Thursday, December 9, 2010


It's been a rough week for the President. Many are saying President Obama got outplayed in the tax cut negotiations by the GOP. (At least two articles appeared impugning the President's poker playing skills.)

To be honest, I'm not sure.

I admit that my love of the president does not always make me the most sober judge. While I don't think a tax cut for the rich makes any sense, policy-wise, the President was probably right when he said that raising taxes on the vast majority of Americans would have been disastrous.

That was what FDR did in 1937 when he was trying to counter inflation and balance the budget. The result was a serious recession in which unemployment spiked.

Giving a big xmas gift to the wealthy might feel unbearable, but it is more bearable than throwing millions of hard up people off unemployment. Obama also got a big payroll tax cut. These are not insignificant gains.

Yes, we're all going to sigh when we have to pay for all this down the road, but we've got to keep our priorities straight, and making sure nothing disturbs the recovery is the priorty right now.

However, the interesting thing I keep hearing is that this episode might embolden a primary challenge against the President from the left.

To continue the poker metaphor, I think the left is bluffing. But, if they're not bluffing, let me say this:

It would be the best thing that could happen to Obama.

"But Max," I hear you saying, "all the recent one-termers lost because they faced a primary challenge within their own party."

"Yes," I reply, "I see you've been watching plenty of cable news. I'm impressed."

It's true, that George H. W. Bush got a challenge from the right by Pat Buchanan. Jimmy Carter got Ted Kennedy from his left. Gerald Ford was dogged by Ronald Reagan. And these challenges from the right and left wings of their parties certainly sapped support.

But three things:

1) I do not see a credible alternative to Obama in the Democratic Party. (It can't be just that Joe Blow shows up and puts his name on a ballot. There needs to be millions of supporters for this to have an effect.)

2) For better or worse, it's not the fact that Obama is insufficiently left wing that is driving down his poll numbers. If anything, it was his healthcare legislation. The more he gets challenged on the left, the more attractive he looks to the center.

3) The primary challenge wasn't the reason these presidents lost. These presidents got primary challenges because they were doing a shitty job and probably would have lost anyway. If Ted Kennedy hadn't challenged Jimmy Carter, I'm still confident Carter would have still screwed up in the general.

I also think that you're starting to see the seeds of Obama's reelection this week for two other reasons:

a) With the payroll tax cut, Obama got, as David Leonhardt wrote, a "second stimulus." If, as Leonhardt reported here, this shaves a half-point to a point off unemployment, it will be well worth it and redound to his credit in 2012.

b) The GOP is not going to last very long without a major blowup.

You're starting to see it already. They stopped the signing of benefits for 9/11 responders? Seriously?

I actually asked one of my right wing friends how they could possibly do such a thing. He gave me a response which was credible, I suppose, but it doesn't change the fact that this kind of thing makes them look crazy. (Which of course they are.) It's a political loser for them. As are the hundreds of other tricks they're about to try, given the level of wackos that were just elevated to the House in the 112th Congress.

Not that I know anything, but you heard it here first.