I just caught a bit of Obama's press conference about the last minute fiscal cliff negotiations. He says he's "modestly optimistic."
I think he's bluffing.
There is little chance of a successful compromise. Even if Reid and McConnell come to an agreement -- and I suspect that they will -- Boehner will not be able to talk his GOP House members into signing off on it. So over the cliff we go.
Right now, everyone wants to be seen
trying to make a deal without actually doing a deal. I believe that the Republicans secretly want to miss the deadline. The "Grover factor" still plays a huge role here. If taxes automatically go up to Clinton-era levels, then the Republicans will be more open to negotiations in the post-cliff period -- at which point, they can tell their constituents that they never voted to raise taxes, only to lower them.
But why would Dems
would want to make post-cliff concessions?
This situation reminds me of Anna Russell's once-famous comedy routine in which she explains the entire plot of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen
. (Her monologue doesn't seem very funny these days, although it still gives you a painless way of learning the story.) She closes her discourse by noting that the last theme of the last opera is the same primal "Rhine" music that we heard at the very beginning of the first opera.
"And so after this whole operation
, we're right back where we started!"
And that, my friends, is the big bad cliff.
Going over the cliff means partying like it's 1999. We're going back -- back to the tax structure we had the last time we got the government out of the red. Except this time, Defense will be cut. And nobody touches Social Security.
From a liberal perspective, is that outcome such a bad thing?
The Republicans brought this situation on themselves back in 2009-2011, when they whipped the country into a frenzy over the debt. Remember those commercials in which the little girl confronts a guy digging a huge hole and pleads with him to stop shoveling? They don't run those spots any more.
The only game left is the blame game -- hence all of the current posturing.
, in a very good WP piece (which boasts some excellent graphics), addresses that point. Klein argues that the Republicans, not the Democrats, have been intransigent. He's right, of course -- Obama has shown willingness to cut into Social Security
, fer chrissakes. The important thing now is to make the Republicans pay the price for being obstinate.
The check on that sort of behavior is blame. If Republicans are being intransigent and the American people want compromise, then, in theory, the Republicans will get blamed. And that does seem to be happening: The GOP polls terribly, and they lost the 2012 election.
But at the elite level — which encompasses everyone from CEOs to media professionals — there’s a desire to keep up good relations on both sides of the aisle. And so it’s safer, when things are going wrong, to offer an anodyne criticism that offends nobody — “both sides should come together!” — then to actually blame one side or the other. It’s a way to be angry about Washington’s failure without alienating anyone powerful. That goes doubly for commercial actors, like Starbucks, that need to sell coffee to both Republicans and Democrats.
That breaks the system. It hurts the basic mechanism of accountability, which is the public’s ability to apportion blame. If one side’s intransigence will lead to both sides getting blamed, then it makes perfect sense to be intransigent: You’ll get all the benefits and only half the blame.
Unfortunately, this is not an election year, so Boehner's unruly crew won't be in immediate danger even if they do get the blame. Obama and the Democrats, on the other hand, will feel plenty of heat if the economy heads downward again over the next two years.
So, like, there's that