MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell can barely contain his self-adulatory glee in coming up with the theory that President Obama has outfoxed the Tea-GOP in the debt limit negotiations. But the question is, why should the country be happy about what his argument implies for the President’s principles and veracity?
It’s clear that the Tea-GOP are now seriously split — between the crazies and the predators — over what to do about Mr. Obama’s insistence on more tax revenues as a condition for significant spending cuts. Since the holy Tea-GOP mantra is that any (net) tax increase is comparable to original sin and will get you expelled from Grover Norquist’s grace, the faithful don’t know whether to follow Mitch McConnell’s exit strategy, which at least keeps them in grace for now, or Eric Cantor’s no-exit strategy which . . . well, it’s not clear what would happen, but it’s got the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, the Federal Reserve, IMF and Wall Street freaking out.
O’Donnell’s theory, however, holds that President Obama essentially lied to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. He lied by falsely telling them — and telling the public in his press conferences — that he’d accept dramatically reduced domestic spending, including significant reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits, if only the Tea-GOP would accept net tax/revenue increases on a 3:1 ratio. And that’s okay, because he never really agreed to such cuts but knew the Tea-GOP would reject the offer, so he wouldn’t have to agree.
O’Donnell insists this was a clever lie, and those stupid Republicans and (O’Donnell loves this part) those mean progressive bloggers (I guess that includes me!) naively took Obama at his word. What fools! Since all the fools were duped, time has now run out on the debt limit, the financial elites will rein in the crazies, Obama will get a “clean” bill, and the Republican leaders will be seen by their base as unprincipled fools. So was Jay Carney lying today when he downplayed Mitch McConnell’s exit plan?
“This is not a preferred option,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said of McConnell’s proposal in his daily briefing. . . .
“The president is firmly committed to significant cuts in spending and to dealing with our deficit and debt problems in a balanced way,” he said. “Bigger is better. … It’s an opportunity for a game-changer, to put the United States on much firmer ground as we really get into the 21st century and the economic competition that confronts us.”
A plausible theory needs to accommodate and explain virtually all of the facts and observations relevant to it; otherwise it’s not credible. And Mr. O’Donnell has conveniently left out some important facts.
The President and his advisers have repeatedly told the American people that the nation needs to “tighten its belt” and get its “fiscal house in order.” He’s said repeatedly that the deficits and debt are contributing to business uncertainty, and this uncertainty is preventing the economy from recovering broadly enough to solve the very serious unemployment problem. He’s said we can’t even have a useful conversation about jobs until this debt problem is solved. He’s promoted the priority of debt reduction through White House appointments and Alan Simpson’s Catfood Commission, choosing individuals who claim deficits and the debt constitute a “crisis.”
Mr. Obama has also argued in public that the debt limit talks are an opportune moment to resolve these issues, and because they are so important, the talks should include massive spending reductions, a Grand Bargain. We need to think big, he’s said, and “if not now, then when?”
Now I agree with economists who think Obama’s economic assessments are not merely a misunderstanding of our economic situation, but unsupported, dangerous gibberish. But put that aside. O’Donnell’s theory implies that the President was either lying when he said those things, or he’s just lied to the Tea-GOP in a way that may tank the opportunity Mr. Obama claims we need to accomplish what he told us was a prerequisite to economic recovery.
So where’s the truth? Does the President actually believe the things he said in public? If so, hasn’t he just made it less likely he’ll achieve his goals, because he’s misled the Republicans (and the country) and humiliated their leaders whose agreement he needs? Or was he lying when he made all those arguments about the connection between deficit/debt reductions and fixing the economy? If so, then where’s his jobs program and why has he been embracing talking points that make such a program harder to achieve?
What should voters, particularly those who care about Social Security and Medicare, think? Should they assume that Mr. Obama really would accept significantly lower benefits for those on Social Security and Medicare in exchange for higher taxes on carried interest and changing deductions for corporate jets? Where does that leave the Democratic Party? Or should voters assume Mr. Obama was lying about all that and would never accept the deal he said he’d make?
It would be tragic if Mr. Obama achieved what he claimed to be pursuing, whether or not it embarrassed Tea-GOP leaders. But even if all that has happened is that Obama has split and humiliated those leaders, we’re still stuck with a President who claims to believe economic notions that would harm millions of people. Unless he was lying. Next theory?