I don't make New Year's resolutions. I surrender to every lazy, venial backsliding tendency lurking in my insufficient character. But they make sense for a lot of people. Not just in that that Dale Carnegie "winning friends and influencing people" way, but in the sense that they act as a bulwark against every inexorable, cruddy force surrounding us.
I know that my pledge to never again have cigarettes at parties will be violated at about 2:00 a.m. on January 1. For plenty of Americans, though, that promise to finally learn Spanish or start baking their own breads provides a bright corrective antithesis to everything we're powerless to stop. A resolution is a challenge; it threatens all the mess we know with something novel, something our own. Because so many of the sad, stupid things about the world are so frustratingly predictable.
Over the next few days, we'll look at some of those things. We have to face the nut-cutting reality to come, if only to ensure that we remember to focus on the joy of being able to understand Telemundo or make a good sourdough. Let us therefore brace ourselves, and so bear ourselves, that if the next 365 days are anything like the last, men will still say, "Saw it coming."
Obama Will Outfox Himself on the Way to the Bargaining Table
Before bringing Obamacare to Congress, Obama took single-payer health care off the table. It didn't stand a good chance of passing, but he forgot one of LBJ's rules of politics: make the fuckers deny it. The GOP would have dismissed it out of hand with a lot of ridiculous cost analysis disproved for years by the OECD and DEATH PANEL nonsense and screams of socialism, but there was no harm in making conservatives say, one more time, that they opposed the idea of health as a universal right. But, apparently rhetoric costs money, and there was no time to include any damn sense in the tortured 14-month kabuki of passing the Affordable Care Act.
So it probably should have come as no surprise that, after winning an election as the guy who would let the Bush tax cuts lapse and protect Social Security, Obama floated a baffling pre-Christmas proposal to modify the Bush tax cuts and reduce cost-of-living expenses on Social Security recipients. America is about to pitch over a waterfall streaming off the fiscal cliff, and the only way to make sure the boat doesn't break apart is to throw granny out of it.
Obama already has a healthy track record of preemptively compromising with people before they can raise objections, and he's going to do it again. To give you an idea of how this works, I've run analyses to generate a 100% accurate simulation of how Barack Obama would buy you a car:
OBAMA: It is my understanding that the Honda Accord EX-L is the fully loaded model, with a V-6, sunroof, A/C, power windows and doors, a CD player, an MP3 media jack, the upgraded wheels, more color options, a leather interior, navigation, phone, TV screen and an onboard hard drive. And that's about $40,000. And it's my understanding that the LX comes with none of that, and it's about $22,000. Now, what you have to understand is that I am willing to give you $39,000 for the LX—
OBAMA: —but you have to pay the tax, tag and title.
DEALER: I can take that back to my people, but I gotta be honest with you, they're not going to take less than 40, and—
DEALER: (levels him with a cool gaze, pauses for 15 seconds, opens his mouth speculatively, lets out a long squeaking fart)
OMG, do you have any idea how close you came to not getting that car???
Now that Obama seems to have decided that he's not bad at peeling out and choking the opposition with a cloud of his dust, it's easy to overlook that he's throwing valuable shit out of the car at the same time. Gawker's own Myles Tanzer has a good write up of a recent Meet the Press interview, in which Obama used softballs from DC's centrism capuchin David Gregory to "clown" on the GOP. The problem is, he's also trying to sell severe concessions to the Beltway commentariat at the same time, to set the terms of public debate at, "These cuts will be part of any deal, because they have to be, because we said so."
So while Obama said emphatic things like, "I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for this generation but for future generations," he also went on to say (emphasis mine):
I want to be very clear. You are not only going to cut your way to prosperity. One of the fallacies I think that has been promoted is this notion that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth. That has to be part of the mix...
Message received: "I am going to cut programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth." Because he has to, and because Moët-chugging Beltway "liberals" like David Gregory will give him perfect set-ups like, "You've got to talk tough to seniors... don't you, about this? And say, something's got to give?" GIVE THOSE POOR OLD PEOPLE HELL, BARRY, AND DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH THE CARRIED-INTEREST OR ESTATE TAXES.
Forget Gregory, though. That's a hell of a pledge, either way. In an Obama-run future, programs like Social Security and Medicare will be there for future generations. No one's saying they'll work properly or at anything other than a significantly sub-optimal or immiserating level, but they will factually exist. With an official name and everything. To return to the car analogy, it's like dad pulling you aside at age 6 and promising that when you turn 16 that Honda Accord is going to be yours. He'll leave the sunroof open, let the paint oxidize, the bottom will rust out, and he and his buddies will get real ripshit and blast holes in the sides with shotguns, but it will still physically resemble the shape of a car. There'll even be the name on the back and on the dashboard panel. Honda Accord. Go ahead, read it. Try to refute its being-ness.
Incredibly, Obama's concessions look like they won't happen, thanks in part to the stiff spine of congressional Democrats and the cooperation of Republicans. That last part seems bizarre, but the GOP needs the elderly. They turned out in strong numbers for Romney. You can freak old people out about race and homosexuality more easily, and those are two notes the GOP plays well. Not to mention the GOP tune of "immigrants are coming for all the federal handouts," which swelled the ranks of the drooling brownshirts of Lou Dobbs' Just-a-Minuteman Hang-On-I'm-Coming Army and their divisions of mechanized Jazzys.
That last item should make you pause a little when you read the rest of that Meet the Press interview. Obama's slate of second-term plans also includes meaningful immigration reform. And significant national infrastructure repair and green energy initiatives, which, in lieu of taxes, will be funded by eating gumdrops and saying, "Gee whiz." And don't forget gun control. Obama can probably broker a sweet deal on those too, provided a congress of stiff-backed, disciplined Democrats and pliant Republicans.
Maybe that Accord has a DeLorean time engine. LBJ and 1965, here we come.
Stay tuned this week for more predictions.