Last night, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma took to the James S. Brady Press Brief­ing Room to announce that he and Repub­li­can con­gres­sion­al lead­ers had reached an under­stand­ing on  leg­is­la­tion that would raise the debt ceil­ing in exchange for deep cuts to essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices pro­vid­ed by the fed­er­al government.

The White House is try­ing to frame the deal as a respon­si­ble bipar­ti­san agree­ment. They’re already dis­trib­ut­ing talk­ing points exhort­ing its sup­posed virtues.

From our per­spec­tive, this deal is no deal at all. It’s capitulation.

What real­ly just hap­pened is that the Grand Old Par­ty of Extor­tion has won anoth­er major vic­to­ry over the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment in our nation’s cap­i­tal, despite only hav­ing con­trol of one house of Con­gress. Repub­li­cans took our nation’s fis­cal health hostage by open­ly invit­ing a default. Instead of suf­fer­ing the reper­cus­sions of tak­ing such an irre­spon­si­ble posi­tion, they are being rewarded.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as the cliché goes, we’ve seen this movie before.

As Paul Krug­man writes:

Repub­li­cans will sure­ly be embold­ened by the way Mr. Oba­ma keeps fold­ing in the face of their threats. He sur­ren­dered last Decem­ber, extend­ing all the Bush tax cuts; he sur­ren­dered in the spring when they threat­ened to shut down the gov­ern­ment; and he has now sur­ren­dered on a grand scale to raw extor­tion over the debt ceiling.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pat­tern here.Did the pres­i­dent have any alter­na­tive this time around? Yes.

First of all, he could and should have demand­ed an increase in the debt ceil­ing back in Decem­ber. When asked why he didn’t, he replied that he was sure that Repub­li­cans would act respon­si­bly. Great call.

Robert Reich adds:

The bud­get deficit is not the biggest obsta­cle to our pros­per­i­ty. Lack of jobs and growth is. And the largest threat to our democ­ra­cy is the emer­gence of a rad­i­cal right capa­ble of get­ting most of the ran­som it demands.

The “deal” appears to include no rev­enue increas­es of any kind. It’s just cuts to ser­vices on top of more cuts to services.

The Pres­i­dent says he will con­tin­ue to advo­cate for a “bal­anced approach” to deal­ing with the deficit, but that’s an emp­ty promise. If he could­n’t get repeal of a sin­gle tax loop­hole into this pro­pos­al, why should any of us think that new or restored rev­enue will be on the table in the future?

We’re not the only pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tion that believes this deal is bad for Amer­i­ca, bad for fam­i­lies, and bad for prospects of eco­nom­ic recovery.

“This deal will kill our econ­o­my and is an attack on mid­dle-class fam­i­lies,” said Adam Green of the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. “It asks noth­ing of the rich, will reduce mid­dle-class jobs, and lines up Social Secu­ri­ty, Medicare, and Med­ic­aid for cuts. Today, we’re putting in thou­sands of calls to Con­gress urg­ing Democ­rats to keep their promise and oppose this awful bill.”

“The 14th Amend­ment is unam­bigu­ous, and Pres­i­dent Oba­ma should invoke it to pay our nation’s debt. Then Democ­rats should focus on jobs — not cuts — in order to grow our economy.”

“We sur­veyed our 5 mil­lion mem­bers and the vast major­i­ty oppose the deal because it unfair­ly asks seniors and the mid­dle class to bear the bur­den of the debt deal,” MoveOn’s exec­u­tive direc­tor Justin Reuben announced in a state­ment. “Con­gress should do what it should have done long ago and what it has done dozens of times before – pass a clean debt ceil­ing bill.”

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that’s not going to happen.

Instead, Con­gress is putting pub­lic ser­vices and pub­lic invest­ments on the chop­ping block… with the Pres­i­den­t’s blessing.

Barack Oba­ma and his admin­is­tra­tion ought to win an award for jus­ti­fy­ing medi­oc­rity. They’re excep­tion­al­ly good at it. Notice how, every time they go into nego­ti­a­tions, they go in with a weak hand. They start with what should be their final offer (pre­sum­ably so they can appear rea­son­able), and as a result, they wind up embrac­ing right wing pol­i­cy directions.

It’s very depressing.

Does gov­ern­ing require com­pro­mise? Absolute­ly. Espe­cial­ly when there’s divid­ed gov­ern­ment. But capit­u­la­tion is not com­pro­mise. And com­pro­mise for the wrong rea­sons is destruc­tive, as George Lakoff explained in Think­ing Points:

The authen­tic prag­ma­tist real­izes you can’t get every­thing you think is right, but you can get much or most of it through nego­ti­a­tion. The authen­tic prag­ma­tist sticks to his or her val­ues and works to sat­is­fy them max­i­mal­ly. The inau­then­tic prag­ma­tist, on the oth­er hand, is will­ing to depart from his or her true val­ues for the sake of polit­i­can gain.

There is all the dif­fer­ence in the world between the two as polit­i­cal lead­ers, though they may vote the same way. The authen­tic prag­ma­tist is main­tain­ing a con­sis­tent moral vision, while the inau­then­tic prag­ma­tist is sur­ren­der­ing his or her moral vision.

As With­lin [Ronald Rea­gan’s poll­ster] dis­cov­ered, authen­tic­i­ty mat­ters in pol­i­tics. When you sur­ren­der authen­tic­i­ty, you sur­ren­der your val­ues, and you sur­ren­der trust.

Sad­ly, this is what Barack Oba­ma is doing at this moment: Sur­ren­der­ing his moral vision. He’s even try­ing to per­suade the rest of us to join him.

To Barack Oba­ma, we say: Sor­ry, Mr. President.

We believe authen­tic­i­ty mat­ters. As much as we like and respect you as a per­son, we believe you’re mak­ing a ter­ri­ble mis­take. We can­not sup­port you in this.

You cam­paigned on a plat­form of change. “Change we can believe in” — that was your cam­paign slo­gan. You promised the peo­ple of this coun­try that you would change pol­i­tics in our nation’s cap­i­tal. But instead, you’ve allowed it to change you. Your good inten­tions have been stymied by an oppo­si­tion par­ty that you don’t seem to under­stand. You obvi­ous­ly hear what they say about you, but the mean­ing of their words does­n’t seem to reg­is­ter, because you keep try­ing to rea­son with extrem­ists who don’t believe in tak­ing any prisoners.

You can­not do busi­ness with peo­ple who seek your destruc­tion and the destruc­tion of your friends and your allies. You can­not make con­ces­sions to a bul­ly. The only way to stop bul­ly­ing is to stand up to bullying.

You have to fight for what you believe in. Peo­ple respect a fight­er. If you would only fight, you would find peo­ple ral­ly­ing around you.

If you start­ed force­ful­ly refram­ing the debate, if you began going on the offen­sive, if you began unequiv­o­cal­ly defend­ing the val­ues of the peo­ple who elect­ed you, the response would be elec­tri­fy­ing. Overnight, there would be a change in this coun­try. Deject­ed, apa­thet­ic peo­ple would start ris­ing up.

You have the best bul­ly pul­pit a human can have. But you’re not using it to moti­vate your base or make the case for effec­tive gov­ern­ment based on pro­gres­sive val­ues. You are let­ting the right wing turn you into a 1970s-era Repub­li­can, when what this coun­try sore­ly needs is an unabashed Demo­c­ra­t­ic president.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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