Fantasy-league “hardball”

I actually like the mechanics of this proposal from Professor Jack Balkin, which he terms a form of “constitutional hardball”. The proposal, in a nutshell, is to by-pass Congress altogether– let all of the Bush tax cuts expire (as they are scheduled to do absent Congressional action, in less than 27 days), and then unilaterally declare an executive “payroll tax holiday”– as a matter of national emergency– ordering the Treasury Secretary to refuse to collect the highly regressive federal payroll taxes, and then daring Congress (presumably the Republican House) to sue him. The problem with this is fairly obvious, and noted by Balkin: today a Democrat might use this to grant relief to beleaguered workers; tomorrow, a Republican will use it to grant “relief” to “beleaguered” billionaires, by refusing to collect corporate or estate taxes. But hey… no plan is perfect!
I picked up Balkin’s piece in the comments to this Steve Benen piece observing the futility of trying to reach “compromise” with Congressional Republicans, particularly on the issue-de-jour, that being an attempt to maintain current tax rates for the middle class (“middle” all the way up to $250,000 per year for a couple), unless the terrorist hostage takers’ the Republicans’ demands to extend the current tax rates for everyone, so that millionaires’ tax rates don’t go up… are met. The Republicans have actually threatened to bring all business of government to a halt unless this demand is met, btw. (For his part, the President has tried to give away the store in advance, and telegraphed that he would accede to extend Bush era tax rates for billionaires in exchange only for extension of unemployment benefits… a move many see as… wait for it… “weakness”.)
While both Balkin and Benen make very intelligent observations, they fail to pick up an essential meta-point: this is all a big kabuki. Barack Obama couldn’t give two craps about the average American working man or woman. This is not because Barack is a fire-breathing monster, or even because he’s a bad guy… it’s simply because the average American working man or woman, unless they work for a hedge fund or are an executive of an insurance company or financial institution, just didn’t put him where he is. Obama isn’t some naif being played by the big bad Republicans… he is simply a corporate middle-manager doing the job he has been hired to do by the people who hired him. Hint: the people who hired him… isn’t us.
Which is why he has killed the public option, failed to put through a meaningful “stimulus” that would actually stimulate much of anything (except yet more high-income tax cuts), or really done much of anything that corporate American didn’t like (regardless of the public position taken from time to time). I mean, he’s escalated the Afghan war, not de-escalated the Iraq war, done little if anything to secure meaningful reform on climate change or energy policy, established a “look forward not backward” attitude on war crimes (an approach which is itself a war crime), and let’s face it… he’s pretty much out-Bushing Bush on virtually everything… Even in selecting Supreme Court Justices, Bush’s first choice of a crypto-lesbian spinster middle-of-the-road Harriet Miers seems in many ways indistinguishable from Obama’s first two choices of crypto-lesbian spinsters middle-of-the-road Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, with the notable difference being that Sotomayor and Kagan went to Princeton… as did Scam Alito… Bush’s choice… I’m telling you… no meaningful difference!
At this point, one even wonders why any of us bother. The unemployment rate, even with the bullshit Bill-Clinton way it is now measured, is approaching 10% again (and the real rate is still in the low 20’s)… and yet, the “bipartisan” ideology is to somehow insist that only “private” investment is good… and that “public” investment is bad, even if such public investments as interstate highways, airports, the internet, bio-medical research, public universities, hospitals, schools, firehouses, police stations and the like are the only things generating jobs in this economy. One would find themselves talking to a bipartisan wall, I suppose.
Which is why I’m going to be expanding my rooftop vegetable garden, come the spring, and taking out that bike from the basement to fix, and maybe learning how to sew, and some elementary wood-craft and all. I’m going to try to plan for certain unpleasant contingencies and prepare for how I and my family might deal with them… and I’m not going to worry so much about “the big picture.” Because God knows, our government officials aren’t. This has been… “fantasy-league hardball.”