In Death Match with McConnell and Boehner, Obama Calls in the Massachusetts Cavalry

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Anyone interested in a sneak preview of President Obama's re-election platform should check out the opinion piece by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in The Washington Post this past Sunday: "How Grover Norquist Hypnotized the GOP," 6/30/11,

Norquist and Patrick were in the same class at Harvard, but these two have never been on the same planet politically. Patrick is kind of a classic New Deal liberal Democrat while Norquist is a conservative (some would say ultra-conservative) Ronald Reagan Republican.

Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), which bills itself as a "coalition of taxpayer groups, individuals and businesses opposed to higher taxes at the federal, state and local levels." For more information, go to: http://www/atr/org/print

Norquist's calling card is the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," a document the ATR asks all candidates for state and federal offices to sign, committing themselves to opposing all tax increases -- anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances.

Obama is now locked in mortal combat with Republicans in Congress over raising the federal debt ceiling. A high-stakes battle of nerves and will that could well decide Obama's political future, the dispute boils down to:

Obama wants to cut two trillion dollars from the federal budget and raise taxes by one trillion on oil companies and the wealthiest Americans in exchange for Republican support for increasing the debt limit; Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell in the Senate and John Boehner in the House, are refusing to accept the tax increase part of the deal. If the two sides cannot reach a compromise in about three weeks, our government will begin to default on the national debt, with all sorts of nasty and potentially nightmarish consequences for our economy.

It is not surprising that Obama would turn to Deval Patrick at such a critical juncture, and not just because Patrick is his friend. The better reason for Obama to call in the Massachusetts cavalry is that Patrick has already survived his near-death experience with budget-cutting, tax-hating, public-jobs-eliminating Republicans.

Remember last summer when a lot of smart people thought Charlie Baker was going to clean Patrick's clock?

Remember how Patrick defied the skeptics and won re-election by skillfully concocting and delivering a centrist message that basically said government has an obligation to help people, that it is difficult but necessary to carefully balance the many demands upon the public purse, that getting through tough economic times required mutual sacrifice, and that the worst recession since the Great Depression was no time to take a meat axe to government services and jobs on the public payroll.

Patrick's "we're-all-in-this-together" message of 2010 will be Obama's message of 2012. With the economy doing just OK and unemployment still above 9%, the President really has no other option. If Obama can deliver it with as much sincerity and empathy and eloquence as Patrick did, the President stands an excellent chance of winning a second term.

See what you think of what Obama had to say, through Patrick, in The Washington Post the other day:

"It is now clear that the Republican strategy is to drive America to the brink of fiscal ruin and then argue that the only way out is to cut spending for the powerless. Taxes -- a dirty word thanks to Norquist's 'no new taxes' gimmick -- are made to seem beyond the pale, even as the burden of paying for our society shifts disproportionately to the middle class and working poor. It is the height of fiscal folly. It is also not who we are as a country.

"For nearly a decade, our federal government paid for two wars and a costly prescription drug benefit with borrowed money. Our government paid for the Bush tax cuts with borrowed money. Now, after exhausting the budget surplus left by the Clinton administration, the only spending Republicans are willing to discuss cutting is spending that helps the poor and vulnerable -- meaning anything that does not touch the interests of large corporations and the very rich. Last December, Republican hard-liners held hostage benefits for people out of work in exchange for an agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts for those who make a million dollars or more a year. Last month, many of the same lawmakers rallied to protect special tax benefits for oil companies that have made record profits on high gas prices.

"Meanwhile, some mom-and-pop stores and college students pay more in taxes than some of our large corporations. Still, taxes are sin to hard-liners, though they have difficulty demonstrating a correlation over the past decade between tax cuts and economic growth.

"Everyone knows that we have to reduce the deficit. Everyone also knows that reducing government spending and addressing revenue shortfalls have to be part of the plan. This isn't partisan; it's pragmatic. Some might even call it conservative. But Norquist and the rest of the radical right have so hypnotized the Republican leadership that they can't come out and say it. For them, maintaining their rhetoric about spending cuts is more important than preserving the civic investments that make America stand out from the rest of the world."

That last line -- "preserving civic investments that make America stand out from the rest of the world" -- had its antecedent in Patrick's re-election pitch about Massachusetts leading the nation in public education, investment in scientific research, environmental protection, etc.

It worked for the Democrats in Massachusetts last year. It can work for them in enough other states next year.

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