Thursday, December 9, 2010

Shades of Grey

Tax deal I hesitated to write about this, because it is seriously harshing my mellow.

The bubble chart you see on the left is a representation of the numbers in the tax deal currently being negotiated in Washington right now. The blue is what the Democrats got, and the lone red one is what the Republicans got. However, that lone red ball is tax cut extensions for the wealthiest 2%, and that is what has people in a tizzy.

Except 'tizzy' doesn't begin to cover it. I'd say it's pretty close to foaming at the mouth. Some of my fellow liberals say that they are leaving Organizing For America; some are predicting that this undoubtedly means that President Obama will not win re-election in 2012; all are saying that he "caved" and he should have shown up ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum (but of course, he'd be all out of bubblegum...anyone get that reference?); there are rumblings about putting someone up against him in the primaries.

May I politely say...everyone take a deep breath and just chill the fuck out, okay?

I don't like the tax cut extensions, either. I think that the wealthiest among us should pay more on a progressive scale, and the best case scenario would have been to have the middle class cuts extended and let the higher end tax cuts expire. Unfortunately, politics got in the way. I'm sure most of you who read this know that the extensions got all tangled up with unemployment benefits extensions, and Obama made the decision to cut a deal to extend all tax cuts in order to extend unemployment benefits in this extremely tough economic atmosphere.

Is it perfect? No. Is it the end of the world, the demise of the Democratic Party, the death knell of the Obama presidency? No, no, and no.

Let's have a reality check. First a little harsh clarity, then a healthy dose of optimism.

Obama cannot legislate. Congress passes the bills, he signs them into law. The Democrats didn't have the votes to pass the best case scenario I mentioned above. Might they have before the election? Yes. Go ahead and blame the Democrats for that one, but don't put it all on Obama's shoulders.

As the Stones said, you can't always get what you want...but if you try sometimes you get what you need. We wanted the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire; those whose unemployment benefits were close to running out got what they needed.

It's Washington, D.C., and deals are brokered all the time. It's politics; that is the nature of the beast. Would I love to see Jimmy Stewart go to Washington and change hearts with his integrity and honesty and steadfastness in the face of fierce opposition? Sure. But that's a movie. This is real life.

As for running a challenger against Obama in the primaries, please, PLEASE stop thinking this is a viable option. It's a rarity that anyone successfully runs against a sitting President in a primary, and it would do nothing but create discord, and would be political suicide for whoever decided to try. Does anyone think the Democratic Party would go against their sitting President? Also, who would you choose that could actually win? Hillary? She could win...but she is part of Obama's Cabinet, and has said repeatedly that she will not run in 2012, and probably not even in 2016. I don't believe for a moment that she would ever run in a primary against Obama. So who else would you pit against whoever the Republican candidate ends up being? Howard Dean? After his "scream" meltdown, do you seriously think that he could get enough Independents to get the win? Dean has also gone on record saying that he is not running and will support Obama in 2012. I have friends who love former Florida Congressman Alan Grayson and Minnesota Senator Al Franken. I love them, too. But again, please think pragmatically here: if you think they could beat someone like Romney, you are simply wrong. It wouldn't happen. Independents would never go for anyone that far to the left.

And here is a real nightmare scenario for you. Say you have someone like Grayson as your nominee...and the Republican nominee is Palin. Do you really want to take the chance that Palin might pull off a win? Someone sent an email to Jack Cafferty on CNN saying that he was a Democrat, and if it were Obama against Palin, he'd vote for Obama. If it were Obama against someone like Romney, he'd stay home. Really? You'd rather give up the Presidency to Mittens than get out and make sure the Republicans don't end up in control of the Presidency, the House, AND the Senate?

Please everyone...just get a grip and calm down. This really is not the end of the world.

In fact (here comes the optimism), some feel that Obama’s tax deal is effectively the extra stimulus that most economists feel was needed (that article is where I got the above chart). It was a back door stimulus, if you will, because if the Democrats had tried to introduce another such plan and called it Stimulus Part Deux, you can bet it would have died a swift death in the House. Some very prominent Democrat mayors support the deal. If you take a look at the whole package, you'll see that there are some very good things in it that will help a lot of people. The focus right now is very much on the "millionaire tax cut," but there is a lot more there. I hope that folks will take a breath and stop going bugshit about this.

I suspect this post won't be very popular with some of my friends and readers. Believe me, I share your anger that the richest 2% are getting a continued tax break. However, the middle class tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits are the real prize here. The former will make people feel better about spending for this Christmas and beyond, and the latter will keep some people in their homes and hanging on until they can hopefully find a job. Stop and think for a moment that perhaps this was a pretty good end run, where we gained more than we conceded. And please stop the breathless hysteria that is going to keep you at home next election day, confined to bed with a bad case of the vapors.

I mentioned on Facebook that this was not a black and white matter, that it in fact has infinite shades of grey. It made me think of the Monkees song (yes, I like the Monkees), and as I read the lyrics, I realized just how appropriate it was (video first, followed by lyrics). At heart, I am an idealist. In practice, I'm a pragmatist and a realist. It's good to have a combination of both.

When the world and I were young, just yesterday
Life was such a simple game a child could play

It was easy then to tell right from wrong
Easy then to tell weak from strong
When a man should stand and fight
Or just go along

But today, there is no day or night

Today, there is no dark or light
Today, there is no black or white
Only shades of grey

I remember when the answer seemed so clear
We had never lived with doubt, or tasted fear

It was easy then to tell truth from lies
Selling out from compromise
Who to love and who to hate
The foolish from the wise

But today, there is no day or night
Today, there is no dark or light
Today, there is no black or white
Only shades of grey

It was easy then to know what was fair
When to keep and when to share
How much to protect your heart
And how much to care

But today, there is no day or night
Today, there is no dark or light
Today, there is no black or white
Only shades of grey
Only shades of grey...


  1. Thank you Beth, I've been reading a lot of the foaming at the mouth critics who are ready to mount Obama's head on a pole and my head was nearly at explosion level. I was working myself up to blogging about this very subject, thank goodness I read your post first. I don't need to write anything. I'm just going to refer people to your post. I particularly like your choice of a graphic, it's such a succinct visualization of the reality of the compromise. You have made my day! I've loved you for a long time (not that kind of love, not that there would be anything wrong with it but wouldn't want Ken to feel threatened) but I love you even more tonight. :)

  2. all seriousness aside the turn of phrase 'back door stimulus' made me chuckle today.

    with the number of people on unemployment right now in michigan alone, i see the way the legislation was packaged as a way to do the most for the most people, and the thing that was for the 2% ers was a compromise which cemented the deal.


  3. You make some valid points, but that chart is a little suspect to me. I would mark the Social Security tax break in the Republican category. Democrats have never to my knowledge wanted a Social Security tax break. And that seems to be one of the current criticisms of the deal.

  4. Obama is smart enough to rally the base when the time is right -- I just wish he'd throw us a bone on this one.

  5. Hi Beth,

    I'm here because Sheria linked to you via a post at The Swash Zone (bless her).

    I, too, have been disheartened by what has happened, but I've also tried to read all I can about what the elements (good and bad) are in the tax deal.

    President Obama may have sacrificed his second term for the American people who needed the unemployment extension and who would not have been able to sustain a tax increase--the 98% who would have seen their taxes go up.

    I'm with Sheria and you and other Democrats (all 5 of us) who understand that politics is never about ideological purity, but all about compromise.

    Jon Meacham has an article in today's NYTimes, "No Deficit of Courage," about George HW Bush and his compromise on his campaign promise "Read My Lips, No New Taxes." Bush, Sr., did the principled thing and lost his second term. It is too early to tell if this will happen to Mr. Obama. But both Bush, Sr., and now Mr. Obama made decisions based on what they believed was right for Americans, and not for their political careers.

    Thank you and Sheria.

  6. "It's a second stimulus living inside a Republican tax cut for the rich, or a Republican tax cut for the rich living inside a second stimulus."--Derek Thompson

    I hope to hell that's right, Beth. I think, in truth, that no one really knows what it's going to take to generate jobs and make recovery apparent in people's lives, so this deal hedges all bets. Maybe we actually need all these tools to forge a real recovery; maybe we'd be dumb not to use them all when we don't know which ones we actually need.

    But there's that deficit, and we both know that there will be bill after bill coming out of the house next year, made in the name of deficit reduction, aimed at entitlements and services that are necessary to keep the Other 98% afloat.

    I'm looking around for some sand to bury my head in.

  7. Hi Beth, I'm here at Sheria's urging also. Excellent post and I agree - we need to realize this was going to happen as soon as the mid term elections were over.
    The upside is we can keep the fact that its the Republicans that pushed for this and are costing us trillions more front and center until the next elections.
    And I agree, he may have made a few mistakes along the way but President Obama is still out best hope for 2012. I like Al Grayson alot and if Biden decided not to run a second term, I'd love to see Grayson vetted for the position.

  8. I am going to work to get more people to vote. I already hand out the voter registration website in my county to everyone I meet after learning they are not registeres. Imagine adults who are otherwise smart and well educated not voting! I'm not going to get so angry that I sit on my ass and start bitching without doing something to make it better. I know, working from the bottom is hard and never ends but it's the only way things change.

    Our President Barack Obama is smart and courageous, but I think one of the reasons he did this is he cannot count on a "still" Democratic majority to do their job. Every elected person is so afraid of the anger of the right that they don't do their job.

    The GOP is in charge in Congress starting January 1. We need to get our act in gear and do real oversight, recruit more voters and work for the betterment of the country. Bitching and griping is not going to accomplish anything.

  9. Oh Beth, what a load of hooey. Republicans wants ALL tax cuts, all the time. They were delighted to "give in" on all of the "concessions" They's laughing all the way to their fat bank accounts at the notion that they get to appeared to have compromised.
    The President NEVER threatened the use of the veto. To agree to any tax cuts except those for the middle class is economimically disastrous for the United States. Our debt will continue to explode, there is no money for the middle class to expand because 50 cents of EVERY Dollar goes to 1% of the population.
    This was the time to take a stand against the DISASTROUS income inequality in the United States. Stimulus via tax reduction hasn't worked since Reagan--we've gone from 1 trillion in debt to 14 trillion, and now we're about to add several trillion more as our infrastructure deteriorates.
    It nonsense that we can't go back to the tax structure under which we thrived under Clinton.
    I hope you take time to listen to Keith Olbermann's special comment I posted on FB.
    Any deficit increase should have gone to hire a million teachers. THAT would have made sense.

  10. Mark, honey, the federal government doesn't hire teachers. Education comes out of state budgets. The only federal money that goes to public schools re some of the school lunch and breakfast budget and Title 1 funds. Title 1 funds serve a very limited purpose and are less than 5% of the average state public education budget. The states like it this way and in order to change it not only would the federal laws have to be changed but all of the state constitutions because each one claims public education as a state right. What's hooey is that most of the people talking the loudest don't know all of the facts, including Olbermann. You can't make an informed decision based on pieces of the puzzle; you need the entire box.

  11. Hi Beth,
    Sheria sent me here too (bless her heart ... and yours too).

    If anyone saw Alan Grayson on the Lawrence O'Donnell Show last night (MSNBC), you might have second thoughts about Grayson, who failed to comprehend the impact of the tax compromise on the lowest wage earners (a 50% increase if ALL Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire). Grayson is too thin-skinned to acknowledge his error and does not have the evenness of temper to serve in higher office.

    The problem among Liberals? We have a tendency to predate our own, and this must stop if we hope to win elections.

  12. Per what (O)CT(O)PUS wrote and found over at Josh Marshall's "Talking Points Memo:"

    "House Democrats voted in a private meeting this morning to reject the tax cut plan President Obama negotiated with the GOP.

    By voice vote, Democrats agreed to a non-binding resolution, introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), not to bring up the Obama plan in its current form.

    A House Democratic aide characterized the rebuke as a "vote of no-confidence" in the package -- a ratification of the anger Dems expressed to Vice President Joe Biden at a meeting yesterday evening about the details of the plan and the fact that House Democrats were closed out of the negotiations.

    The vote itself does not scuttle the deal, which most Dems predict will pass with overwhelming support from House Republicans, and a small but significant amount of support from Dems. However, if Speaker Nancy Pelosi refuses to bring the bill to the floor, the calculus changes dramatically. Thus far, Pelosi has made no indication that she plans to thwart the President."

    Well done, Speaker Pelosi.

  13. Here from the Swash Zone as well. - I can't help but thinking what the blow back against the Republicans would have been had the Dems held out and allowed the tax cuts to expire, including the reauthorization of unemployment benefits. They could have painted the Republicans if a very bad light. Then turn around and introduce a new bill containing tax cuts for everyone except the top 2%.

    Your post is encouraging, though my complaint all along is that the Dems and the president continue to allow the Republicans to control the message. These charts I've seen are great, but I only see them in blogs. The president has the ability to directly address the nation from the White House. He hasn't done that and shown people the facts. Until he does this he will continue to be painted in a bad light. Just look how the Conservatives have been able to completely turn around support for the health care revisions, as an example.


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?