Published December 17, 2010
President Obama’s deal with congressional Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts that has now been passed by both the House and the Senate and will be signed by him this week suggests a fundamental misreading -- by Democrats and Republicans alike -- of the implications of November’s historic election. Not only that but it suggests as well the failure of the president and both parties to deal in a rational way with the new balance of power in Washington.
Coming on the heels of the Bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report, which underscored the need to significantly reduce and ultimately eliminate the national debt that is more than $13 trillion, not increase it even more, we are deeply alarmed by the willingness of President Obama and both parties to sacrifice the national interest for political gain -- with a deal which at best can be viewed as the meeting in the middle of two failed policies.
If the passage of the Senate’s Christmas-Eve health care reform bill last year -- which aroused the country -- is the Ghost of Christmas Past, the tax deal has all the potential of becoming the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Regardless of whether you would support or oppose this particular compromise in the short-term, the long term deleterious consequences of the legislation for the country's fiscal health are clear and obvious.
It is as if there was no deficit commission report at all.
Both parties have effectively agreed to add an additional $900 billion dollars to the deficit, further putting Social Security at risk – with a bill loaded with earmarks that does not include one penny in spending reductions, pays no attention to deficit reductions at all, and offers no clear direction for the United States’ long-term fiscal policies, and no discussion of any long term plan to grow the economy and restore America's fiscal health.
The political machinations over the last week have revealed that Washington is more polarized than ever: both the Republicans and the Democrats are demonstrating unprecedented levels of insularity and alienation, while political gamesmanship -- fighting for the sake of fighting, battling for sake of battle, politics as a zero sum game – continues to be the way the process works.
Meanwhile, President Obama, having completely lost touch with the people who elected him, reinforced his image as an inside technocratic deal-maker who will negotiate with anyone for his own political gain on Tuesday as he attacked the “sanctimonious” liberal Democrats, the Republican “hostage takers” and even his own deal for including "tax cuts for the wealthy.”
Nothing better sums up the strange role the president has played than when he walked into the briefing room with President Clinton last Friday, asked the former president to speak about the deal, and then announced that he had more important business to attend to at a holiday party with his wife, Michelle.
Rather than offering a unified vision, President Obama has pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy of “us” vs. “them” -- pitting group against group for short term political gain – and managing to alienate the Republicans, the centrists, and his liberal base.
Having all but abandoned the visionary campaign promise of a post-partisan nation and a platform of reconciliation that he said would reinvigorate our democracy, President Obama negotiated the deal with the GOP in secret without the input of a single Democratic leader, which he then tried to sell to the Democrats by distributing to each of the Democratic lawmakers a bar graph labeled "What WE Got" and "What THEY Got." (According to the graph, "we" got more than "they.”)
But it is not a question of Democrats vs. Republicans, but Outside-the-Beltway vs. Inside-the-Beltway.
Put simply, both parties have fundamentally misread the election.
The Republicans don’t understand that they did not “win” the election; while the Democrats not only don’t understand why they lost the election, they appear to have no idea that they have lost.
No one in political class has acknowledged that the country is in danger. Voters of all partisan and ideological persuasions have grown increasingly enraged by the seeming ambivalence and incompetence of both parties to their failure to put forth a comprehensive set of initiatives to address, or even acknowledge, our most pressing economic concerns.
And as a result, we are seeing an increasingly widening gulf between the interests of the political class – whose primary interest is remaining in office -- and those of the electorate.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans in Washington view politics as a battle between implacable opponents -- a perception that has been exacerbated by the media, the blogosphere and all those Inside-the-Beltway who have a stake intensifying the partisan divide.
Both sides have fundamentally failed to realize that they have lost the consent of the majority because of the widespread perception that neither Party is interested in reducing spending, taxes, regulatory burdens, and eliminating earmarks.
Neither party has expressed any interest in real bipartisan compromise as they comfortably fall back into their old roles of business as usual -- fighting about who is in control, cutting special interest deals and not solving problems.
The best way to describe Washington today can be found in W.B. Yeats’ epic poem, The Second Coming: “the best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”
Indeed, both parties are pursuing an approach that is fundamentally at variance with the approach that voters desire.
The Republicans have no narrative except mouthing slogans. Indeed, notwithstanding their rhetorical commitment to cutting government spending balancing the budget and reducing the size of government, and abolishing earmarks -- speaking generally during the campaign about their willingness to put all options on the table in the name of fiscal responsibility – that commitment is illusory.
The GOP has been disciplined and purposeful in pursuit of its goals: capitalize on their perceived political advantage to block the Democrats whenever and wherever possible, and try to limit President Obama to a single term.
And with the resurgence of the GOP old guard, we are seeing the very same individuals who were responsible for the GOP losses in 2006 and 2008 appointed to committee chairmanships – energy appropriations, financial services – and on the verge of alienating the Tea Party movement, the independent swing voters who voted for them during the midterms, and indeed, the rest of the country.
And by pursuing a strategy of politics as usual, the Republicans now have much more to lose than the Democrats. They have been given a conditional mandate, which they are in jeopardy of losing before the new House caucus even takes office.
The question the incoming Republican caucus should ask themselves is: had they had gone to the American people two months ago and promised that the first thing they would do is vote to add $900 billion to the federal deficit – would the American people still have voted for them?
Meanwhile, the Democrats don’t appear to want to compromise on anything or develop any long-term plans to create long-term economic growth and job creation -- despite having spent the last year doing nothing about the economy.
A political incarnation of the headless horseman from Sleepy Hollow, Nancy Pelosi is reminiscent of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, “impervious with her power and relishing her ability to attack.”
But the election, to paraphrase Al Gore, was not merely an inconvenient event.
Indeed, our position toward the lame duck Congress can be best articulated by quoting Oliver Cromwell in his Address to the Rump Parliament (April 20, 1653):“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
The American people will not be mocked by a political class whose definition of bipartisanship is the bankrupting of the United States.
This behavior by policymakers in Washington is seeding the grounds for the emergence of an independent coalition or third party candidacy.
Voters are looking for policymakers and political leadership that champion fiscal discipline; limited government; deficit reduction; a free market, a pro-growth agenda; and comprehensive plans to create employment opportunities, enable entrepreneurship, and aid business creation.
What America needs is real compromise and political leaders who will work together to end the acceptance of everyday corruption and enact the major structural reforms to improve our economic competitiveness, balance the budget, reduce government waste, offer proper oversight by the government, and cultivate a sense of national purpose to unite America.
Patrick Caddell, and Douglas Schoen are Fox News contributors. Caddell was a pollster and senior adviser to President Jimmy Carter. Douglas E. Schoen, is a pollster who worked for President Bill Clinton and the author, most recently, of "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System."