Why Obama Spurned Negotiations

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Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

The most inevitable aspect of President Obama's turn to campaign mode is the disappointment of the moderate conservatives. Ross Douthat is disappointed. David Brooks is disappointed. And it's true — Obama is no longer pursuing a strategy of preemptive ideological concessions. But why is that?

The most telling quote may be this one, from a Republican adviser speaking to conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin:

A Capitol Hill Republican adviser privy to the debt-ceiling talks over the summer tells me, “Obama and Boehner were only discussing closing tax loopholes in the context of tax reform that would lower individual and corporate rates in exchange. In addition, his tax hike on the ‘wealthy’ was never something that was in play either.”


Right! Obama offered a really conservative-friendly proposal this last summer — one that would leave taxes far lower than even the bi-partisan Bowles–Simpson plan, and would raise revenue while slashing marginal tax rates. It was a crazy generous deal. The liberal base would have been, rightly, apoplectic. And Republicans turned it down.

I don't think the conservative intelligentsia ever really grappled with the implications of that refusal. Republicans walked away from a chance to settle the size of government debate on mostly favorable terms, obtaining large cuts to entitlement programs, with cover from a Democratic president.

The short-term lesson seems perfectly plain: There's no way Obama can negotiate a jobs plan or a deficit solution with a Republican Party gripped by ideological extremism and the (correct) belief that any major bi-partisan agreement will only benefit Obama. The long-term lesson is that Republicans walked away from a deal far more generous than Obama should have given them, and (hopefully) more generous than anything they will ever get again.