Thursday, January 3, 2013

Evaluating the Fiscal Cliff

The fiscal cliff deal having been made, all the pundits have been scrambling to sort out who won and who lost  and why. The score-keepers didn't offer too many surprises. On the right, at the Washington Post Jennifer Rubin claims "the left got taken to the cleaners" while Charles Krauthammer claims Obama's victory was complete, bringing him one step closer to destroying America. (The basic theory of Krauthammer is that he likes to speak and write in apocalyptic language so that his words complement his leathery zombie-like face.) Meanwhile the New York Times editorial board claimed Obama did okay but displayed too much of his characteristic weakness in negotiating. Meanwhile, Ezra Klein, Michael Tomasky, and John Judis write that liberal complainers are freaking out and should recognize that Obama won this fight hands down.

All of them link their analyses to the next stage in this ongoing showdown, the debt ceiling, set to expire most likely by March.

My two takeaways are slightly different:

  1. Liberals have plenty to complain about in the fiscal cliff negotiations, and justly so, but that doesn't mean Obama lost. Columnists like Jennifer Rubin always make arguments about Obama losing because they assume, wrongly, that Obama IS liberal. He isn't. But for a few specific political stances like his opposition to the Iraq War, Obama has always been a centrist. Liberals ought to complain to maintain leftward pressure on Obama, but to judge the fiscal cliff results by liberal standards would be foolish. Obama seems to have gotten exactly what he wanted. Put another way, it is always a good sign when David Brooks is frustrated as hell and Paul Krugman is just moderately disgruntled.
  2. The results of the fiscal cliff deal and the upcoming debt crisis negotiation matter far less to me than the divisions and dysfunctionality growing within the Republican Party ranks. The Democrats exhibited extraordinary party discipline through this ordeal while the Republicans not only lost, which was always going to happen, but they chose to screw hurricane Sandy victims for good measure and alienated as of now the most powerful mainstream candidate the Republicans can nominate in 2016.
It is rare when this is the case, but the policies debated in the last month, and soon to be debated in the coming two months, matter less than the politics... it is the politics that will determine if the Republican Party has a future, or if they continue down the path of ideological self-destruction.

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