GEORGE KENNEDY: Obama making the most of current situation

Thursday, December 9, 2010 | 1:47 p.m. CST

If, like me, you spend more time paying attention to politics than is really good for anybody, you've no doubt seen and heard the assaults our president is enduring from the self-styled progressives (the people who used to call themselves liberals) in his own party.

This week's sermonette is dedicated to those die-hard Democrats.

I'll begin with a couple of questions for them: First, did you happen to notice who won the elections in November? Second, would you rather stand on principle or get something done?

My memory isn't what it used to be, but I'm pretty sure I recall that it wasn't the Democrats who gained seats in the United States Senate and won control of the House of Representatives. The winners were those other guys, and by and large, the most virulent sort of Republicans.

The implications of that outcome should have been clear, so I'm not at all certain why so many on the left remain apparently oblivious. President Obama, as even his critics concede, is a smart fellow. He picked up immediately on a couple of new realities. One is that his life, and the prospects for progressive legislation, will be a whole lot more difficult come January. The second is that the Republicans already know that, so they have little reason to be accommodating in December.

Hence the deal he struck this week. (An interesting piece in Wednesday’s New York Times reveals that actually the deal was made by Vice President Biden in one-to-one negotiations with Mitch McConnell, who strikes me as being smoother than fine Kentucky bourbon and just as dangerous.)

From Keith Olbermann's cries of outrage to Sen. Bernie Sanders' threat to filibuster to the mutterings about a primary challenge from some unnamed "true progressive," discontent swept the left side of the land. Discontent and disengagement from reality.

Back in the reality-based world, even Paul Krugman, looking dazed and dour on the "NewsHour," admitted that the package of tax cuts and credits will be "mildly stimulative" and marginally better than nothing. Other liberal economic analysts, such as the heads of the Center for American Progress and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, recognized that the Obama team had made the best of a weak hand.

Several of those analysts noted that the outcome was better than any progressive could reasonably have expected, given the growing strength and unbending intransigence of the Senate Republicans. Sure, the rich get an undeserved and unneeded bonus from both the continued tax cut and the estate tax limits. But the extended unemployment benefits, the payroll tax holiday and other credits give the poor and middle classes more than the Republicans wanted to give. Altogether, the economy and employment will get a boost next year.

The president's critics seem also to have forgotten that even in December the Republicans hold veto power in the Senate, thanks to its archaic rules and to the untrustworthiness of such pseudo-Democrats as Joe Lieberman, who’s technically an Independent, and Blanche Lincoln, co-sponsor of the estate tax gift to the richest.

I'd agree that the Democrats bungled by failing to make a fight over the tax cuts before the election. That, as far as I can tell, wasn't Mr. Obama's doing. The blame goes to Harry Reid, who must be the most uninspiring leader this side of Nancy Pelosi. At least she can keep her troops mainly in line.

I thought Mr. Obama did a persuasive job of explaining his rationale in Tuesday's press conference. I even took some comfort from the prospect he offered of partisan arguments to come. Will he follow through? I take him at his word. He has, in fact, done or tried to do nearly everything he promised in 2008.

Meanwhile, if you're still distraught, I invite you to join me in the sports pages.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Paul Allaire December 9, 2010 | 2:04 p.m.

You know, if we can stop warring overseas they can probably keep the tax cut. Most of it anyway.

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