehemently to let the Bush tax cuts expire. These progressive contend that Obama lied, or that he’s just too weak to do anything but cave to the GOP bullies. That’s even more asinine. Candidate Obama could make any promise he wanted. But in 2007 and 2008, Obama wasn’t looking at the loss of 60 Democratic House seats, seven Senate seats, and a slew of suddenly GOP-controlled legislatures in the must-win states of Ohio and Florida in 2012.

Candidate Obama did not face a GOP that would stop at nothing to slash aid to the poor, working class and unemployed—and has the power get away with it. That’s called hard-nosed realpolitik. This has and always will trump symbolic protests or unwinnable line-in-the-sand stands.

Obama got the best deal he could have gotten, given the impossible political odds he now faces. Any Democrat in the White House would have done the same.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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