Sunday, December 12, 2010

Obama's Christmas gift to America: a second stimulus

Guest post by Nicholas Wilbur 

Nicholas Wilbur is an award-winning reporter and opinion columnist turned political junkie and critic. He is the founder of the blog Muddy Politics and lives in New Mexico.

(Ed. note: This is a follow-up to Nicholas's first guest post for us the other day, "Obama's big gamble." Here, as there, he takes a positive look at the Obama-GOP tax deal. I've been deeply critical of the deal, as well as of Obama throughout his first term so far (though, yes, I remain a strong supporter), but, putting my concerns aside, I do hope Nicholas is right and that this is all savvy politics that will turn out for the best. -- MJWS)


Seeing Democrats kick and scream and bemoan President Obama's capitulation to Republicans on extending tax cuts for the rich this week reminded me of when I discovered as a child that Santa Claus wasn't real.

I wept at the thought of a barren North Pole, at the revelation that elves were a myth, that flying reindeer were a fantasy, and that glowing red noses were a phenomenon reserved in reality only for alcoholics. It was quite distressing for a young boy who was otherwise aglow with Christmas spirit every year.

Similar to politics today, life in general was confusing then. My still-developing brain somehow assumed the end of Santa meant the end of Christmas presents. If he wasn't real, there would be no one to squeeze down the chimney with a bag full poorly wrapped gifts with my name scribbled in my mom's messy handwriting. It meant no more Atari games, no more Hot Wheels, no more G.I. Joes... no more... Ninja Turtles!

It was the worst day of my life. I saw no point in living to see Christmas morning. The family tree decorating event suddenly had no purpose. Anticipation turned to loathing at the thought of steaming hot cocoa overflowing with the rainbow-colored, bite-sized marshmallows I once loved. The cookies and milk left out on Christmas Eve were but a treat for the rats before sneaking into my room and gnawing on my toes for the main course. And I had decided would let them.

After school – school is always where we discover the cold, harsh realities about the world – I went home and confronted my mother in the same way Democrats are now confronting Obama. I stormed into the kitchen full of rage and fixin' to take some scalps for the lies I'd been told since birth. But my rage turned to tears when I tried airing my grievances, and I broke down, choked up, then fell to the floor, where I pounded the linoleum with my clenched fists until my mother picked me up and explained away all of my fears. I fell in love with logic that day, and proposed to my mother.

She said, "Christmas will go on, and the presents will still arrive" – or something along those lines.

That, in essence, is what Obama told the American people this week.

"Your fantasies aren't quite accurate. I am not the savior. And yes, I delayed (by two years) my vow to end tax cuts for millionaires. But no, the sky is not falling. The tax perks will still flow like wine from John Boehner's merlot cellar." 

As I've said before, Behind every policy proposal hides a political power play, and only rarely is such a move made publicly that is not endlessly brainstormed, vetted and analyzed. 

It would behoove the liberal base to accept two things: One, Obama's compromise has been made. It's over. The bitching and whining and accusing the president of pandering to villains only weakens him and the Democratic Party. So let it go already. Two, Obama knows what he's doing. What he's doing may not tickle your fancy; it may not be the fight you were expecting; it may not solve the country's federal spending and national deficit problems, but those are not terribly concerning problems for Democrats. In fact, it's the liberal base and the Democratic Party that has spent the last two years trying, and generally failing, to explain that during an economic recession, spending is necessary and deficits don't matter.

It would behoove the liberal base to pull their heads out of their asses, get over the anger of Obama not meeting their expectations, and realize that the president is not so much a pansy-ass for capitulating on tax cuts for the rich as he is a modern day Santa Claus, sans the beard, the boots and the stupid white suit.

Critics say this was no compromise at all, but the truth is, Republicans got tax cuts for the rich, while Obama got not only tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, but an extension of the earned income tax credit, the American Opportunity tax credit, the child tax credit, a payroll tax credit, and a domestic manufacturing tax credit, on top of a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits.

In other words, a stimulus package. A $450 billion stimulus package, or more than $900 billion including the tax cut extension itself. A $450 billion stimulus package that never would have seen the light of day with Speaker-elect John Boehner (R-Ohio) in charge of the House of Representatives. A "[b]ig new stimulus that will almost certainly goose growth and lower unemployment as [Obama] moves toward re-election." And what did it cost the president? A two-year extension of a policy that has been in place for nine years already.

The 2008 presidential election is starting to blur, but I do recall Obama promising a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits. With this deal, he got 13 months.

The 2010 midterm election was a blur, in more ways than Christine O'Donnell could count, but I do believe it was Republicans, not Democrats, who were lamenting the swelling deficit, the ever-increasing federal budget, and who are now giving Obama $900 billion in tax cuts and credits (not to mention the green energy credits Congress is adding to the package) in exchange for a two-year extension of income tax credits for the richest 2 percent.

Politically, the compromise is ingenious. The two-year extension means the media, the voters and the candidates themselves will all be talking about tax cuts for millionaires during the 2012 campaign. If the liberal base is incensed by Obama's capitulation now, during still sluggish economic growth, it's ridiculous to think they'll be more incensed when a Republican nominee campaigns to continue these cuts when the economy is back on track and the incumbent is campaigning to end them.

"[W]hen they expire in two years, I will fight to end them," Obama said Tuesday.

"But in the meantime, I'm not here to play games with the American people or the health of our economy. My job is to do whatever I can to get this economy moving. My job is to do whatever I can to spur job creation. My job is to look out for middle-class families who are struggling right now to get by and Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own." He added: "A long political fight that carried over into next year might have been good politics, but it would be a bad deal for the economy and it would be a bad deal for the American people. And my responsibility as President is to do what's right for the American people. That's a responsibility I intend to uphold as long as I am in this office."

He doesn’t look like Santa Claus, but come January he'll be handing out gifts to the middle class like it's Christmas all over again. And come 2012, he'll have a record to campaign on, not a bunch of excuses for why the economy still sucks, why he couldn't get anything done as president, and how he just can't seem to land a blow against the politically savvy Republicans.

Merry Christmas, GOP. You just got duped.

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