Krugman sees presidential promiscuity as having spoiled the children rotten:
Mr. Obama essentially surrendered in the face of [Republican extortion] at the end of 2010, extending low taxes on the rich for two more years. He made significant concessions again in 2011, when Republicans threatened to create financial chaos by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And the current potential crisis is the legacy of those past concessions.
In 2010 and 2011 I was of two minds, first conciliatory, then unbending. Economic fragility and the offsetting sweeteners of payroll tax cuts and an extension of federal unemployment benefits made Obama's 2010 concession to the Bush brackets a virtual no-brainer, notwithstanding the professional left's vapors. Would the economy have suffered had the upper-end cuts expired? Empirical evidence answers with a resounding No; however the lower-end cuts, plus payroll reductions and unemployment benefits, were indispensable in their stimulative effects. Hence the compromise was valid from an economic standpoint--and politically speaking, the president needed the confidence of independents.
Yet in the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, I turned uncompromisingly hardass. In my scarcely isolated opinion the debt, as a hostage, was non-negotiable. The 2010 deal was merely old-fashioned horsetrading: distasteful and unquestionably imperfect, but nonetheless serving the overall good. But raising the debt ceiling? A traditionally bipartisan piece of essential housekeeping? To render an imperative of routine governance an object of infinite blackmail seemed an act of madness. The blackmailers would be back, year after year after year, dictating not essential fiscal housekeeping, but national policy ... on, well, anything they want. We either hand it over, or the country gets it.
To rather understate matters, that's both an unsustainable system and a thoroughgoing repeal of constitutional government. One might skirt a little devastation here and maybe an apocalypse there--for a while. But make no mistake: the hoodlums would be in charge, "mobocracy" would have a whole new meaning, and ultimately it all--all of it--would come crashing down.
I remain convinced that Obama would have won a "clean" debt-ceiling showdown. When he finally took to the bully pulpit--mostly to explain that raising the ceiling was about meeting present obligations, and not indulging future extravagance, as many mistakenly believed--he began turning popular opinion to his favor. But, a deal was cut, the hostage was released, and here we are.
I'm equally convinced that Obama won't make the same mistake twice (and it would be twice, not thrice, as Krugman and the progressive camp are arguing). A fiscal cliff? More of a slope, as many are pointing out. And Obama holds the high ground.