Yesterday, Ezra Klein cited a Marco Rubio tweet--"Report that #GOP insisting on changes to social security as part of #fiscalcliff false. BTW those changes are supported by @barackobama"--which Klein correctly identified as splendid evidence of Republicans' breathtaking hypocrisy and gutless stance and neverending political quandary. He summarized their plight with no small amount of sarcasm:
Today’s Republican Party thinks the key problem America faces is out-of-control entitlement spending. But cutting entitlement spending is unpopular and the GOP’s coalition relies heavily on seniors. And so they don’t want to propose entitlement cuts. If possible, they’d even like to attack President Obama for proposing entitlement cuts. But they also want to see entitlements cut and will refuse to solve the fiscal cliff or raise the debt ceiling unless there are entitlement cuts.
All true, and perfectly logical, as well as perfectly lethal--if you're a Republican. Which makes the fourth sentence--sort of dropped in by Klein without further comment--so indescribably baffling: "If possible, they’d even like to attack President Obama for proposing entitlement cuts." But there is no "if possible," there's only whenever, since President Obama quite recently did just that: he converted the merely possible into the tantalizingly embraceable for wannabe, safety-net-slashing Republicans.
Some observers have got themselves hung up on the merits (or demerits) of a "chained CPI," which itself is an altogether negligible skirmish within the broader strategic context. The unsurrenderable issue at stake is that of offering for negotiation the nation's most successful social-insurance program in the midst of fiscal talks which inherently have nothing to do with the insurance program and in turn the insurance program has nothing to do with our fiscal troubles at the heart of the talks. Which is to say, to dangle an umbelliferous irrelevancy such as a chained CPI--whatever its stand-alone merits--isn't a sign of presidential "reasonableness": it's a flashing, iridescent, explosive sign of negotiable cowardice.
As is moving $200,000 in the other guys' direction on a $250,000 tax deal (i.e., a move of nearly 100 percent), or marooning two top cabinet nominations.
Those other guys? They've smelled the fear, whose profoundly inexcusable element is its utterly inappropriate timing. With every passing day, a second-term presidency loses irreplaceable political capital. And yet the Obama administration just squandered a boatload of it, right out of the gate.
The upside? It's still early. There's plenty of time to alter course. And grow a couple.