Last week, President Obama offered Congress the latest in a series of bargains, though the idea seemed to disappear nearly as quickly as it appeared. The idea was pretty straightforward: Republicans would get a lower corporate tax rate, while Democrats would get new revenue for infrastructure and job creation.
For reasons that aren't altogether clear, Republicans immediately and reflexively announced their opposition, and within a day or so, it seemed as if the political world had forgotten the bargain had even been proposed. On the Sunday shows, the multi-billion-dollar compromise offer was ignored entirely.
But in a curious twist, the GOP hasn't just rejected the proposed bargain; Republicans are actually trying to exploit the fact that the president was prepared to give the right something conservatives have sought for years.
The Republican Party has flipped the script on Democrats by waging a populist assault against President Obama's recent moves on healthcare and tax reform.Democrats have long portrayed themselves as the defenders of average citizens in their bids for higher taxes on Wall Street and big business.But GOP lawmakers now say they are the ones defending the "little guy" against an Obama administration beholden to corporate interests.
Dana Milbank was gobsmacked: "Republican lawmakers seem to think that Americans have short memories and lack Internet connections, for their latest line of attack -- that Obama's health-care and tax policies favor the corporate elite -- directly contradicts their previous allegation that Obama was waging 'class warfare' with 'socialist' policies attacking these very same corporate elites."
Quite right. This has come up before, and it's never made any sense -- Republicans can tell Americans that President Obama is a radical socialist who hates free-enterprise capitalism, or they can tell us he's a Wall Street shill, but when they make both arguments at the same time, it's awfully difficult to take them seriously. Indeed, it reinforces the thesis that, even now, the right still doesn't know how it wants to criticize the president.
But I also believe there's another angle to this to keep in mind.
For good or ill, Obama has gone to extraordinary lengths to try to reach compromises with congressional Republicans, frequently offering to accept GOP policy goals that congressional Democrats find abhorrent.
But because so many congressional Republicans have become post-policy nihilists, GOP officials not only reject attempts at compromise, they often announce their opposition to whatever it was they urged Obama to do in the first place.
On entitlements, for example, Republicans said they wanted the president to accept chained-CPI. When Obama grudgingly agreed, the GOP changed its mind and said the idea it sought constitutes "a shocking attack on seniors." On health care, Republicans endorsed an individual mandate as part of a reform plan. When the president reversed course on the idea and added the provision to his own plan, the GOP changed its mind and said their idea was proof of "tyranny."
On taxes, Republicans have demanded a lower corporate tax rate for years. When Obama announced he could accept the idea as part of a compromise, the GOP flipped the script again, chastising Obama for being beholden to Big Business by accepting the idea Republicans demanded.
The pattern is hard to miss: (1) the GOP makes a demand; (2) Obama is willing to accept the demand as part of a compromise; (3) Republicans reject the idea they came up with.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), apparently competing for the Year's Best Example of Chutzpah Award, wrote a USA Today op-ed last week, arguing, "The president claims his economic agenda is for the middle class. But it's actually for the well-connected."
Paul Ryan thinks Barack Obama's compromise offers are too tilted towards the rich.
It's as if Ryan believes Americans are idiots, incapable of looking at his own budget plan, which rewrites the social contract to redistribute wealth from the bottom up.
I rather doubt this will persuade the American mainstream, in large part because no one who's listened to Republicans since 2007 could possibly believe Obama is Mr. Corporate Shill, putting the needs of Job Creators over the needs of working families.
But the fact that congressional Republicans are even trying this line of attack at all suggests their confidence about this being a "center-right nation" is slipping badly.