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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Did President Obama Want to Give the Kidnappers Hostages?

Did President Obama Want to Give the Kidnappers Hostages?

Tuesday, 02 August 2011 03:59

Joe Noccera and Paul Krugman both see President Obama as having been taken for a ride by a Tea Party gang who were prepared to blow up the house if they didn't get their way. This is one possibility, but there is another way to interpret recent events.

President Obama had other options all along the way. As Krugman notes, he could have insisted last December that the debt ceiling was part of the deal to extend the Bush tax cuts. After all, contrary to what his National Economic Adviser seems to think, the Democrats did still control Congress at the time.

In the context of the debt ceiling being hit, he could have taken the 14th amendment route that a substantial number of legal scholars believe to be kosher. It probably passes the laugh test better than the non-war in Libya. He was prepared to challenge Congress for the latter, why not the former?

He could have also tried the stand tough approach. As we know, in the meltdown scenario Wall Street is on the front line. The J.P. Morgan-Goldman Sachs gang would be pretty damn furious at the Republicans if they actually put them out of business. It's very hard to believe that Boehner and company don't buckle in this scenario.

Finally, the whole debate has hugely misrepresented the Tea Party. Poll after poll shows that they are not really against what government does. In fact, they are huge supporters of Social Security and Medicare and other programs that support the middle class. And, after we pull out the military, this is in fact the vast majority of the government.

The Tea Party is against some nonsense notion of massive government waste that does not exist. Like President Reagan, they want to eliminate the Department of Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.

President Obama could have insisted that he would protect the core middle class programs that enjoy support across the political spectrum. And he could have said that the Republicans want to gut them.

Instead, he contributed to the nonsense. He made up a false story about the origins of the deficit, wrongly telling the country that the huge deficit came about from the Bush tax cuts, the cost of the wars, and the Medicare drug benefit. This implied that we had large deficits before the downturn, that large deficits were a chronic problem.

In fact, the numbers are clear as day and it's impossible to believe that President Obama and his advisers do not know them. The large deficits of the past few years came about because of the collapse of the housing bubble, end of story. 

So we can believe that President Obama is just a really bad poker player, as Paul Krugman suggests, or we can believe that he is getting what he wants. I report, you decide.

Comments (9)Add Comment
Tinny Tim
written by Benedict@Large, August 02, 2011 6:24
The 3rd possibility is that he is being misled by a hard right ideologue inside of his economics team.
written by John Puma, August 02, 2011 6:45
If Obama's playing 12-dimensional chess, why does the vast majority of the American populace continually get quadruple-jumped?
written by Ron Alley, August 02, 2011 7:49

Your argument misses the most essential point. President Obama came to office in the economic chaos of late 2008 and early 2009. In that environment, surely he would have wanted to surround himself with the best economists and appointed the best economists to head the council of economic advisors and to head Treasury.

So, where are the two Nobel prize winning Democrats who are among the best economists in the country?

Krugman is writing columns critical of both Obama's policies and leadership. Stiglitz has been left twisting in the wind.

What has Obama done with financial reform? Why did he appoint Geitner?

Let's face the facts, Obama has a serious disconnect with Democratic politics.

written by LSTB, August 02, 2011 8:34
Instead, he contributed to the nonsense. He made up a false story about the origins of the deficit, wrongly telling the country that the huge deficit came about from the Bush tax cuts, the cost of the wars, and the Medicare drug benefit. This implied that we had large deficits before the downturn, that large deficits were a chronic problem.

Alternatively, these statements are just evidence he's a bad poker player. Blaming the deficit on Republicans' tax cuts and endless wars is pretty good rhetoric, even if it isn't accurate. Perhaps he hoped the public would side with him over a clean debt ceiling bill if it thought Republicans were at fault.
See also Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi
written by Hugh Sansom, August 02, 2011 8:54
Green Greenwald and Matt Taibbi echo Dean Baker's point. Obama is getting what he wanted. Obama is either essentially conservative — a Clinton neo-lib/neo-con hybrid, or Obama is so spineless, so cowardly, he just aligns with whomever he perceives as holding power.
written by Jay, August 02, 2011 9:01
In an ironic twist the Tea Party is going to make things worse. If they are concerned about fraud, waste, and all that jazz then does it make sense to cripple the Inspector General offices across the federal government. Their message would have been clearer by funding these offices with record numbers of staff and resources.
Obama Got Exactly What He Wanted
written by Paul, August 02, 2011 9:59
His main goal was to take the Big Government/Big Spending/Big Deficit issue off the table for the 2012 election.

By forcing RepubliCons to buy into his deficit reduction deal, they no longer can campaign on this issue. Just to make things more difficult for them, he took tax increase off the table too.

Bottom line: this deal was all about Obama and his agenda for re-election. What are the RepubliCons going to run on now?
too much cynicism clouds the basics
written by frankenduf, August 02, 2011 1:34
yo Paul- ur kidding, right?- the repubs r going to shout from the hilltops the truth: that the masses of unemployed citizens have been ignored by obama- AND they can truly assert that obama initiated cuts to medicare and ss- not even W could do that!- imo, obama is in more jeopardy now of being defeated in the election- the only thing that will save him is the pathetic choices on the repub side
Headline, yes! Context, no!
written by Jamie C, August 02, 2011 1:44
I sort of agree with the headline, but I don't really agree with the article.

BHO wanted this fight. He wanted to bloody up the republicans. He knew they had to cave and he knew he would get deficit reduction out of it, as counter to the media narrative as that is.

BHO used this as an opportunity to show the country 2 things: he is serious about cutting spending (in order to destroy the Right's narrative that dems spend after the HCR bill) and that he is willing to against all odds work with the right. These two things are important because during a reelection campaign you need to court those stupid retarded independents.

All he's been doing since passing the (unpopular with independents) HCR bill was appealing to them. They think we should spend less (but have no idea how to do that because you can't touch their social security or medicare). So he did the politically calculated move of forcing Reps to cut those programs, but looking like an adult in the process. He cut spending in a very blah way where defense spending goes down and so do entitlements, but none of those cuts are immediate and none will affect the economy. And people are freaking out that he's going to raise the retirement age by 2 years in 20 years are ridiculous: we live longer, we work later. we should raise the retirement age! So I am only looking at this from a political point of view not a policy one, he looks like an adult. Despite the protests of left and the right, it behooves him to be bipartisan despite the fact that republicans are so committed to making him fail. And really we wanted him to be the initiator of chicken? He would look like a fucking retard like the Repubs do now. He let them take the heat for cutting entitlements and he comes out looking like a bipartisan adult.

Also let me say that the numbers aren't clear as day. The numbers say that over the next 20 years the Bush tax cuts and the two wars will be a significant chunk of our deficit and our deficit has doubled since the economic down turn. I am fine with the argument that deficits don't matter, but the problem is people think they do. And specifically those frustrating independent voters do.

Oh and also this argument for the 14th amendment would have absolutely gotten him impeached. The right was very committed to that idea, if he used it they would come after him for an abuse on his office. It would have been interesting, but it would have been bad politically because they were unsure where exactly they stood constitutionally, especially with Scalia et al.

Also, any article that advocates a position and then says "I report, you decide" is fucking retarded. That's the rhetorical nonsense that Glenn beck uses.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.