Over the last week I have been paying intense attention the issues surrounding the Obama / Republican middle and upper class tax deal. In the past I have generally supported President Obama in such things as his bail out of banks to save the economy and in his jettisoning of single payer health insurance because it simply was not doable. In this debate my positions is much closer to those of much of the political left. I think that there are several reasons for my change in attitude. First my knowledge of the economics of the earlier liquidity crisis was very weak. This fact when combined with my liking for Obama and my dislike of Left “purism” a real tendency in much of the left caused me to support Obama policies at that time. Since many economists still believe that Obama and his people saved the economy I do not renounce my position. The same tendencies also were major factors in my support of the Obama health care bill. I thought that it was simply perverse for many in the left to reject a very imperfect health care bill in the name of a non existing perfect one. Another factor in my support of Obama has been my general support of Barack Obama’s positions on foreign policy. I see nothing moral about throwing Afghanistan and Iraq to the friendly embrace of the Taliban and Al Qaeda theocracy and terrorism. I am very aware that the Karzai government is corrupt to its core but will a Taliban triumph in Afghanistan , the collapse of Iraq into anarchy, and using a domino theory analogy the triumph of Islamic theocracy over Pakistan and much of the Mid East be good for the peoples of those societies and America and humanity in general? I doubt it. However the resource drain is intense. Perhaps these wars are not winnable and it is time to cut and run. But if America does make a strategic retreat lets not make out that this will be the triumph of peace and love. It will be a triumph of evil and probably long term greater danger.
Now to the recent struggle over taxes. In contrast to the political situation at the time of the development of early Obama economic policy and the health care debates, the tax cut debate entered its height after the disastrous Democratic Party collapse of November. President Obama’s failure as a political leader at this stage of his administration is evident. (I still hope that he will turn this around though the prospects do not look good.) Why did Obama fail as a leader? Was it because of his failure to be more centrist, more compromising, with the Republican Party as conservative columnist David Brooks argues? Or perhaps Obama has not fought hard enough to support the ideas of his base as the left contends? In this debate I am increasing taking the side of the left. Yes I hate left dogmatism, self righteousness, and dislike purists. But all of the left can not be characterized as such. Further more it seems to me that much of what a political leader must do is to keep the support of his base strong. I do not know what Machiavelli would have said on this issue but I think that he would have agreed.
And what is obvious as a result of the November elections is that one of the reasons for the democratic defeat was the demoralization of the Democratic base. What is also obvious is that Obama failed miserable in framing the political issues in way that made sense to most of the American people. I think that a key reason of this is that Obama simply does not believe that political warfare has any real role in politics. He does seem to think that the art of governing nations is based purely in deal making between the existing players based on their current but perhaps temporary levels of power. So Obama to insure the continuation of the middle class tax break decided to cut this kind of deal without being willing to engage in any kind of real political warfare.
In this I think that Obama is deeply flawed as a political leader. I think that politics is in fact is always about warfare by political means. In the Middle Ages politics was done on the bloody battle field. In modern democracies is done by fund raising, propaganda, the demonization and the assassination of the characters of one’s foes. One of the means by which modern Presidents can wage battle is through the bully pulpit. While I do not believe that this pulpit is omnipotent or that decades of political conditioning can be reversed completely by political leadership, it still has great power. Obama refuses to use it effectively when making governmental policy. Thus in looking back at the health care debate, while I do not believe that single payer was ever a real option, I believe that a decent governmental option in the health care plan should have passed. I think that the filibuster and Obama’s failure to fight effectively for it are the primary reasons it did not pass. In the tax debate I agree with those who believe that Obama should have fought vigorously before compromising. Yes there comes a time to compromise. However it should come after a full political debate which shows with the crystal clarity to configuration of each side. But of course the America people were held hostage by the Republican Party’s stand on the middle class tax cut. Let me ask a question would this nation really have suffered so greatly without this tax cut? Perhaps it will suffer more because of the massive new deficits that will occur because of the deal which was struck. Well I do not want to continue with this now. Attached are the links to two of my favorite political writers Paul Krugman my favorite economics columnist and the other is by David Brooks my favorite conservative columnist. If all Republicans were like him it would be a much more decent party. Any way these are their most recent takes on the tax debate and well worth reading.