A day later I’m still picking myself up off the floor over Obama’s comment to Speaker Boehner, related in the Wall Street Journal story Scott linked here yesterday, that “You get nothing; I get that [$800 billion tax increase] for free.”
More startling than this—after all, we know Obama is a bad or insincere negotiator—is his threat to attack Republicans in his inaugural address and state of the union speech if they don’t relent on fiscal cliff talks. Right now the polls show this would be a winner for Obama, as a majority say they will hold Republicans responsible if we go over the fiscal cliff. But can he really be this short-sighted?
Okay, so we know that Obama has a high self-regard for himself, and that he’s also largely ignorant of history. Has he not meditated at all about the fact that nearly all presidents have poor second terms—most of them because of over-reaching? Does he really think the unprecedented step of turning his inaugural address into a partisan attack is a good idea? Not even Franklin Roosevelt, fresh off a truly crushing landslide that reduced Republicans to a tiny rump of opposition and readying his court-packing scheme, entertained such an idea. And even with that wind at his back, FDR’s court-packing scheme went down in flames. His intransigence on breaking Republicans on taxes but no entitlement cuts looks like it could turn out to be a similar miscalculation.
If Obama decides to break from presidential precedent and make his state of the union speech a partisan attack, Republicans should respond with the unprecedented step of walking out of House chamber in the middle of his speech. While the polls show a majority of the public will blame Republicans, in the long term this might not hold if Republicans can stick to a message, since the same polls show that a majority also thinks spending cuts are more significant than tax increases as a solution to our debt problems. It is not clear just how this whole mess would play out over time. If we go over the fiscal cliff, Republicans should then point out that the reason everyone’s taxes went up us because Democrats ten years ago opposed their taxes going down in the first place and prevented Republicans from making them permanent. Second, Republicans should demand that if anyone’s taxes go down, everyone’s taxes go down—no more singling out groups for adverse treatment. And any tax deal must include real spending cut. Oh, and don’t forget the GOP trump card: the debt ceiling, which will need raising around February or so.
The ignominious failure of “Plan B” the other night might actually increase Republican leverage when the debt ceiling battle approaches. As a friend remarked to me the other day, when you’re negotiating with someone as intransigent as Obama, “it helps if they think you’re crazy.”