Obama and the Nihilists
Obama's budget doesn't reflect his beliefs, but how he thinks he has to deal with nihilists.
The details of the budget are important, of course, for their own sake. There's this great quote from this fellow named Rudolf Goldschied, a sociologist, who said: "The budget is the skeleton of the state, stripped of all misleading ideologies." Fantastic.
But in this case, not necessarily true. People toward the left end of the spectrum will look at the entitlement cuts and say "Aha! I knew it all along about this guy." People on the center-right will be disappointed that the entitlement cuts are fairly token from their point of view. People on the loony right, which is to say the GOP, will say it's socialism.
More than all that, however, is the fact that Obama and his people apparently know that this whole thing is smoke and mirrors. As I wrote the other day in a column that apparently and disappointingly (and uncharacteristically, I might add) didn't get much traction), it really doesn't much matter what Obama proposes because as long as it includes revenues, which it always will, nothing is going to happen.
So this budget doesn't really represent what Obama believes. It represents the position that he thinks gives him the most leverage in 2014 and beyond as voters decide whose fault the mess is. Greg Sargent wrote this morning:
The administration officials insisted yesterday that Obama does not view Chained CPI as good policy. This is about demonstrating the White House’s willingness to reach a compromise in which both sides make concessions. And so, presuming that Republicans won’t accept this offer — even though Mitch McConnell and John Boehner themselves previously asked for the concessions in it — this is ultimately an effort to bring clarity to the debate, by illustrating that one side is willing to compromise to replace the sequester and reduce the deficit, and the other side simply isn’t.
As Brian Beutler puts it, the budget is a “final offer of good faith to Republicans in Congress, who’ve been demanding Obama propose and take ownership of entitlement cuts for years.”
It is on one level a bit shocking that a president would introduce as part of his budget a pretty huge thing that he doesn't think is good policy. And here's a point: It would be one thing if chained CPI were popular. But it's not. So he's proposing something that both he and the American people don't like. That's his fault in the first place; no one made him do it. But it's also a reflection of the bunch of nihilsts he has to try to deal with.