The Magnificent Bernie Sanders

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Ben Cohen
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Matt Taibbi describes Bernie Sander's epic effort to derail the awful tax cut deal Obama made with the Republicans that has now passed in the House and is sitting on the President's desk to sign:

[Sanders stood] for eight hours and 37 minutes to make a case that the hideous deal that Barack Obama cut with the Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts was an outrage to the very qualities that matter most to this politician, common decency and common sense. While everyone else in Washington was debating the political efficacy of the deal – the Hill actually published a piece talking cheerfully about how CEOs found a “new friend” in Obama, while the New York Times shamelessly ran a front-page “analysis” talking up the deal’s supposed benefits to the middle class and the political benefits from same that Obama would enjoy – Sanders blew all of that off and just looked at the deal’s moral implications. Which are these: this tax deal, frankly and unequivocally, is the result of a relatively small group of already-filthy rich people successfully lobbying an even smaller group of morally spineless politicians to shift an ever-bigger share of society’s burdens to the lower and (what’s left of the) middle classes. This is people who already have lots of shit just demanding more shit, for the sheer rotten sake of it. Here’s how Bernie put it:

"How can I get by on one house? I need five houses, ten houses! Ineed three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, Americanpeople. We've got the money, we've got the power, we've got thelobbyists here and on Wall Street. Tough luck. That's the world, getused to it. Rich get richer. Middle class shrinks."

There is a debate raging on in the progressive blogosphere over the tax cuts with both sides making vaild points. My good friend Bob Cesca has made a forceful defense of the President's deal arguing the progressives are losing the plot when it comes to picking their battles:

No, this tax-cut deal isn't perfect. We're all well aware that tax cuts for the richest two percent won't create jobs, nor will they stimulate the economy. But -- and this is the case the president is making about the deal -- the only way to pass some form of economic stimulus (unemployment benefits) is to achieve a whip count that includes Republican votes.

And the only way to get Republican votes is to accept their deficit-ballooning tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- financed with money borrowed from China. Toss into the mix their laugh-out-loud, self-satirical contradictions about the deficit and debt "crisis" even though they're supporting the Bush tax cuts, which will add another $830 billion over the next 10 years. But the challenge is to overcome the GOP filibuster of, well, everything.

While I respect Bob's point of view I have to disagree with his assessment that a compromise must always be made. The thing is, Obama accepted the premise that middle class tax cuts and employment benefits were on the table for negotiation. They should not have been and he should have relentlessly humiliated Republicans for even entertaining the idea. Unfortunately, Obama did not and allowed the GOP to use them as bargaining chips to get their tax cuts rammed through. It's not the compromising that I mind so much, its where Obama begins the negotiations from.

When the stimulus was up for debate, Obama seemed to be negotiating with himself and offering Republicans massive concessions without needing to (they did not control any branch of government at the time). The stimulus was about half of what was needed, and we are feeling the impact of not listening to economists who actually knew what they were talking about.

When he pitched for health care reform, back room deals were being made with the pharmaceutical and insurance companies that gave away huge concessions before the public had a say. The public option was offered tepidly and no one really believed Obama wanted to fight for it.

When financial reform was passed, Obama's team consisted of the very men who helped bring the economy down in the first place. They asked for virtually meaningless reforms that will patch up problems at best, and encourage wreckless behaviour down the line at worst.

And now we have a tax and benefits deal that gives the bare, bare minimum to those who really need it, and billions to those who don't.

Obama had a massive opportunity to pass progressive legislation and set the tone with Republicans when he was elected to power. They were always going to call him a socialist and a radical and it would not have mattered what he proposed on health care, financial reform and taxation.

Unfortunately, he no longer has that window to push even partially meaningful reform given the huge losses during the mid terms. But he's not even fighting for it which makes him look weak and ineffective as a leader. And for that, he deserves the criticism being levelled at him from his base.

I'm not suggesting that progressives abandon Obama in 2012, but he needs to know that he can't keep giving in before he's even started negotiating without consequence. Otherwise we'll end up with Obama becoming the best President the Republicans have ever had.