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In 1976, shortly after Jimmy Carter was elected president and the post-Watergate GOP lay in ruins, there was an episode of All in the Family in which Archie and Meathead argue over the election. Archie, of course, has the last word—and the final line of the show:

“Yeah—we’ll you’re gonna get Reagan in ’80!!!”

It was meant, of course, as a laugh line—pathetic and absurd. And—whether enhanced in the studio or not—it achieved the desired guffaws, chortles, et. al.

Well, we know how that one turned out.

I’m reminded of that episode today, as Newt Gingrich surges to the top of the GOP pack. Many of my fellow liberals in the media are crowing, rubbing their hands in glee, and all but doing a victory dance—a year early—over the prospect of corrupt, caddish Newtie going up against President Obama. Rachel Maddow—whom I love dearly—crows about it most every night. Pundit after pundit—Republicans included—dismiss Gingrich as unelectable.

Maybe they’re right. They probably are. Newt’s bubble may burst well before Iowa.

But please, Democrats, liberal and otherwise: Don’t spike the ball yet. Despite his titanic flaws, we might still get Gingrich in ’12.

I say this not only because I’m superstitious and constitutionally pessimistic—on Election Night 2008, I sat with my wife in a Barnes & Noble café until I’d learned from the barista that Obama had won Pennsylvania and Ohio, and only then raced home to watch the returns, and savor Keith Olbermann’s announcement of my candidate’s resounding victory.

I clung to this pessimism because I simply did not think this country would elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama. This despite all the polls, despite the fact that some weeks before the election, a friend of mine who’d appeared on a show with GOP strategist Ed Rollins, had relayed to me that a disgusted Rollins had said off-camera, “It’s over.”

But even leaving aside my own neuroses, there are plenty of reasons to be very afraid. The President could be undone, Newt notwithstanding, by any number of factors, such as

  1. GOP economic sabotage continuing to work
  2. The Europe mess
  3. FOX news—and friends; yes, they were there in ’08, but the propaganda and disinformation juggernaut is larger, more virulent than ever. And remember, there was no Tea Party in 2008.
  4. The other mainstream media: They’re sloppy, lazy and terrified of being labeled “liberal.” Hence the false equivalencies, etc.
  5. Citizen’s United, which has given ALEC, Rove et. al., unlimited influence. Next time liberals bash Obama for going to a big-ticket fundraiser, keep this in mind. We’d love to get money out of politics—but for the moment, it’s very much here.
  6. Race: A recent study concluded that Obama lost 5 points because of racism. Do the math. And Newt Gingrich, an angry old white guy, is the perfect candidate to channel Caucasian hate and rage.
  7. Voter Suppression: One of the dire consequences of the 2010 elections has been the dominance of the Right Wing agenda on the state and local level. Using the ruse of near nonexistent voter fraud, there is a coordinated—and downright evil—attempt by Republicans to make it difficult for minorities, the elderly and young people to vote. Of course, this chiefly affects constituencies far more likely to vote for Barack Obama
  8. Liberal self-sabotage: I am not one of those people who says that one must never criticize the President. I disagree with many of the things he’s done. But at some point before the election, Cenk Ugyur, Bernie Sanders (my favorite Senator), Cornel West, Tavis Smiley and all those aggrieved lefty bloggers had better lighten up. Liberal disaffection and apathy may well have played a role in the 2010 debacle. That was disastrous. In 2012 it could be catastrophic. The GOP is doing enough to suppress Democratic turnout. Let’s not abet them. If Romney or Gingrich wins, you will beg for Obama on his worst day
  9. Maybe Newt isn’t so unelectable: Americans tend to have short memories, and believe in second (or third) chances. Perhaps even for someone who got kicked out of Congress, did shady deals, supports child labor, and dumped his cancer-stricken wife on her hospital bed. What Newt has going for him is the appearance of strength. Americans like that—more, perhaps, than the cringing, dissembling, waffling displays of Willard Mitt Romney.
  10. Wild cards, domestic or international

There are other hazards, of course. At bottom, I believe—much as I genuinely love Joe Biden—that the only way to ensure the President’s reelection is for him to run with Hillary Clinton. He’d take heat for having her bail him out. But I believe it would secure most every swing state.

That’s not going to happen. In my heart, I believe the President will be reelected anyway.

But in the meantime, don’t gloat over Gingrich.

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There is one thing about today’s right-wing, GOP propaganda machine for which I confess a grudging admiration: They have grasped that the nation has a short attention span; that much of the electorate falls into the “low-information” category—the Ignoramiat—witness polls that show large percentages of Americans who, for example, don’t know who John Boehner is; and above all, they recognize that historical memory is nonexistent.

And so, the Right— whether via Fox News, revisionist ex-Bushies, or Rush and hate radio—proceeds to rewrite history, and create alternate realities. Obama isn’t an American; he’s a one-Man Islamofascist terror cell; although we spent much of 2008 castigating him as an Ivy League elitist, he either didn’t really go to Columbia, or graduate with high honors from Harvard Law School, or else merely got there via affirmative action. Tax cuts for the rich don’t add to deficits—but social programs and all those lazy-ass poor folks and 85-year-olds do. The Civil War had nothing to do with slavery and it wasn’t treason—it was a war against Yankee aggression. And on and on.

It would be laughable if the Ignoramiat didn’t buy into it. And so would the Right’s current disinformation campaign: Because Barack Obama— a Democratic President, an African-American, Kenyan-Muslim-socialist-arugula-eating-gansta-governing-affirmative-action-Ivy-League-elitist—directed a bold, brilliant, operation to take out Osama bin Laden, the most hated man since Adolf Hitler, mastermind of the worst attack ever on U.S. soil, which slaughtered 3,000 innocents, traumatized the nation, changed our way of life and—as was his goal—nearly bankrupted the country, thanks to economic panic, an explosion of military spending, and two endless wars; because Obama and his remarkable force struck this astonishing blow for justice…..

…Obviously George W. Bush should  get the credit. George W. Bush, who professed a lack of interest in bin Laden, who let him slip away at Tora Bora. And who, I would suggest, didn’t even want the al Qaeda founder dead—because that would have taken away the face of evil, the bogey man, thereby, for many Americans, removing the justification for the wars that drove the nation into the ground—at least one of which was entirely unnecessary.

Think about that. Sept. 11 happens on Bush-Cheney’s watch—but they rarely absorb any of the blame, even  though serious warnings were ignored. But they get credit for taking out bin Laden—two-plus years into the administration of their successor, after a daring military operation that was entirely under the command of Barack Obama and his team.

Even if you hold your nose and award him a shred of credit, it’s clear that Obama, this anti-American imposter, coolly managed to root out and eliminate the world’s most elusive wanted man—well, just to boost his sagging poll numbers.

The hubris is breathtaking. This after Bush-Cheney, McCain and the rest of the GOP (see Giuliani, Rudy) spent a decade using 9/11 as a political cudgel, as usual playing the national security card to portray Democrats—even a war hero like John Kerry—as weaklings who won’t keep us safe or win the “war on terror.” Indeed, the GOP manages to win this nat. sec. point even though every major war of the 20th century was waged, for good or ill, by a Democratic President.

Right wing history is selective, creative, and grotesquely distorted.

Ronald Reagan won the Cold War all by himself.

Trickle-down economics really, really works, even though the middle class has flatlined over the past 30 years while the rich have gotten vastly richer and the cost of living has skyrocketed.

Bush bore no responsibility for 9/11. But he should get the credit for taking out bin Laden. Even though Barack Obama did it—a minor point.

And Herbert Hoover sure did whip the Nazis and Japanese, didn’t he?

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An open letter to liberals—and liberals who call themselves progressives.

When the West Coast map lit up brilliantly, beautifully blue on Nov. 4, 2008, pushing Barack Obama over 270 electoral votes, millions of us experienced a wave of political euphoria the likes of which we never imagined we’d live to feel.

Especially giddy were those of us old enough to remember another, bleaker November night in 1980, when a Hollywood second-stringer named Ronald Reagan swept into the White House, ushering in decades of right-wing policies that carried us into wars; greased the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and working poor; empowered a Christian fundamentalist, social conservative revival that threatened to turn the entire country into Dayton, Tenn., circa 1925; and validated a Lee Atwater-Karl Rove politics of the Big Lie and personal destruction that transformed “liberal” into a synonym for weak and unpatriotic—even, paradoxically, to many who tightly embraced liberal programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Oh, we got  jazzed about Bill Clinton and Al Gore in ’92. But Clinton’s centrism—many feel he governed as a Republican—his genuine personal failings and the relentlessly witch-hunting Right would drain much of the promise from his presidency and leave many liberals disappointed.  With the Supreme Court’s election of George W. Bush in 2000, and the 9/11 attacks, liberal Democrats became more cowed than ever.

But with the Obama ascendancy—after eight endless, disastrous years of Bush-Cheney and three decades of Reaganism—it was our turn. A revival. The dawn of a new liberal/progressive era.

Or was it? Many liberals are driven to distraction by President Obama’s almost obsessive desire to rise above the fray, to be the adult in the room, to reach consensus. We’re pissed because he’s too cozy with Wall Street; we’re pissed about the Bush Tax Cut extension; we’re pissed about the lack of a public option in the Health care bill; we’re pissed about Afghanistan, and we’re pissed about Gitmo and Bradley Manning. We’re pissed that he didn’t do more to plug up the BP leak. We’re pissed that he hasn’t done more to back unions in the Midwest. And in the Mideast, we’re either pissed that Obama didn’t intervene quickly enough to help the Libyan opposition—or we’re pissed that he intervened at all.

Now we’re preparing to be pissed—with good reason, perhaps—that our “middle way” POTUS won’t stand up to the Right and its resolve to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and all other remnants of the New Deal—and transform the USA into Kochistan.

Personally I agree with some, though not all, of the above. I remain a strong supporter of the President; perhaps my innate realism/pessimism kept me from expecting—and fantasizing—too much. Maybe President Obama hasn’t been a liberal messiah. But he has been an enlightened leader who has accomplished more legislatively than any President since Lyndon Johnson. This while dealing with a dysfunctional Senate, a rightist-rigged Supreme Court and a conservative propaganda juggernaut that has a frightening percentage of the electorate convinced that he’s un-American—or not American, and therefore not legitimate, at all.

(For more on POTUS’ accomplishments , check out http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com.)

How many of us would trade Obama for the deepest, darkest days of Bush-Cheney. Or a return to Reagan? Or, even more terrifying, any of the rightist ideologues now driving the Republican Party, zealots against whom Reagan himself might well lose a GOP Primary.

Why are we saddled with these Koch-and-corporate backed Teabagging extremists? Why are wingnuts like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann given any legitimacy? Why do we see a GOP House trying to eviscerate women’s reproductive rights; why do we see right-wing governors like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder Paul LePage and John Kasich wage war on workers, teachers, firefighters and the middle class, while big business and the wealthy get fatter and fatter? Why do we hear about rolling back child labor laws? Why the talk bout “shared sacrifice”—that is for all but the richest Americans, the ones who can afford it? Why are we threatened with the destruction of social safety nets we foolishly took for granted—and for which many of us have paid for many years?

Well, one huge reason was the “enthusiasm gap” in the 2010 midterms. When millions of Democrats and other moderates-to-liberals said “Meh”  and stayed home, while fired up Teabaggers and righty extremists turned out in droves—along with independents who fell for the bullshit they heard on Fox News, and the lies in Koch-Chamber of Commerce-Rove-funded attack ads.

Whatever the level of one’s disappointment with Obama, the experience of 2010 should be traumatizing enough for millions of stay-at-homes not to make the same mistake again. Especially while the GOP is using the “voter fraud” myth to disenfranchise as many young and minority voters—Democratic leaning voters—as possible.

I still believe that in a second term, with a restored Congressional majority, Barack Obama can accomplish even more than he has in the past 26 months. And even if you remain disillusioned, even it depresses you to vote “against” the GOP instead of “for” Obama, as you did in ’08—get over it.

Think of the havoc a Pawlenty, Romney, a Rubio or whoever else can wreak. On social programs and women’s rights. On the middle class and workers. On the already corrupt Supreme Court. On international affairs.

If you think 2010 was bad….

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Viewers of MSNBC’s The Ed Show last night, likely saw a clip taken from this past weekend’s rally for public workers in Trenton, N.J., in which a middle-aged woman complains about the sweet deal she believes public schoolteachers enjoy—supposedly at her tax-paying expense.

JERSEY WOMAN:  Why do I have to make sure they have fabulous benefits and they have tenure and they have a great pension?  But they don‘t care that it‘s costing me money to give them that.  And it‘s taken away from me.  I don‘t have a fabulous pension.  I don‘t have—I have to pay for my health care.  It‘s not right that I make sure they get it but they‘re not making sure I get it.”

Of course, the woman had it all wrong, courtesy, no doubt, of the corporate Republican disinformation machine—Fox News, her own governor, Chris Christie, and lazy mainstream media who regurgitate talking points. Demonizing public workers—especially these days, teachers—is a favorite sport of the corporate Right. It is a classic divide and conquer strategy—pit the “small people” against one another, inciting a sense of grievance, of what someone else has that’s “taken away from me.”

We saw that on extravagant display during the debate over Health Care Reform. Ordinary Americans—either acting out Americans For Progress talking points or genuinely misinformed—foaming at the mouth at Astroturf rallies and town hall meetings, furious that in attempting to bring health insurance to 30 or 40 million uninsured low-and middle-income Americans, the Kenyan Muslim Socialist Hitler was taking something—anything—away from them.

Now, to be fair (and balanced) to Jersey Woman, how many of us private sector types—Democrat, Republican or otherwise—ever plumbed the nuances of public employee contracts before the recent upheavals in the Midwest? With or without the disinformation campaign?

To help out, Ed Schultz consulted David Cay Johnston, now of Tax.com, who won the Pulitzer Prize as a New York Times tax reporter.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, COLUMNIST, TAX.COM:  Well, it‘s real troubling that this kind of basic economics people don‘t understand it.  Everybody who has a job who gets any kind of fringe benefits, that‘s part of their compensation.  And once you have performed the services, the money is yours.  And how the money is divvied up, whether the workers have it direct from the paycheck or its paid directly on behalf of the employee, which is the language in the labor contracts in Wisconsin—on behalf of the employee—they earned the money.  It‘s not the taxpayers‘.  The taxpayers bought their services. “

On that same theme, Johnston has written: “All of the money going into these plans belongs to the workers because it is part of the compensation of the state workers. The fact is that the state workers negotiate their total compensation, which they then divvy up between cash wages, paid vacations, health insurance and, yes, pensions. Since the Wisconsin government workers collectively bargained for their compensation, all of the compensation they have bargained for is part of their pay and thus only the workers contribute to the pension plan. This is an indisputable fact…”

Again, the JERSEY WOMAN’S ignorance is perfectly understandable. But it’s something everyone interested in preserving civil rights and a middle class must vigilantly make every effort to correct. We live in a country where half the population doesn’t believe in evolution, and 51 percent of Republicans think President Obama is not an American citizen.

In all too many instances, reality is something that happens to other people.

Spread the word. Make everyone you know, every relative, friend, neighbor and colleague, aware of the GOP’s “divide and conquer” class war—pitting public workers against private, folks making $55,000 a year against folks making $52,000 a year—while the billionaires get tax breaks.

And, above all, while big corporations are paying little or no income taxes, sheltering profits in overseas havens, like the Cayman Islands.  In a new book titled Treasure Islands, Nicholas Shaxson, calls tax havens a crucial tool, that helps “wealthy and powerful elites take the benefits from society without paying for them.”

According to Congressional budget officials, such tax loopholes cost the U.S. more than $100 billion a year. And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates that combined budget gaps the 50 states adds up to somewhere between $102 billion and $148 billion.

The Koch Brothers, the GOP, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Boehner and McConnell, Fox News—they don’t want us to know this stuff.

Instead of getting pissed off at our cops, firefighters, sanitation workers and teachers—hard-working “ordinary” Americans, neighbors and friends, even family, who work for us, direct your anger to the fat cats. And think hard about the staggering income inequality that has exploded over the past 30 years.

The Right loves to raise the bogeyman “redistribution of wealth.” The idea that under Democrats or Kenyan Socialist Muslims, God forbid, those with craploads of money might part with some of it—money they’d never miss—to create a more equitable society. Meanwhile, the past 30 years has seen redistribution of wealth on a scale never seen in this country. But the wealth’s been redistributed upward.

Scott Walker told Faux David Koch, “this is our moment.” But maybe this is OUR moment, one that won’t come again. A moment when we turn our wrath away from our neighbors and toward the people who are actually screwing us. The people who, if they had their way, would have us working twice as long for half as much and if you don’t like it, there’s the door. A moment to push for the wealthy to pay their fair share.

As former Labor Secretary and now U-C Berkeley Professor Robert Reich writes:

“The bottom 90 percent of Americans now earn, on average, only about $280 more per year than they did thirty years ago. That’s less than a 1 percent gain over more than a third of a century. Families are doing somewhat better but that’s only because so many families now have to rely on two incomes. But wait. The American economy is more than twice as large now as it was thirty years ago. So where did the money go? To the top. The richest 1 percent’s share of national has doubled — from around 9 percent in 1977 to over 20 percent now. The richest one-tenth of 1 percent’s share has tripled. The 150,000 households that comprise the top one-tenth of one percent now earn as much as the bottom 120 million put together.”

At the same time. Reich points out, tax rates for the wealthy—income taxes, capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes—have shrunk. The rest of us? Not so much.

“[The middle class] tax burden had grown. They were paying a bigger chunk of their incomes in payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes than decades before.

Then came the Great Recession — and with it, lower tax revenues. That means all levels of government are squeezed. Obviously, the middle class can’t pay more in taxes. But because the Democrats seem to lack the intestinal fortitude to suggest the obvious – that taxes need to be raised on the super rich — we’re left with a mess.

Teachers are being fired, Pell grants for the poor are being slashed, energy assistance for the needy is disappearing, other vital public services shriveling. Regulatory agencies don’t have the budgets to pay the people they need to enforce the law…

Reich’s answer is to create new tax brackets for the super-rich. Not the $250,000 class, or even the $500,000 class. But the real big money.

Redistribution of wealth? Hell yeah. But just enough to get us back some of what we’ve lost, through no fault of our own—except complacency.

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I know it was a one-day story—two, at most— and we should move on, get back to Charlie Sheen and Snooki and ignoring the battle to preserve workers’ rights.

But this “Who’s going to shoot Obama?” query at Georgia Rep. Paul Broun’s town hall meeting this week—and Broun’s cavalier response to it—well, sorry, but I just can’t let it go. Especially just a few weeks after Tucson massacre, with Broun’s gallant colleague, Gabby Giffords, still fighting to get her life back. And six still-fresh graves in Arizona.

When some liberals prematurely blamed Jared Loughner’s mad killing spree on Tea Party/Palin/Beck/Limbaugh vitriol, it became politically incorrect to excoriate the inflammatory rhetoric emanating from the Right. “Oh, both sides do it,” harrumph, harrumph, thank you, David Gergen. And it’s true that historically the American Left is far from blameless when it comes to demagoguery—the Sixties alone offer ample evidence.

But this is 2011 and liberals, by and large, don’t eroticize firearms and speak of  “Second Amendment remedies.” To be sure, it should surprise no one that the election of Barack Obama has unleashed some of America’s darkest, most virulent impulses. Democratic presidents often bring out the wingnuttery of the Right—conspiracy theories about government control, anti-religious tyranny, “redistribution of wealth,” and, god help us, “taking our guns away.” But the election of an African-American president—and, in this post 9/11 era, one named Barack Hussein Obama—well, the 67 million of us who voted for him were asking for it.

Actually, despite the pre-election polling, I was amazed that Obama was elected, and so decisively. I didn’t think we, as a nation, had it in us. On the other hand, I never bought into all that post-racial, post-partisan nonsense. All you had to do was watch footage of a Sarah Palin campaign rally—the cries of “Kill him!” the signs, the emphasis on Obama’s middle name, the deliberate use of the word “terrorist.”

But even I have been somewhat amazed by the overt venom, often racially tinged, aimed at this president. The open, unbashed disrespect—imagine a Democrat shouting “You lie!” at George. W. Bush. Sure, plenty of Dems were thinking it, but how many would, like Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) blurt it out during a State of the Union address? It’s not accidental, of course. Ever since POTUS’ election,  the GOP strategy has been to diminish him, challenge—through birtherism and other means—his legitimacy.

No one better personifies this extreme reactionary impulse than Rep. Broun. The clips above are a kind of highlight reel of crazy. I’ve included:

a YouTube video covering Broun’s supremely paranoid ravings at an April 2010 “Second Amendment rally” in D.C;

a small gem from the Health Care debate wherein he romanticizes—and endorses—treason, calling the Civil War the “great war of Yankee aggression;

and a clip of Broun comparing POTUS to Marxist, fascist dictators.

Indeed, not two weeks after Obama’s election, the good congressman was catching flack for comparing this moderately liberal Democrat to Adolf Hitler, warning his constituents that Obama:

…“ has the three things that are necessary to establish an authoritarian government”—meaning a national police force, gun control and control over the press—so we need to be ever-vigilant, because freedom is precious.”

The “national police force” Broun conjured up referred to Obama’s call for civilian national service).

“That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did,” Broun warned. “When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.” Later, Broun added, “We can’t be lulled into complacency. You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I’m not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I’m saying is there is the potential of going down that road.”[

The Georgian also accused Obama and the Democrats of “developing a shadow government that (does not) answer to the American people,”calling POTUS, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a “socialistic elite” and agreed with a constituent who said they might use a flu pandemic to declare martial law.

“They’re trying to develop an environment where they can take over,” Broun said. “We’ve seen that historically.”

In September 2010, Rep. Broun, a physician, also railed at that well-known fascist outfit, the Centers for Disease Control, for declaring that Americans don’t eat enough fruits and veggies.

“They want all the power of the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables… they (sic) going to be calling people and finding out how many fruits and vegetables you eat (sic) today. This is socialism of the highest order!”

It’s easy to mock cartoonish extremists like Rep. Broun—and Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle and Steve King and Michele Bachmann. But as Gabby Gifofrds said of Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs” map, their actions and words have “consequences.”

When Bachmann speaks of being “armed and dangerous.”

When Sharron Angle raises the specter of “Second Amendment Remedies.”

When Glenn Beck advocates shooting opponents in the head.

Or when Paul Broun—an apologist for Confederate treason, and by extension, the incalculable evil of slavery— compares Barack Obama to the great villains of history.

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I normally don’t just reprint stuff here. But in the liberal and punditocratic frenzy over the Bush tax cut extension, and amid the anger over Obama’s supposed capitulation, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein presents a thoughtful analysis  that suggests the agreement hammered out today between the Administration and the GOP could have been a lot worse, and that there’s a lot more stimulus in the bill than most expected. This may be another case of the POTUS getting an okay deal, but coming out like gutless appeaser because

1) He played it too cool, didn’t take the lead and set the narrative

2) He looked like he was caving completely, and once that narrative was set by the Beltway media, the blogosphere—and a lot of Liberals—it just settled.

This is not to say it’s a great deal—or even a good one. And Paul Krugman may mock it to smithereens. But if you agree with Ezra, well, its maybe a C-Plus, instead of a D, or a C-Minus, instead of an F. And it just might help the economy. And two years from now, it might look pretty good to some of those Independents and Moderates who have defected from Obama. Especially if the GOP continues to obstruct and embrace extremism.

Our instantaneous, gun-jumping media culture, which demands news and conflict on an hourly, or minute-to-minute basis, 24/7—and in which repeated opinion hardens into accepted fact—sometimes leaves subtlety and detail behind. Especially in something as complex as economics, this can be a dangerous thing. Again, Krugman, Robert Reich, MSNBC’s hosts and Frank Rich may hate this. And maybe they’d be right. But as with everything it’s in the details.

Here’s most of the astute Mr. Klein’s piece:

“1) The Bush tax cuts get extended for two years — with one ugly surprise: For the next two years, estates up to $5,000,000 will be protected from the estate tax, and the tax rate for the few estates that are taxed will be 35 percent. That’s worse than the 2009 estate tax ($3.5 million exemption, 45 percent rate), though better than this year’s “no estate tax at all.” The difference in expected revenue between the 2009 levels and the compromise levels is $10 billion or so.

2) The refundable tax credits are extended: The Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit were all pumped up in the stimulus, but set to expire this year. All of them will be extended. Price tag? $40 billion or so.

3) Unemployment insurance gets extended for 13 months: Most observers — myself included — thought the federal boost to unemployment insurance (which allowed jobless workers in states with high levels of unemployment to collect insurance for up to 99 weeks) would lapse. At best, there’d be another two- or three-month extension. In perhaps the most important part of the deal, there’s going to be a 13-month extension at a cost of $56 billion.

4) A 2 percent cut in the payroll taxes paid by employees: This is perhaps the most unexpected part of the compromise. Rather than extending the administration’s Making Work Pay tax credit for two years, which would’ve been worth about $60 billion a year, they’ve agreed to a one-year cut in the payroll taxes paid by employees, which’ll raise $120 billion in 2011. That’s a much stronger boost over the next year, and of course these tax cuts have a tendency to get extended …

5) Business expensing: Remember back in September, when the White House announced a proposal to give businesses two years in which they could deduct 100 percent of the cost of new investments? That’s in the deal, too. The cost of this is a bit complicated — it’s $30 billion over 10 years, but it works by offering huge tax cuts in the next two years and then paying that back over the next eight. So we’re basically trying to shift business investment forward to 2011 and 2012. Over those two years, the tax breaks should be around $200 billion, though because it’s a shift rather than a cut, it will have less than $200 billion in impact.

So is this a good deal? It’s a lot better than I would’ve told you the White House was going to get if you’d asked me a week ago. There’s some new stimulus in the form of the payroll-tax cut and the expensing proposals. The older stimulus programs that are getting extended — notably the unemployment insurance and the tax credits — probably would’ve expired outside of this deal. The tax cuts for income over $250,000 are a bad way to spend $100 billion or so, and the estate tax deal is really noxious.

And it represents a correct prioritization of stimulating the economy over reducing the deficit. It’s not the most effective stimulus you could imagine: The deal amounts to the White House throwing some bad money after good. But the end result is between $200 and $300 billion more in tax breaks, tax credits and unemployment insurance than there would’ve been if not for this deal (I say $200-$300 billion because of the uncertainty over what would’ve been extended in the absence of this package).

Is that enough? Of course not. It’s not even close, in fact. Most of the money just keeps programs that are currently in effect from expiring, so in some ways, it would be more accurate to say that this money is anti-contractionary rather than stimulative. The difference is a bit talmudic, but it’s important that the White House doesn’t repeat the mistake it made in the original stimulus and overpromise how much this will do for the economy. What you can say about this policy is that, for the moment, it doesn’t make things much worse, and it probably makes them a bit better. The cost of that is a bit more than a hundred billion on the deficit that doesn’t need to be there.

It also, importantly, holds the worst of the deal to the next two years. The tax cuts for income over $250,000 and the new estate tax rates will expire in 2012. The White House thinks that this’ll be a good election issue for them, as it combines a popular, populist stance on taxes with a deficit-reduction message. Whether they’re right remains to be seen. But on a policy level, two-year extensions of bad tax cuts are much preferable to 10-year extensions of bad tax cuts.

And finally, it’s a hopeful sign: The White House sat in a room with Republicans and Democrats and managed to negotiate an actual compromise. The final deal includes some things that Democrats will like and some things they won’t like, and it includes some things Republicans will like and some things they won’t like. But it’s a deal, and a better one than many — myself included — thought they’d reach. These tax cuts were a bit of a special legislative case, as their scheduled expiration forced action, but if you want to be optimistic, this process suggests that the next two years might be a bit more productive than some of us have been predicting.”

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As the tax cut war reaches its inevitably disappointing endgame, Democrats, progressive and otherwise, are mired in a feverish civil war over the true soul of Barack Obama—whether he’s a wimpy, wussy caver, (as Paul Krugman, Bill Maher and others suggest), whether he suffers from Stockholm Syndrome (as Frank Rich suggests), whether he’s a shitty negotiator (as Rep. Anthony Weiner and others suggest), whether he’s less a leader than a consensus-building facilitator, whether he’s really just a centrist. And whether he’s just plain wrong.

These are all legitimate questions, the fact that we have to ask them at all says some troubling things about the President’s elusiveness: No one is quite sure where he stands. For what its worth, I am of the opinion that he is not weak and wimpy. (For one thing Barack Obama shows courage every time he shows his face in public—few of us can comprehend the volume of death threats, to him and his family, this President must cope with on a daily basis.) Nor do I believe he has been brainwashed by GOP “captors.”

I do believe that Obama is following his moderately progressive-to-centrist-pragmatist instincts, trying to get the best deal for the most people, and that he’s still a bit too preoccupied with that post-partisan “Obama Brand” thing. That might have cut it in past Congresses, but trying to work with this edition of the GOP is indeed like negotiating with terrorists.

And I’m with Rep. Weiner—one of my heroes—that in his deep-seated pragmatism, in his quest to be the Great Reasonable Healer, Obama gives away too much too soon (like the federal pay freeze) for too little. Even if the President does wind up getting the best deal he could have, whatever the issue, he does so in a way that makes him end up looking like Neville Chamberlain.

“Middle class Americans need someone to fight for them,” Weiner says. “They see this [tax cut] deal as punting on 3rd down — it seems the President is not seeing the value of being on offense.”

Surely the POTUS has turned too many cheeks—and doesn’t have Jesus Christ’s compensating superpowers. I’m also with Frank Rich who says Obama needs to be more forceful—and bluntly simple—about some core principles, the kind of tactics that make pugnacious GOP Gov. Chris Christie (granted, a vastly different personality) popular in NJ, even when people disagree with his slash-and-burn, anti-public school policies.

Still, Obama’s tax cut calculation could work politically—if not economically. He knows most of the country is not progressive Upper West Siders—nor is it “center-right” as GOP talking points say; it’s center-Me. That’s why, while only 26 percent of Americans in a CBS poll said they favored extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, a mere 14 percent said all tax cuts should expire.

That is, yeah, let millionaires’ tax cuts expire—but not at the expense of mine! So by extending the tax cuts for everyone, the POTUS avoids the “Obama Raised Your Taxes” meme. (Of course the GOP ads will still probably say that anyway, but they’ll be lying.) Yes, he directly violated a central campaign promise and gave ground on what The Nation’s Chris Hayes Tweeted was “the defining domestic issue of W.” No, he didn’t use his bully pulpit on what should have been a winning issue, just as he didn’t do so on the public option in HCR, among other issues. And yes, maybe the GOP now sees him as a pushover, and will exploit it to the max.

But if the jobless crisis finally begins to show steady improvement, however slow, independents and moderates may show Obama more love. (For what it’s worth—not much—he’s finally in positive Gallup territory this week) And progressives—even Paul Krugman—could come back on board, however tepidly, against what will almost certainly be hard-right GOP opponent.

That brings us to my main point. Once we’ve finished venting at Obama, let’s quickly reload and aim our venom at the GOP extremists in Congress. Extremists like racist-wingnut Steve King.

Right Side News today posted an interview in which the Mad Iowan suggests that Congress shouldn’t focus on the economy, but “culture,” because “if you get the culture right, you’ll get the economy right. Everything will fall into place automatically.”

King also voiced support for Accuracy in Media’s Cliff Kincaid, a right-wing activist who called for the revival of the House Internal Security Committee, a 1960s successor to the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to study “the ugly spread of Marxism in America, its roots, branches and current manifestations, particularly within the administration of President Barack Hussein Obama.”

That’s right. Centrist “caver” BHO.

‘I think that is a good process,” King—who once called McCarthy “a hero for America”—says of such committees, “and I would support it.”

In the Looking-Glass GOP House, Iowa Steve will head the immigration subcommittee. This, even though he advocates an electrified fence along the Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants out. As he gently put it: “We do that with livestock all the time.”

King has also said that if Obama were elected president, “al Qaeda and the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11th.”

Then of course, there was the recent settlement on behalf of African-American farmers, which King (abetted by sidekick Michele “Crazy Eyes Bachmann”) called “slavery reparations” and on Dec. 2 dismissed with this gem, equating Black males with drug use:

“The fraudulent claims might be, well Johnny, yeah he was raised on a farm but he wouldn’t help his dad. He went to the city, became a drug addict, and when Daddy needed the help, Johnny wouldn’t come and help his daddy. But now his daddy’s died and Johnny wants the $50,000 that comes from the USDA under this claim.”

King’s just one of the nut jobs taking positions of power in the new Congress; let’s not forget John Shimkus of Illinois, who may head the Energy and Commerce Committee. Of course he’s a climate-change denier, who, like Matthew Harrison Brady in Inherit the Wind, takes his scientific cues from the Book of Genesis and believes environmental catastrophes can’t happen because God will not allow it.

“I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect,” the Shimster said in Congress last year.

Well, there’s always the alternative choice: Joe “I’m sorry, BP” Barton.

Liberals: Push Obama, chide him, light a fire under him if needed—realizing he’s not FDR, LBJ or HST. Let him know he can’t take the Left for granted.

But keep the real enemy in the crosshairs.

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