Fumbled fiscal fix was the least bad deal available

(Boston) Beyond the extravagantly and justly praised Lincoln the best of the holiday movies is the riveting Ben Affleck vehicle Argo based on the true story of the daring rescue of six American Embassy employees hiding in the Canadian Embassy during the 1979 Teheran Hostage Crisis.

When questioned by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance about alternatives to the bizarre scheme of creating a fake Hollywood movie as a cover for the escape the CIA agent who would lead the rescue (Affleck) replies: “There are no good ideas, sir. Only bad ones but this is the least bad one” while making clear that doing nothing would be worse still.

This exchange perfectly captures the best way to look at the recently consummated Fiscal Cliff “Deal”. Given the bind Republicans were in “winning” was simply a non-starter. The only question was what the least bad way of losing was. Further, the idea of doing nothing i.e. going over the cliff- as some in the GOP were seriously advocating- would have been a disaster.

The dogged, unexciting, and much maligned Speaker Boehner put it well: “If you have ten people in a pool drowning and your choice is between saving nine or none, it should be pretty obvious what you gotta do”.

In the end Barack Obama signed a law that made the Bush Tax Cuts which Democrats have loathed and fought to over-throw for more than a decade permanent for all but the top 2%- something George Bush himself was unable to do even during the six years the GOP controlled both houses of Congress.

Sure, there are a lot of Stinkers in the fine print of the “The Deal” as ably reported by the Wall St. Journal but as every doctor knows by definition triage doesn’t mean saving everyone.

Like Sherlock Holmes’ famous “Dog that barked in the Night” what is most significant about the Deal is what didn’t happen. What it prevented. If we had gone over the Cliff it would have been Christmas all over again for Liberals. The hated Bush Tax cuts would be history, taxes would rise for everybody- permanently, trillions in new revenues for the insatiable Democratic Spending Machine would stretch as far as the eye could see, and best of all Republicans would be blamed for this “national calamity”.

The liberal media echo chamber was ready with all the supportive story lines: “Obama the Reasonable done in by Boehner the Obstructionist. Middle Class Rethinks one-time support of Tea Party. Nancy Pelosi says she would’ve prevented this disaster”.

Anyone doubting that the GOP dodged a bullet should listen to liberal voices in deep Blue New England as I have been doing while enjoying the abundant snow of Northern Vermont and listening to political Massachusetts obsess over the soon to be vacant Kerry Senate seat.

In Vermont Howard Dean calls the Deal “A missed opportunity of tragic proportion”. Senator Patrick Leahy on January 2nd says “We’ll never again have the leverage we had just 24 hours ago”.

In Massachusetts Barney Frank- suddenly warming to the phrase ‘Senator Frank’ – says “at a minimum we should have gotten the Debt Ceiling Lift. We didn’t fight hard enough”. Another Senate “wannabe” Congressman Ed Markey told a TV interviewer, “I really don’t understand. We held all the high cards, but in the end, Democrats really didn’t get that much”. The Boston Globe puzzled over Obama’s “detachment” and “strange passivity” and chides him for “failing to go for the kill” when he clearly had the GOP “on the ropes”.

No Democrat would flat out say they wanted to go over the Cliff (too dangerous) but Dean and Washington Senator patty Murray came very close. However any reading of their history and transparent disinterest in real compromise or even serious negotiation made clear that while the Cliff was bad for the country, for Liberals it was the Promised Land.

So, how much better off is the GOP after “The Deal” than they were before? What is the preferred strategy going forward?

Make no mistake, the prospects for Republicans may be marginally less dire, but they are still pretty grim. They are dealing with the most ideological Administration in American History, and one that is brimming with confidence as a result of the election. So much so that they are stunningly open about their determination to go forward with even more tax increases.

Hope for the GOP and the country reside in the ancient maxim “Pride Goeth Before a Fall”. The Democratic worldview is on a collision course with reality. Where that worldview leads is pretty clearly outlined by the current travails of the European Union.

As the American people begin to feel the weight of the back-loaded tax increases caused not by Republicans but by Democrats- mainly the spiraling costs of Obamacare- and watch this Administration pushing for even more tax hikes despite a still staggering economy an anti-incumbent mood will inevitably set in. The “sixth year political jinx” that has hammered virtually every second term in the last seventy-five years will be the political expression of this reaction.

Still, Republicans must intelligently regroup and demonstrate resolution and fidelity to timeless principles if they hope to be beneficiaries of this coming turnabout.

William Moloney is a Centennial Institute Fellow and former Colorado commissioner of education. His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Human Events.

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