Center ground

    Thanks to the reality-averse extremists in their own ranks, congressional Republicans are increasingly ceding center ground to President Obama. At his press conference this morning, he lamented yet again that the right-wing tea-partyers are recklessly driving America to the brink of a devastating financial crisis – and then he duly planted both feet on center ground:”Increasingly, the American people are going to say to themselves, ‘You know what, if a party or a politician is constantly taking the position my way or the highway, constantly being locked into ideologically rigid positions, then we’re going to remember at the polls.’ It’s kind of cumulative…What the American people are paying attention to is, ‘Who seems to be trying to get something done?’ and ‘Who seems to be posturing to try to score political points?’ I think it will be in the interest of everybody who wants to continue to serve in this town to make sure that they are on the right side of that impression.”Obama is right when he says that “the American people” favor a deficit-reduction plan that mixes spending cuts with tax revenue hikes. The polling evidence is overwhelming; a new Gallup poll (cited today by Obama) says 80 percent of Americans believe that some tax hikes need to be in the mix. That’s the center ground in politics today, and he’s occupying it. His public willingness to tick off his own liberal base, by offering the Republicans $3 trillion spending cuts over 10 years in exchange for only $1 trillion in hiked revenue, constitutes center ground. His remark this morning about how the liberal and conservative bases view issues only through “a narrow prism,” as opposed to “what’s good for the country” was aimed at the independents who dwell on center ground. His pitch for sensible spending cuts, coupled with the erasure of Bush tax cuts for the rich, is squarely on center ground.His push to close those sweetheart corporate tax loopholes – that too is center ground.And the fact that powerful business groups (including 470 CEOs) are now urging the Republican extremists to wake up to reality and, at minimum, agree to raise the debt ceiling before August 2 – well, this development speaks for itself. Even the business wing of the Republican party is standing with Obama on center ground.None of this guarantees, of course, that Obama has the center sewn up on the cusp of the ’12 election season. Far from it. But the Keystone Cops antics in the Republican camp – with John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and the tea-party-infected Eric Cantor vying for party message primacy – are creating the impression that the GOP has no interest in center ground, that it’s just not serious about responsible governance in a time of crisis. Quelle surprise.Obama can afford to wait out the Republicans because he has history on his side. Notwithstanding all the purblind ideologues who somehow believe that a default would be no big deal, there are some sane conservative voices. Larry Kudlow, one of the most prominent supply-side purists, wrote yesterday on the consdervative National Review website that his Republican sources “are telling me they do not want to risk the destruction of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency by allowing a debt default or a downgrade. Eighty million checks have to go out. Otherwise the GOP could be blamed.”Gee, ya think? When the anti-government party wreaks havoc with government, of course it gets the blame. Veteran Republicans well remember 1995, when the public faulted them for closing the doors during their confrontation with Bill Clinton. The president seized center ground and held it. Mitch McConnell invoked that episode the other day (“shutting down the government,” he said, “helped Bill Clinton get re-elected”) – and Rudy Giuliani, talking on the radio this morning in New Hampshire, foresees the same risk now: “We should make the best deal we can make on spending cuts but not put the country into default…It would hurt our party for 10 years if we’re responsible for that. And beyond poor politics, it would be the wrong thing to do.”It’s simple, really: If the Republicans want to wreck the nation’s credit, crash the economy, and lose huge in 2012, they need only curse the concept of compromise and allow their own extremists to call the shots. Or they can behave as adults and battle Obama for center ground.Kudlow wrote today that “one way or the other, the tide is turning toward a deal.” For Republicans’ sake, they had better hope so.

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