White House aides are anxious to portray the deal Obama cut with the Republicans over the extension of the George W. Bush tax cuts as a shrewd move to the center. It was nothing of the sort. It was surrender, pure and simple.
It was as much of a "compromise" as that reached between Gens. Grant and Lee at Appomattox and between Emperor Hirohito and Gen. MacArthur on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945.
When Bill Clinton triangulated, he never abandoned his personal view or his policy preferences. He had always endorsed welfare reform and embraced both the work requirement and the time limit on the dole. He had vetoed previous Republican welfare reform bills because they included Medicaid and food stamp cuts, which he has always opposed. When he signed an anti-crime bill, he had always supported GOP positions on the death penalty and truth in sentencing. And when he reached his balanced budget deal, he gave away nothing.
Democrats are right to portray Obama's compromise as a surrender. He desperately wants to raise taxes on wealthy people, not for the revenue as much as to redistribute income. But he couldn't do it and gave in.
The Obama surrender over the Bush tax cuts tells us something about the man: He has, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt describing President William McKinley, "no more backbone than a chocolate eclair." He blinked over the tax cuts, and he will blink again and again and again. He will blink over the debt limit extension. He will blink over bailing out the states from their red ink. He will blink over a balanced budget with no tax increases. He may not blink over defunding Obamacare, but we'll at least get a wink or two out of him.
If the Democrats do not pass the extension of the Bush tax cuts, it's no big deal. In fact, it's good for the Republicans. They should reconvene on Jan. 3, 2011, and pass the extension on their own. And, while they are at it, they should rescind enough spending to lop off the $100 billion they promised in the election, thus paying for much or all of the extension.
Republicans should not make a big deal over the inheritance tax extension. A $5 million exemption protects 40,000 of the 44,000 estates that will come up for tax next year. The other 4,000 are not worth the fight.
And the GOP should go along with the extension of unemployment benefits. They cannot extend tax cuts on those making more than $250,000 at the same time that they terminate unemployment benefits. They just can't do it.
Barack Obama is contracting the disease of presidents -- the perception of weakness. It almost stopped Bush-41 from getting elected, and it almost denied Clinton a second term. He is caught between America's desire for compromise and its demand for a strong president. If he fails to bring his own party into line behind the extension of the tax cuts, it will send a further signal of weakness. And Americans do not like a weak president.