Thursday, September 09, 2010

Divided We Fall

Is political expediency worth undermining your own leadership?

As the president chided House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio on Wednesday for wanting to continue tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans, Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township -- a Democrat in a vulnerable seat -- added his voice to a growing number of people in his party who agree with Boehner.

Obama wants to follow through on a promise to allow tax cuts passed in 2001 and in 2003 to expire for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making $250,000 or more, saying it will help cut the deficit. But increasingly, Democrats from more conservative districts are questioning Obama's move as unemployment remains high.

Extending the cuts, Peters said, "is the right thing to do, as anything less jeopardizes economic recovery."

No, most economists will tell you it's not the right thing to do. Extending the tax cuts for the wealthy will add to the deficit and are the least effective form of economic stimulus when it comes to the bang for your taxpayer buck. A better idea would be to invest in rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure, which would create jobs in the immediate future and pump that money directly to workers, businesses and local economies. The Recovery Act saved this country from an even deeper recession, and the growing consensus seems to be that it wasn't big enough... and yet...

Peters also opposes Obama's plan to spend an additional $50 billion on roads, bridges and high-speed rail. He said there's already funding for infrastructure projects that hasn't been spent.

Why not? Never mind, we probably don't want to know the answer to that. If Congress couldn't pump that money out fast enough to create more jobs before the midterms when unemployment is the huge campaign issue, then they will suffer the consequences. But, chances are that is a misnomer, that spending is probably already earmarked for projects that are just getting underway or will in the near future, as the tail-end of the original recovery funding is distributed. Or he is talking about the regular budget for infrastructure. Who knows.

That is beside the point though. We can argue the economics of this all day; it's the really bad politics of the situation that is the most disturbing here.

We finally have the President taking a solid stand on an issue. He's out there, standing up to the Republicans, standing up for the middle class, doing the things that progressives has been imploring him to do for quite some time now - and his own party is going to start "questioning" his moves?

What does that tell the average voter? It tells them that the President can't be trusted, that his own party is losing faith in him. It opens the door for the "more tax cuts" meme to take hold - which will (bad pun alert) trickle down to the state and local levels as well. It puts those people who want to support both Peters and Obama in the untenable position of holding two diametrically opposed ideas at the same time - and you are doing all of this two months before an election?

So, on what planet is this considered a good strategy? How well has undermining our own leadership to acquiesce to Republican wedge issues worked out for us in the past? Why is Peters doing this? You tell me, constituents of the 9th. How do you wrap your head around this one? At a time when we are supposed to pull together and cheer on the home team, suddenly the home team seems intent on making it awfully hard to do just that. Die-hard Democratic supporters can pull off the mental hijinks it takes, after all, we are used to it by now. But to that "average" Democratic voter, especially the one that opposes extending the tax cuts for the wealthy? It's a stretch - one that they might not bother to make on election day. They won't vote Republican, they just won't show up at all.

It's very hard to see what Peters gains from this stance. Perhaps he can be persuaded to back off and support the President and the majority of his party - because to continue to fracture "the base" like this carries some very heavy fiscal and political long-term consequences that will undermine everything we want to achieve.