Own it

T.A. Barnhart

I wrote at more length on my blog why I believe the Obama “capitulation” contains a lot of win for him, not to mention the jobless, working- and middle-class Americans who benefit directly from his “surrender”. I’m not going to discuss that further here; instead, I want to suggest that we have the roots of a big turnaround in 2012 if we (ie, Democrats and their allies) can do the two things we most often fail to accomplish:

  1. not wipe each other out in our traditional circular firing squad, and

  2. own the message.

The first is going to be hard. There is so much anger among liberals, progressives (whatever the hell they are) and like-minded independents. I believe that most of these people understand that the majority of any blame should be directed at the Republican Party. They have viciously attacked the concept of good government since 1980, and, under the Bush/Cheney regime, the country was treated to the benefits of those attacks: an attack on the homeland, two unjustified wars that show no sign of ending, the redistribution of wealth on a massive scale to the richest Americans, and a disregard for the rule of law that has spawned torture, climatic destruction, and corporate malfeasance on a scale imaginable only to Lex Luthor — and Dick Cheney.

But these guys aren’t going to jail. In fact, the co-conspirators in Congress have been rewarded for continuing their warfare on the American people with even more power. So, because so many people no longer believe these criminals will ever be brought to justice, anger has been shifted — to the Democrats. And because the Democrats in Congress, especially in the Senate, are so inept, the anger goes to the leader of the party, the man in charge: President Obama. While I agree he is responsible for a great deal of the bad feeling by failing to do a number of important things — prosecute Bush’s war criminals on torture, hiring too many ex-bankers, attempting to work with the Party of No well past the time everyone else could see that was a sucker’s game — he has also accomplished a great many good things. His presidency, in less than three years, has done more for the progressive cause (whatever the hell that is) than Clinton did in eight.

That, of course, is not good enough. His record of accomplishment is not good enough for us on the left; since we know what is right — we do, of course — any failure to fight for and achieve what “we” demand is, by definition, failure. Otherwise, why the incredible hue and cry over the tax cut deal? Because rich people get more money? Dude, they were going to get more money anyway. And a lot of that was going to be financed by federal debt one way or the other. In the meantime, the long-term jobless have another 13 months of protection, working- and middle-class families do not get a tax increase in 2011, and the economy is going to get a mini-stimulus of $300 billion. (Oh, and the Senate now has no excuse to not complete the START Treaty, and given that we have no inspectors in Russia to watch over their nukes, I’d say that’s worth the price of admission to have resolved.)

That, of course, is not good enough.

Circle around, kids. Ready, aim …

The second point is, to me, the big opportunity. Let’s own the positives here: Democrats made sure the jobless were not thrown under the bus. Nor were non-wealthy families. And the economy gets a boost as we roll into the new year. Yes, we could continue to bemoan all that hasn’t gone right, or we could spend the next two years loudly proclaiming that when they needed it most, our president was there to help the families the GOP was going to abandon. We provided relief; they gave money to the rich. It’s a simple message, and it’s true. We don’t have to spin it or finesse or massage it. We just have to bang the drum.

Or we could talk about primary-ing Obama. Because that will certainly be a positive step forward.

The Republicans have made clear, once and for all, that working American families count for squat in their eyes. This mess happened not because of anything Obama did or didn’t do; it happened because the GOP made clear, beyond any doubt, that they would do nothing unless they got a permanent tax cut for the wealthy…. Oh wait, that’s right. They didn’t get that, did they? Ooops, another Obama screw-up. Temporary tax cut only; I thought he’d caved in to them? Wasn’t that supposed to be a permanent tax cut? So don’t they have to go before the voters in 2012, right before the election, and say: We want permanent tax cuts, but not for you. For the rich people. You people? Meh.

Own it. This is a strong message, a good message. “We protected the jobless and middle-class while the Republicans demanded more money for the rich.” A strong, simple message; the only word more than two syllables is “Republican”. We never win the message, and now we have a chance to do that. “Democrats stood up for Americans who needed them; Republicans gave more money to the rich. Money they stole from our children and grandchildren.”

Own it. Yes, we could fight and bicker and blame and make sure the country knows the Dems and their allies are in disarray and shouldn’t be allowed back in power. We could become so divided the GOP is able to consolidate their power despite doing all they can to obliterate the middle-class. That’s fun, too, I guess. For those on the left not used to acting like mature adults, it’s easy. Wah, I didn’t get my way, I’m taking my ball and going home. Stupid ol’ Barry.

This may be a variation of lemons/lemonade, but I like lemonade. (You can’t have an Arnold Palmer without you have lemonade.) There is plenty I want Obama to do differently: more Elizabeth Warrens, fewer Tim Geithners. Stop trying to play friends with Republicans who only want him for their bitch. Get the hell out of Afghanistan now. But I see what he has accomplished, and under what circumstances, and I know the potential is huge for more. But not if our energy goes into undermining him.

During the campaign of 2008, Obama had a message almost everyone seemed to ignore: I can’t do this alone; you have to be there with me. And most of us were not there with him. The failure of the Dems in the Senate was egregious, but the failure of citizens to keep moving forward was worse. Many did, but most did not. Their failure to show up, especially when the Tea Party did, showed the GOP they could get away with anything. I agree that Obama could have taken a harder line on some issues, but I don’t think the outcome would have improved. It’s quite likely things would have been made worse. I do know that forced to govern without the support the Senate and the people who worked to get him elected, Obama was in a terrible position. Despite this, he did a lot of great things and the country is in far better shape than it was just two years ago as we neared the end of the Bush debacle.

So we can wail and moan and rend our garments, our we can take the fight to the GOP by making sure our message is clear and simple: Dems: for the people. GOP: for the money. I want to see the change I believe in become a reality. Angry finger-pointing and divisiveness is how we lose; haven’t folks learned that lesson yet? We can work out our differences in bette ways, ways that include taking a simple message — We good, they bad — and rallying behind it. By owning this message and moving forward together, in semi-unison (good enough), we can gain the upper hand in what matters most: perception.

Either the American people will believe Democrats are a clusterfrack that can’t be trusted with a set of Lincoln logs, or they’ll believe the GOP is trying to sell them into servitude to the richest 1% and the corporations. We can win this message, and we can move the change forward.

Or we can surrender in a sea of our whining and blame.

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    T.A. Barnhart: You are suffering from battered wife syndrome. You continue to think that Obama's many failures of leadership are some how our fault because "most of us were not there with him."

    What, is Obama some kind of a big cypher which has to be filled with constituent guidance?

    Also, please explain: "Dude, they were going to get more money anyway."

    The result of the New Deal era was actually a dimunition of wealth disparity in America.

    As for taking it to the GOP: Obama/Clinton/DLC are the GOP, just under a different moniker.

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      thanks for the personal attack. i always appreciate being told my perspective is invalid. thanks.

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        What I meant is that the president time and again disappointing the base and then a person of the base going ahead and blaming the base for the president's sellouts is like the battered-wife syndrome. And anyone who takes that position is functioning in that mindset. And saying that is not really a personal attack.

        Anyway, I recommend Robert Reich's new article: "The President's Last Stand Was No Stand At All: Why The Tax Deal Is An Abomination."

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    Don't get me wrong I certainly agree that Dems and Progressives excel at internecine warfare.

    The opposition to this abomination of deal isn't about that though.

    This is about a complete lack of spine, both in the White House and the Senate that's been on display for the last two years.

    This is also about not letting the GOP hold the legislative agenda completely hostage. Not a good precedent to set with the GOP coming into control of the House.

    Most of all - for me at least, this is about not letting Obama get away with killing Social Security in our generation:


    If that sounds like a non sequitur, read the article. We simply can't afford to give up $900 billion right now to line the pockets of the those that need it least.

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      The firebagger article is not factually accurate. As clammyc over at Daily Kos pointed out earlier this morning, the hue and cry (like the FDL article) that this will further reduce the social security fund – is something that I initially thought as well. But this is not true – monies would be shifted from the general fund to cover the amount of money the social security tax would otherwise take in – something that was already done for the new hire credits in the HIRE Act earlier this year..

      Don’t want to believe that Obama will do this (as one commentator said to me)? Fine. But let’s not say that he will further reduce the fund when the only example to date confirms that money will not be further depleted from the social security fund.

      Now, I have a lot of issues with the proposed tax deal – a deal that may not go through to begin with. They include the following:

      • That the social security tax is used as a vehicle to "stimulate" the economy with reductions, even if otherwise reimbursed, as it sets a dangerous precedent;
      • That the social security wage base limit hasn’t increased from 2009 to 2011 – the first three year period that this has happened; • The optics of this, even if not true – are not good politically;
      • Even if funds are transferred from the general fund, it puts more stress on other programs (which certainly won’t include aggressive wars or building more weapons);
      • The potential for this to not include self employed individuals, and therefore be inconsistently applied (although I’d like to see this be completely excluded anyway);
      • The fact that this is "temporary" and therefore subject to the same "you’re going to raise our taxes" argument when it is sent to expire;
      • Tax cuts are a bad way to stimulate the economy in general;
      • If this also includes the employer matching share of social security (and I have seen conflicting information so far), then this is an additional tax cut for businesses that are already sitting on piles of cash -I'll say that I don't think the employer match is impacted here but am looking to confirm; and
      • The fact that these are not paid for with any offsets, therefore increasing the deficit and making the Catfood Commission recommendations to cut social security more prominent.

      I’m sure there are more but that’s a start.

      There is plenty about this agreement, tax cuts or Obama’s lack of negotiation skills when it comes to Republicans as compared to lashing out at progressives to be rightfully pissed over.

      But let’s not get pissed at things that are just not true – at least not until they are proven true.

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    T.A., The "payroll tax cut" on the employers' side for two years is the beginning of the end of Social Security. If the dems in Congress let Obama's nightmare giveaway go through, in 2012 the dems would be in the position of wanting to "raise (payroll) taxes" right before the election. They wouldn't do it and there goes the financing for S.S. At the very least that part of Obama's giveaway, among others, must be killed--or no giveaway at all.

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    I'm actually okay with giving the Republicans a two-year extension on tax cuts for the rich. It's the main item on their agenda. Hell, it's the ONLY item on their agenda other than "brainless obstruction and vandalism."

    But because it's the only thing the Republicans REALLY want, I'm not cool with the rest of the deal. It's not enough. And I hope that House Democrats will push for a LOT more. For starters, extend the millionaire tax cuts another two years, and make the middle class tax cuts permanent.

    And how about a two-year extension of unemployment benefits?

    Hell, decorate the bill like a Christmas tree with the Democratic agenda and then send it to the Senate. I'm fairly sure the Republicans will bitch like hell, but in the end, they WON'T block a bill that gives their favorite johns a massive two-year tax break.

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      BUt the administration has already signaled that they will cave if the GOP don't vote for the bill.

      The problem is, that this administration is simply not willing to call the GOP bluff (which isn't really a bluff) and let the political fall-out of the GOP having voted to (in effect) raise everyone's taxes because those making over $250k didn't get additional tax cuts on top of the cuts to the first $250k.

      If the GOP knows that the administration and the Democratic leadership are willing to do whatever it takes to prevent the tax cuts for the middle and lower bracket tax payers form reverting back to what they were under CLinton, then they know they can play chicken and win.

      Dems have to be willing to let the tax cuts expire and lay the blame where it properly belongs, on the hostage taking GOP.

      I don't see it in the administration to do that, but I hope I'm wrong.

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        Obama doesn't have a choice. He'll need to sign what Congress sends him. House Democrats aren't bound by his agreement, and they have a strong enough majority to send nearly anything they want to the Senate. Give the Republicans their two-year tax break, and the Repubs will swallow nearly anything else that doesn't involve raising taxes on the rich or a few other hot-button items.

        It comes down to the Senate at that point, and Obama still doesn't get a say. (Biden would if he needs to break a tie.) I suspect there may be enough Democrats willing to let the tax cuts -- ALL of them -- expire if the Republicans continue to block the bill. And we need only four or five Republicans to come around to vote for closure to get this passed.

        The House Democratic Caucus may now have a vehicle to pass quite a few pieces of their agenda, if they wish to use it.

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          And now that I think about it, there's a lot Democrats might do that could undermine Republicans with certain elements of their activist base. Bundle in some needed immigration reform to piss of the xenophobes. Maybe authorize $150 billion in infrastructure program for projects ready to break ground by October 2011. Extend maximum unemployment benefits to 125 or 150 weeks. There are a lot of right-wing activists out there who would HATE that sort of thing for various reasons.

          I'd be a lot happier if right-wingers were venting that their Senators gave away the farm after all the dust settles.

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          Obama doesn't have a choice.

          Nonsense. He doesn't have to sign a bill and there is little doubt that if anything even gets out of the Senate it will not have aveto-proof vote.

          He'll need to sign what Congress sends him.

          This is simply not accurate. He could easily threaten a veto if he wanted to take a stand on an issue.

          House Democrats aren't bound by his agreement

          Nobody is bound to this framework negotiated by the admsintration and Republucan leadership.

          and they have a strong enough majority to send nearly anything they want to the Senate.

          Not actually, but on this issue, they already sent a middle class only cut to the Senate and it did via filibuster this past Saturday. Inlduing other amended versions which include cuts for people making up to $1 million a year, and the GOP still filibustered it (along with several Democrats I might add).

          Give the Republicans their two-year tax break, and the Repubs will swallow nearly anything else that doesn't involve raising taxes on the rich or a few other hot-button items.

          There is no evidence to support that assertion.

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    Let me pile on against T.A. for this silly and short-sighted article.

    Yes, in all of Obama's giant pieces of legislation (health care, bank reform, stimulus, and now tax cuts), there is something for liberals not to hate. None of the giant bills are 100% bad. For that, I guess T.A. thinks we owe this president a tremendous debt of gratitude. If we can't muster it, we are naive and/or ignorant as to the workings of our government and what is possible.

    No! I reject that. Obama's presidency is so far a failure. The fact that he hasn't been all bad or that he's been slightly better than Bush doesn't change my opinion on this point. Our country is facing way too many giant challenges to get an uninspiring president who is unable to lead on any big issue and who settles for solutions that do not solve the underlying problems. T.A. is free to be content with "just better than Bush." I'm going to continue hoping and working for a bold and effective leader who is interested in solving problems and not looking bipartisan.

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    We already knew who Harry Reid was. I was pleasantly surprised by Pelosi's moves over the past four years, but that ain't enough.

    A president is the leader of his party, and it's his job to tell the truth to the public so that they may begin to get a handle on what's really been happening, who's been eating their lunch and so on. Yet while Republicans and their Tea Party supporters continued to push the free market, zero tax, crap that got us into this mess, and villified Obama at every turn as a laftist-socialiswt-commie-whatever, he's only had one move. Reaching out. It has not worked, and every bill passed over uniform Republican opposition was first weakened by Obama in hopes that doing the damned thing over and over would provide a different result.

    Had he gone the other route, he might well have provided cover for a bunch of timid conservadems to do the right thing in their districts. Instead, the entire left side of the Hill is in total panic mode, and once we hit January it's all over.

    If he continues with this little plan, all of the T.A.s in the world won't get progressives off of the couch, nor will they motivate those who vote based on gut checks, because there seems to be no there there when it comes to guts.

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    I'm with TA. Obama got what he could get given the politics on Capitol Hill. I don't like extending tax cuts for the rich (or continuing the estate tax), so we should keep advocating to eliminate them. But let's own this compromise and move on.

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    If there's one thing I've learned, Republicans are to blame for everything.

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    Well stated, T.A. Those who claim to be the "keeper of the progressive flame" are content to spew the most vile towards their own in honor of their supreme righteousness. Politics and governance is about coalitions. I'm happy that the president puts a nuclear arms treaty and our national security first, and isn't ready to throw the umemployed, the gay soldier, and the immigrant youth under the bus for the sake of ideology. Politics is the art of the possible. If you want to win more elections, progressives, consider that mobilizing support with coalitions of different thinking people is the way to get there. The correct time to consider a real tax reform may be precisely in the next election cycle two years from now when we dug our way out of this economic hole we're in.

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      Bill Ryan posted, "If you want to win more elections, progressives, consider that mobilizing support with coalitions of different thinking people is the way to get there."

      Harry S. Truman said, "Given a choice between a Democrat who votes like a Republican and a Republican, the public will go with the Republican." (possibly slight paraphrase)

      Anyway, how did alienating the base work for you, Bill Ryan, in the recent midterms?

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    I agree T.A. While I feel politically this might have been a questionable move, let us not forget the positives this accomplished, albeit some sacrifices. While it is infuriating that the 250K+ will have their taxes continue to be cut, it is equally important and imperative that we all note the amount of families who will be able to have a better Holiday season and 2011 with the 13 month extension. And the estate tax compromise is disappointing to say the least. But this just might end up helping Obama. Republicans have now been received a generous compromise, and it is their turn to act. What happens now on DADT and DREAM act and START will perhaps signal what will happen in the next congressional session. Will Republicans be willing to at least address the issues, now that tax cuts are outta the way? Perhaps.

    Lastly, if Obama had taken a stronger stand and said no compromises (ie: became a Republican), taxes would be raised on the middle and lower class of America. While politically it would be strong and spark the progressives, the combination of tax raises on working families, and the inability to extend unemployment benefits would further strain the struggling families of this recession. We must always place people before politics.

    We will not know the true implications of this deal until we see if Republicans will finally address other issues this country faces. Just my two cents.

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    I'm mad as hell with this so called deal...but, I'm trying to keep a cool head and see how this plays out and have faith there's some strategy here. While I am not 100% happy with Obama's leadership & the outcomes of some of his agenda items, so far, I have been surprised by what he has accomplished. (I thought healthcare reform of any kind was DOA...) But I do think T A is on to something here. The Rethugs do have the discipline to stay on message and throw those overboard that speak up against it. Dems/Ind/Progressives need to find a way to copy that approach, without shutting down opposing opinions and voices...

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    This is sausage making at its finest and now my progressive left friends are sick about what's in the sausage after watching it be made.

    We should be glad we even get something to eat, folks. Over the next two years, thanks to the anti-government ideologues that will run the house, nothing will get done to address these issues.

    Eat up while you can.

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