As a political strategy, the extension of all the tax cuts makes strategic sense. As Nate Silver explained, the Democratic Party was caught between choosing to hold out for no tax cuts for anyone or tax cuts for the wealthy in order to secure tax cuts for the middle class. Obama opts for the latter option, some Democratic legislators opt for the former.
As a political strategy, President Obama seems to have taken the best path to a coordinated outcome, as everyone is getting something of their first choice out of the arrangement. This makes political sense.
As a public interest strategy, however, I have deep reservations about this move. The United States budget deficit is a massive problem, not only in terms of economic performance, but as Professor Mandelbaum said recently on Charlie Rose, it poses a major national security threat to the ability to implement United States policy abroad. Abroad now referring to the place where terrorists live, (potential) nuclear powers shell islands belonging to other countries, World Cup bids go to countries that do not recognize Israel, containing the spread of AIDS is becoming more costly, and the location of all overseas financial markets.
Two of the biggest deficit cutting measures available as tools of policy are (1) getting out of Afghanistan and (2) Letting the Bush-era tax cuts lapse. The President has now passed on both of these rather substantial levers of fiscal policy. Lost in American monomania is the idea that government is an organ of social coordination that coordinates outcomes in a larger pool of collective decision-making. The idea that government coordinates outcomes for Americans as a body of people has been perpetually waning for some time. When the not-so-surprising conclusion that there really is a real world out there comprised of more than our narrow personal interests comes “home to roost,” to borrow a phrase from Hannah Arendt, the lesson is likely to be a painful one for many American citizens.
The media keeps the attention on dissatisfaction with President Obama from the so-called “lefty critics.” The definition of what makes “lefty critics” “lefty” anymore is not clear to me, except an attempt at using an evocative term. What worries me the most is that the group the Obama administration has run from the most is what might be called the cosmopolitan class, those interested in turning the globalizing era into an era of global development and an international order dominated by public action rather than power politics. The traditional left wing is still amply supported in the Congress, but for interested cosmopolitans, President Obama was supposed to be a “change” President that would wield executive power to establish more productive national and international public action. For those who believe that global social coordination is going to happen, the only choice is whether or not it will be more democratic or more oligarchic, weakening the power of the United States as a governing institution and as an embodiment of the capabilities of representative government improves the position of global oligarchy to democracy.
The last thing I want to hear from my President is that I am “sanctimonious” for thinking that stabilizing our deficit requires raising revenues, and raising revenues is important because it changes our leverage in improving the lives of people wandering through poisonous fields of our discarded televisions in China with their unprotected children because their government subsidizes the political strategic options available to our political leaders. The “sanctimonious” lot must be forgiven for not standing behind American flags while talking and using as much symbolic imagery about our homeland as possible to distract that policy choices are Orwellian in that “all are equal, but Americans are more equal than others.” Mr. President, have you met kettle?
For the cosmopolitan class, President Obama is proving more Neville Chamberlain than Abraham Lincoln. Wary of what forces may be on the march, I remain unmoved that my “sanctimonious” views should appease the forces hostile to human flourishing all the way to our proverbial Dunkirk.