Monday, August 1, 2011

Checkmate 2: The Sequel

On December 7, 2010, I wrote a short post called "Checkmate," celebrating Obama's tactical victory over Republicans following the end-or-extend-the-Bush-Tax-Cuts debate. (Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer made the same point three days later.) My post ended with the (optimistic) prediction that most of Obama's supporters would eventually realize what he had done, and, as a consequence, he would be re-elected in 2012.

Now Washington has just played another, far more serious game of chicken, and the conventional wisdom seems to be that Obama caved in. (Today's column by Paul Krugman succinctly articulates that view.)

But, once again, that view is wrong. Of course liberals will spend some time—maybe too much time—wringing their hands about Obama's "weak leadership," but in truth Obama has extracted a momentous victory from Republicans: he has begun the process of dismantling the military-industrial complex.

That dismantling is long overdue. The military-industrial complex represents the most serious single threat to the health of the republic—far more serious than low tax rates on the rich or painful (and counter-productive) cuts to social services.

A neighbor of mine—by which I mean that he also lives in Sunnyvale—summarizes my point in his comment to Krugman's column:
Obama's negotiations have gotten: 
1. The extension of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 99 weeks.
2. A 2% cut in payroll taxes to stimulate the economy.
3. Extension of the Bush tax cut for those who make less than $250K.
4. Passage of the START treaty with Russia.
5. No government shutdown, and no government default.
6. $900 billion in defense spending reductions. 
In return, the Republicans got an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy that will expire in two years, and about $200 billion a year in discretionary spending cuts [beginning, for the most part, in 2013].  
The Republicans would never have agreed to items 1 to 6 except possibly the payroll tax cut. Obama has mitigated the disaster not caused them. And the Republicans have sustained devastating political damage for modest fiscal gains.
I'm delighted that Congress has just agreed to massive cuts to defense. Of course I don't like the collateral costs. (Republican commentator David Frum nicely summarizes the dangers of contemporary Republican thinking.) But Obama hasn't merely acquiesced to the Tea Party. He's extracted meaningful, long-term changes to the fundamental structure of American life. In time, I hope we'll see this weekend as the beginning of the end of the American Empire—not because we almost stopped paying our bills, but because we finally stopped giving the Pentagon a blank check.

Update: an article in today's New York Times extends this point.

Update: The push-back begins.


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