Fighting With Jell-O; or, The Ice Man Stays Cool

John Boehner complained yesterday that dealing with the White House is like dealing with Jell-O. This reminded me of the late Dainin Katagiri Roshi, a Japanese Zen master who brought Soto Zen to Minnesota. He used to tell his students, “fighting with me is like fighting with tofu.” The Roshi appeared to offer no resistance, yet didn’t change shape. It’s like kung fu. The Roshi usually got his way.

So where are we this morning on the debt ceiling?

Old CW: The President is a spineless appeaser.
New CW: The President is Jascha Heifetz, Republicans are the violin.

This is the opinion of Lawrence O’Donnell, from last night’s The Last Word.

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The normally disciplined congressional Republicans are now in an all-out panic in the most difficult negotiation they have faced to date with President Barack Obama. As the President holds to his bluff that he wants a big deal, a $4 trillion deficit reduction package, the Republican leadership has gone from retreat, from $4 trillion to $2 trillion, then to yesterday’s surrender position outlined by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell to today’s total outright confusion about what to do, or think, next. They should, by now, have realized that they were tricked by the President into weeks of discussion of trillions in possible spending cuts.

Eric Cantor and John Boehner, the lead Republican negotiators, went into those discussions with the Vice President and the President with no real experience in negotiating anything this big, anything half as big as this with an opposition party. They forgot the maxim often repeated by participants to the press, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, and with some of the Democrats at the table doing the smart thing, continuing to smile and nod as the Republicans targeted spending cuts they would like, the rookie Republican negotiators made the mistake of thinking they had reached areas of agreement with the Democrats when, in fact, absolutely nothing had been agreed to, not one dollar, not one spending cut had been agreed to because everything was never agreed to.

Naively thinking they were making progress in those negotiations with the White House, which, it turns out, really were only discussions, not negotiations, the rookie Republican negotiators were lulled into allowing the clock to run down on the time left before the Treasury risks default and hits the debt ceiling on August 2nd. The President timed his changing of the subject to taxation perfectly. Once the republicans realized the president was truly insistent, not bluffing in any way about the need to include additional tax revenue in any sized deficit reduction package, they abandoned the negotiations. They gave up on $4 trillion, then they gave up on $2 trillion, because any package they negotiated, the President was insisting, must have tax revenue in it, any package of any size, so the Republicans had nowhere to go, there was no size package they could negotiate.

The naive Eric Cantor proudly and very loudly refused to attend any more meetings as soon as the President became insistent on taxation. That, of course, gave the President exactly what he needed at that time — the image of the reasonable man trying to do the responsible thing but unable to secure the cooperation of some irresponsible juveniles who would sooner run away than fulfill their oath of office and bear the responsibilities of leadership.

America’s moneyed interests, who spend millions trying to keep Republicans in charge of the tax code so that they will save billions in taxation in their corporations and their personal fortunes, looked on with increasing alarm. Now those moneyed interests are desperately trying to teach economically illiterate Republicans in Congress that there are worse things that can happen to their wealth than taxation. The Huffington Post reports today the Citigroup report issued this week says, “asking what the U.S. economy might look like after a possible U.S. Treasury default is akin to asking what you will do after you commit suicide.”

Having taken the debt ceiling hostage for the last six months, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who have finally made it clear the debt ceiling must be raised, are trying and failing to figure out how to release their hostage without suffering a unanimous press judgment that they were beaten badly in this hostage taking, humiliated really, by President Obama, the same president whose reaction to hostage taking by Somali pirates was to shoot them in the head.

The President’s calm — no, not his calm, his deadly coldness — face-to-face with these inexperienced, incompetent political hostage takers has thrown them and their usually bombastic cheerleaders cowering in fear. Consider the lead editorial today in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, normally a champion of the most ludicrous republican policies and strategies, encouraging, which is to say ordering, a full surrender on the part of Republicans on the debt ceiling, saying of Mitch McConnell’s strategic surrender yesterday, “Who can blame them?”

They have finally caught on to what they say today has been, quote, “The President’s strategy all along, take the debt limit talks behind closed doors, make major spending cuts seem possible in the early days, but then hammer Republicans publicly as the deadline nears for refusing to raise taxes on business and the rich.”

Murdoch’s editorial writers who normally find themselves in fundamental agreement with the right-wing blogosphere are now trying to put down any possible mutiny against the McConnell surrender. Quote, “The hotter precincts of the blogosphere were calling this a sellout yesterday, though they might want to think before they shout. The debt ceiling is going to be increased one way or another, and the only question has been what if anything Republicans could get in return. If Mr. Obama insists on a tax increase, and Republicans won’t vote for one, then what’s the alternative to Mr. McConnell’s maneuver?”

The president’s statements about what may or may not happen to Social Security checks in the event of a debt ceiling crisis has inspired the Murdoch editorial writers to advise freshman tea party Republicans to not trust the polls they are looking at today. Quote, “The polls that now find that voters oppose a debt limit increase will turn on a dime when Americans start learning that they won’t get Social Security checks.”

If the Republicans had a plan that they thought would work when they took the debt ceiling hostage, it could only have been the misguided expectation that when the moment came for the presidential decision in these discussions, Barack Obama would simply cave to the hostage takers’ demands. Ironically, others who shared that view as the possible outcome, here on the left side of our politics, have positions in the blogosphere and megaphones in which they have relentlessly trumpeted their distrust of Barack Obama’s strength of character and his command of presidential power.

As of tonight, the one person who we know is not panicking about what to do next is Barack Obama. Eric Cantor, however, has just described the meeting tonight at the white house this way to reporters. He, the president, got very agitated, said that he had sat there long enough, that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t sit here like this, and that he’s reached the point that something’s got to give. A democratic aide tells NBC, Cantor’s account of tonight’s meeting is completely overblown.

I’m going out on a limb and predict that McConnell’s surrender will have to be substantially modified before President Obama will accept it. The debt ceiling will be raised once, enough to cover expenses until 2013. Some spending cuts may be agreed to, but there will be no agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

Other Stuff to Read:

John Nichols, “ALEC Exposed.”
Steve Benen, “When There’s No Method to the Madness.”
Nate Silver, “GOP’s No-Tax Stance Is Outside Political Mainstream.”

Updated — More Other Stuff to Read:

Ezra Klein, “Why Obama Walked Out.”
The Booman, “Real Professional Kabuki Theater.”
Glenn Kessler, “Paul Ryan’s Misleading Historical Analogy.”
Dana Milbank, “Michele Bachmann’s Defaulty Logic.”

35 thoughts on “Fighting With Jell-O; or, The Ice Man Stays Cool

  1. It grows curioser and curiouser…

    Say what you will about Obama, but this time it looks like he definitely played Boner, Yertle the Anti-gay Gay Turtle, and Eric Cant-do Shit , beautifully, and painted them into a very tiny, narrow corner.
    Now, we’ll see what he’ll do with them. Will the cat go for the kill on the little mice he’s trapped, or is he going to play with them for a while, and then let them loose.
    I think this time, he ain’t gonna let ’em loose.

    And that traiterous bastard, Grover “Norquisling,” has had a nice run with that idiotic ‘no tax’ pledge for about 20 years. But, I think the ‘vipers have come home to roost.’

    The old Republican idiots in both houses are scared shitless of the Teabaggers primarying them, and the new imbeciles in both houses are indebted to them. So, they’re all in on the “TEA – Taxed Enough Already” aspect of the racist, xenophobic, sexist, moronic Bircherites, that is pretty much a collage of what the Republican Party has stood, and still stands, for. And who, if he didn’t start it, certainly perfected, and made his fame and fortune insisting on NO new taxes ever? Not EVAH! NO NEVAH!! Not even during a time of “war” NEVAH EVAH, NO-HOW, NOTTA, NO-WAY!!!
    Good Ol’ Norquisling.
    And this will all be blamed on him. Somehow, it will all fall on him. Hey, somebody’s got to be the fall guy, the sacrificial lamb. And the Teabaggers will demand a blood sacrifice. They’ll want Obama, but that won’t happen. And after they realize that, it won’t matter who. And, since Grover never ran for office, never served in government, just made HIS fortune off its teat, they’ll figure out a way to pin this all on him.

    If I were Grover, I’d get the f*ck out of Dodge ASAP!
    And stay out! And I mean, like in another country, in cognito, with false ID, and money stashed, like a guy who stole from the Italian, Russian, Chinese and Jamaican mobs as his main course, and the Yakuza for dessert.
    Because if the Republicans agree to any tax whatsoever, even anything so much a tax only on platinum commodes, and warmed golden seats on private Lear jets, the Teabgging idiots will be screaming for blood.
    And if Ol’ Grover’s found in a wetsuit with an O2 tank, with flippers, holding a speargun, high one meth and ecstasy, with a whirring dildo shoved so far up his ass that it’s tickling his heart and is playing Kate Smith singing “God Bless America,” hanging in the closet of some “No-Tell Motel” in the DC area, THIS time it’s won’t be suicide. This time, it’ll murder. Cleverly diguised as a closeted conservative deviant accidentally offing himself as he lived out his childhood fantasy of giving Jacques Coustea a hummer, while Flipper shoved his bottle-nose up his ass just like his Daddy did.

    Or, Grover, you can go out with some dignity. Commit suicide! But make it SEEM like a murder!
    Put on a wetsuit with an O2 tank, flippers, holding a speargun, get high one meth and ecstasy, with a whirring dildo shoved so far up your ass that it’s tickling your heart and plays Kate Smith singing “God Bless America,” and hang yourself in the closet of some “No-Tell Motel” in the DC area.
    But leave a note saying, “I was murdered. It was… It was… Bone… Turtle… Can… Aaaarh!” Fix the bastards!
    Either way, you’re a goner, Grover.

    RIP: Grover Norquist.
    Maybe as a final “F*CK YOU,” to you, Grover, Obama could add a headstone tax!

  2. So now if you’re a republican, you raise the debt ceiling without much fanfare, and then complain about how Obama was not willing to negotiate in “good faith” and that you, the repugs, are the adults who wouldn’t hold the country’s economy hostage to get everything they wanted. You know, complain that Obama was doing exactly what they were doing. A local hate radio guy this morning here in BeerTown was complaining that Obama had stormed out of the negotiations and was acting like a petulant little child. You know, exactly what Cantor had done a few weeks ago.

  3. Here’s today’s Repuglican bible verse.

    They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind

  4. Can you imagine this country free of the Bush tax cuts? My heart overflows….

    Where do I send Mr. President love letters?

  5. Remember in the 2008 debates when McCain found himself having to bring up Bill Ayers? Remember the look on Obama’s face when he did? A little like a triumphant gladiator who’s just gotten the thumbs-down from the crowd.

    Whether or not he’s as liberal as we would all like him to be, I don’t see how anyone can doubt that Obama is a formidable opponent. All these people scoffing about his supposed 11th dimensional chess games appear not to have noticed that rope-a-dope is his standard MO.

    Boehner found that out after the last showdown, getting that budget passed so we could avoid a government shutdown. Boehner thought he was getting all these huge spending cuts, only to wind up complaining about how he’d gotten rolled.

  6. “And that traiterous bastard, Grover “Norquisling,” has had a nice run with that idiotic ‘no tax’ pledge for about 20 years. But, I think the ‘vipers have come home to roost.'”

    Diane Rehm had Grover on this morning, she actually asked him about some specific things that he would cut and what government agencies he would do away with and pursued him a bit. From what I heard, I was amazed at how few real ideas he was able to articulate. There was no “there” there.

    Occasionally he tried one of the false common sense distortions. E.g. “if the FDA takes ten years to pass a drug because it requires trials, and the drug would save 5,000 lives a year, then how about those 50,000 people who died because of drug regulation?” Wow, suddenly he’s concerned about people, not the 44,000 that die every year because they lack health care, but, you know the hypothetical people who die because of regulation of a hypothetical drug that might just work, eh hypothetically.

    Re FDA:

    The big reason I can’t raw milk cheese aged less than 60 days, or raw milk is that in the early days people were not only selling tainted milk produced under careless conditions, they were selling milk that was adulterated with substances that weren’t related to milk except by appearance, some were very harmful. (Source– “The Goat Song” – I think the author’s name is Kessler) People were getting sick and some were dying, so regulation saved lives.

    I should note that I didn’t hear the whole program, so he might have come off better during parts of the show I missed. I only hear the radio when I’m getting hay or feed. I keep a radio playing in the feed store because some believe that coyotes are wary of human voices. I actually like it when Grover Norquist is on, because those coyotes really keep their distance.

  7. I remember in late 2005 some progressive organization made billboards out of an aerial photo of inundated New Orleans, and captioned it with Grover Norquist’s quote about shrinking government to a size where he could drown it in a bathtub. I’d love to see those billboards used in a TV ad. Why anyone, anywhere would still listen to that a-hole is beyond me.

    As for 11th Dimensional Chess, my money is on President Spock.

  8. Bachmann continues to say the oddest things – calling the prediction (by everyone with even a modicum of sense) that if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the US will go into default a “misnomer?” A “misnomer?” An inappropriate NAME?

    Cantor’s only goal is to take over the speakership. Boehner’s only goal is to hang on to it. The Tea Party’s only goal is to supplant the Democratic Party with its Party. Raising or not raising the debt ceiling is not the issue, never has been, which is why the present so-called negotiations are unfathomable by anyone trying to make sense of them or apply them to the issue at hand – namely how to sensibly deal with the huge debt/deficit.

    • A “misnomer?” An inappropriate NAME?

      LOL. Really, though, you do wonder about the la-la land in her head.

  9. I haven’t been following the twists and turns of the “negotations” but I am a little suspicious of Larry O’Donnell’s take. I don’t watch him very often, and I sure hope he’s right, but his thinking seems very one-sided, a bit too triumphalist. I guess we won’t really know until it’s all over.

  10. I like where Obama says..” I can do with a few thousand less, but many of our seniors and economically disadvantaged can’t”. That’s not an exact quote, but it shows where his heart is…it’s not the same as claiming to be a “compassionate conservative” and end up showing that you were devoid of compassion all along.

  11. “I am a little suspicious of Larry O’Donnell’s take,……..but his thinking seems very one-sided, a bit too triumphalist”

    I agree, he drones on for so long it’s hard to follow exactly what he means? He yammers on and on as if he is on the inside of the negotiations. All of these pundits like to cover this story as if it is some big dramatic chess match, that both sides have some grand plot, waiting to trap the other side. The way I see it; this is a policy wonk discussion, unfortunately the only wonk in the room is President Obama, the rest of these yuks are positioning for politics or TeeVee ratings, not quite as sexy as a high stakes game of Chess.

    • his thinking seems very one-sided, a bit too triumphalist”

      I’ll take that over all the mealy-mouths who put on a “nonpartisan” act by pretending Republicans are not crazy.

  12. goatherd,
    “I keep a radio playing in the feed store because some believe that coyotes are wary of human voices.”

    Really? I though they’d be attracted to one of their own.
    After all, they’re both scavengers.
    Only Norquisling feeds on his dead and dying countrymen.

  13. but his thinking seems very one-sided, a bit too triumphalist

    Well, it doesn’t hurt to rally the troops. I know he lifted my spirits whether or not it was grounded in reality. I get discouraged watching Obama getting publicly lambasted as some sort of an incompetent wimp when he’s got difficult choices to make, and he makes them with maturity, reason and moderation.. Not to get stupid like Bush looking into Putin’s eyes and seeing his soul, but I do have a sense( right or wrong) of Obama’s spirit. I believe him to be a decent man with a servants heart who isn’t looking to feather his own nest.. He wants what’s best for all American and is willing to be cast in a less than favorable light to achieve that goal.

    So exaggerated or not…I’m gonna gloat for Obama’s potential victory.

  14. Dang. Just when I was looking forward to the revolution–as in: calling all current and future social security recipients! Would have loved to see our president in action behind those closed doors. It’s possible I would have swooned. I so like a person who can keep a cool head in the midst of crazy making.

  15. I agree that the GOP overplayed their hand considerably and have been shown for fools, but I’m not ready to agree that the president’s (probable) victory in this case is evidence of him being the master 11-dimensional chess player. At the end of the day he still was the one to put social security and medicare cuts on the table. True, they were linked to tax increases that he and his advisers knew the GOP would have a hard time accepting, but it’s still a big risk to take. If the GOP had accepted the plan, the president would’ve handed them a fantastic campaign platform (as in: see, we’ve been telling you all along, it’s those nasty ol’ Democrats who want to take away your Social Security and Medicare [insert idiotic narrative about how this all due to “Obamacare”]).

    So, while I’m delighted that the GOP is scrambling and I’m happy that the negotiations are going the president’s way, I have yet to be convinced that he’s really a master tactician. Perhaps instead it was a bold but desperate chance that he took, because he’s dealing with an irrational and fear-filled opposition party.

    • At the end of the day he still was the one to put social security and medicare cuts on the table.

      Lawwrence O’Donnell’s theory is that the offer was strictly a chess move, because it was a pretty safe bet the whackjobs were going to refuse to increase taxes. I’m inclined to agree. We’ll see how the end game plays out.

  16. Lawrence O’Donnell used to work for a Congress person or as a staff person in the Clinton Administration–can’t remember which. Thus, he does have inside information that other TV hosts don’t have. My memory is just a memory; but, I think he has even written legislation. He has first-hand knowledge of how bills get life or are killed.

  17. Mrs. Erinyes (my beach angel) and I agree, O’Donnel is a bit hard to watch.
    We have been watching Keithie over at Current TV.
    How’s that for Chuts bah?

  18. Lawwrence O’Donnell’s theory is that the offer was strictly a chess move, because it was a pretty safe bet the whackjobs were going to refuse to increase taxes.

    I don’t think it was just a chess move..Obama mentioned about strengthening Social Security and alluded to the idea of putting the Social Security issue to bed…so it’s no longer a political tool. There are responsible and beneficial tweaks that can be made to Social Security without destroying it like the Repugs are trying to do. Democrats shouldn’t hold Social Security out as a sacred cow without considering exactly what concessions are being made..Don’t do like the Repugs are doing with their unyielding revenue issues..
    The same thing goes with Medicare..Have faith that Obama crafted a health care reform package with an understanding of how Medicare plays into what he’s trying to accomplish. It’s a safe assumption that he’s not going to cut the feet out from under his own Affordable Health Care Act.

    Another thought that I have(or feeling) is that Boehner might be sincere to some degree and understand how he’ll come out smelling like a rose if he grabs the Grand Bargain..A 3:1 ratio in concessions favored toward his negotiation is an extraordinary deal that anybody with a brain would jump at..Ultimately the U.S. economy would be the beneficiary . Boehners problem is that he’s riding herd on a bunch of young guns( turks) who haven’t been seasoned in governance. The should strike a deal with Obama and put it out to a vote.. That will show everybody’s colors and there will be no guessing on who crashed the economy if everybody doesn’t go along. Give Bachmann a chance to wear the default’ll be there for the taking.

  19. ‘Gulag, Swami; you guys have me rolling on the floor as usual.Thanks!!
    Goatherd, I caught some of that interview with Norquist today, one caller went on a tear calling Norquist a “traitor”. Diane shut the caller down as a good host should, although I find Norquist as savory as wounded crocodile.

  20. As usual, apologies for posting so late that probably no one will read this, but again, it’s the time zone thing (12 hours difference to Maha).

    Maha said: The debt ceiling will be raised once, enough to cover expenses until 2013. Some spending cuts may be agreed to, but there will be no agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

    As I recall, Obama already gave in on extending the Bush tax cuts. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he already extend them to the end of 2012? The issue will, of course, pop up again in December 2012 after the presidential election.

    If Obama loses, then president Michelle Bachmann will extend the tax cuts retroactively from January 1 through forever (that is to say, make the tax cuts permanent). If Obama gets re-elected, I honestly don’t know what he’ll do – maybe extend the Bush tax cuts in trade for another extension on unemployment benefits, but that’s just a guess.

    I’m not going to make any assumption that Obama will get re-elected. As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said, “A week is a long time in politics.” A lot can happen between now and November 2012. I don’t want to be a party pooper, but I don’t think it’s time to break out the champagne yet.

    • As I recall, Obama already gave in on extending the Bush tax cuts. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he already extend them to the end of 2012? The issue will, of course, pop up again in December 2012 after the presidential election.

      Yes, he did agree to one extension, but he vowed after that there would be no more. The Republicans are pushing for another extension, and that’s what we’re talking about here.

  21. erinyes…That’s nice of you to say, thanks. If Gulag and I join together we could form a whole wit.

  22. As I recall, Obama already gave in on extending the Bush tax cuts. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he already extend them to the end of 2012?

    Candide…Your recollection is correct, but I think your understanding of why Obama “gave in” might be a little fuzzy. Millions of unemployed would have been cut off from a life line for economical survival, and the economy would have to sustain another hit at a time when it was struggling to get back on it’s feet. Obama gave in because he didn’t want to see Americans suffer at the hands of uncaring and compassion-less Repugs.

  23. Swami,
    I hate to pick ‘nit’s,’ but with my providing so much less than ‘half,’ we’d need a third partly or else we’d still be ‘less’ than whole.

    And thanks, erinyes 🙂

  24. Waaaaaay OT!
    But this had me laughing out loud – even his early in the morning. It’s Hitler on the coming ‘Carmageddon’ traffic delays in Los Angeles because of construction.

    I never tire of the cleverness that some people disply with these 3+ minutes from Anthony Hopkins playing Hitler. I don’t think I’ve seen a bad one yet.

  25. I’m a partial nit who would be proud to be in your company. (Swam & CUND GULAG)

  26. Doug,
    You’re in!

    Doug, Swami, and me – “Los Tres Amigos!”

    Oh, oh. That there’s Mexican, ain’t it?
    Where’s my birth certificate?

  27. Predictions are that the GOP will capitulate. I have doubts. Any Rand’s novel, ‘Atlas Shrugged’ ends with the collapse of the country and the implicit starvation of the masses. This is actually a triumph because the heros, purged of all socialistic weaknesses, plan to rebuild a pure capitalistic society, presumably without democracy, from whatever survives to be exploited.

    People who believe this drivel are demented at best – and the American voter has empowered these nuts with the option to plunge us into economic chaos. I think they will try. What’s unfair is that the voter is unaware of the apocalyptic vision. If the voter knew, these people would have been sent to an asylum. Instead they were sent to Congress.

  28. “If the voter knew, these people would have been sent to an asylum. Instead they were sent to Congress.”

    Ok, I ain’t too bright, so please explain the difference to me again?

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