In warfare, winning a battle is called a “tactical success”. To turn a mere tactical success into a “strategic victory” requires pursuing the beaten enemy; hacking down and scattering his fleeing troops, and preventing him from regrouping and renewing the struggle at a later date.
After the twin tactical victories at the battles of Jena and Auerstädt, Napoleon (a man who knew how to exploit a victory) unleashed the masses of his cavalry, under Marshal Murat, in an epic pursuit of the retreating Prussian army. Murat’s horsemen harried the broken Prussians relentlessly, rolling-up and capturing both men and fortresses in an epic 500 mile pursuit in 24 day! The Prussians were given no chance to catch their breath or regain the initiative; and the country soon capitulated to the Corsican conqueror.
It appears as if President Obama and the Democrats are taking a page from Napoleon’s playbook. Smelling blood in the water, they seek to turn a slender tactical victory on election night into a strategic political victory. Pursuing a relentlessly partisan, populist approach the President seeks to pursue the disordered and demoralized Republicans off the looming “fiscal cliff”.
After 3 weeks of leaving them hanging, the President has contemptuously placed before the Republicans an offer that is little more than insulting: a tax hike of $1.6 trillion; in return for an ephemeral promise of addressing essential entitlement cuts sometime in the future.
“I will gladly pay you Tuesday, for a hamburger today.”
To add injury to insult, the President is also demanding carte blanche in the future to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally; wresting this power from Congress, from debate or oversight. This would give this most profligate of Presidents an unlimited credit card to continue running up the national debt at his whim.
Such a naked power grab demonstrates the confidence the Democrats have in their ability to push the Republicans to the brink of the cliff; and wrest even the most outrageous of concessions.
An incredulous John Boehner, while stating, “This is not a game”, displayed all too clearly why he is out of his depth. A game is precisely what the Democrats are playing. The problem is, Boehner is playing checkers; the President chess.
The President has a very strong hand, given his proven ability to shift the blame for any crises or disaster onto the Republicans. Obama seems certain that he is in a “no lose” position; and he may be correct.
If the Republicans refuse this unacceptable offer, the President, who is already back on “the campaign trail” demagoguing this issue, will likely (successfully) paint the Republicans as only interested in protecting their “rich friends” and at fault for driving the nation off the fiscal cliff. The Democrats will, amazingly, be able to say that they were the champions of “middle class” tax cuts. And the “beauty part”? Letting us go off the fiscal cliff works just fine for Obama: it will entail automatic tax hikes, something the President deeply desires.
Tax hikes and Republicans to blame: what’s there not to love?
On the other hand, if Obama’s demands are met, he also wins. He will force the Republicans to accept massive tax hikes; contrary to everything the Republican Party has stood for since Ronald Reagan. Their very brand, that of tax cutters and opponents of “big government”, will be undermined as they break their “no new taxes” pledge and leave their supporters disgusted and demoralized. Worse still is that in the mid-term elections of 2014, the Democrats (and the Tea Party) will waste no time throwing this broken promise back in their collective faces, making them choke on it!
History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it often rhymes.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan made a similar bargain with the Democrats of his day; giving in to tax hikes in return for promises of future budget cuts. The taxes went into effect; the cuts never materialized. And despite the increased revenues, the Democratic-controlled Congress spent us into deep deficits. Reagan later said it was one of the worst mistakes of his Presidency.
Reagan successor, George H. Bush, made the mistake of making a deal with Congressional Democrats to “raise revenue”; thus breaking his infamous “READ MY LIPS: NO NEW TAXES!” pledge. In a brazen example of chutzpah, the Democrats made him eat that broken promise they had coaxed out of him in the ’92 Presidential election.
Republicans should be wary of falling for this again. As with Lucy always pulling the football out of the reach of a hapless Charlie Brown, the Democrat’s offer of bipartisan deals and promises of future budget cuts and entitlement reform are a trick that never seems to get old.
The President’s offer is not a serious one, if compromise were what he was seeking. It betrays his real purpose: to drive the Republicans and the nation over the fiscal cliff. In a move Napoleon would have approved, he is attempting to turn his narrow victory in November into decisive victory in January.
He may well succeed.