The Hammer, the Anvil, and the GOP

It is best for America to have the fight out here and now.

 –FDR, 1940

The tactic is as old as military combat itself: attack the enemy from the front and drive it back into obstacle. The obstacle can be another army, the ocean, or a cliff. It’s called the hammer and anvil, and it’s been a combat tactic at least as far back as the Greeks. And it’s at work today.

Composed of tax cuts, rising costs, and anti-government ideology, today’s anvil was forged over the last 30 years of conservatism. The hammer this time is the excuse of the federal deficit. At stake is our social safety net and 75 years of progress toward a more just society. Talk of a grand bargain is nothing less appeasement. It was wrong in 1940, and it’s wrong now.

Back then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was up against conservative Democrats who opposed the New Deal  and opposed Henry Wallace, the president’s choice for vice president. At the 1940 Democratic Convention, FDR told it like it was.

The Republican Party has made its nominations this year at the dictation of those who, we all know, always place money ahead of human progress….

In the century in which we live, the Democratic Party has received the support of the electorate only when the party, with absolute clarity, has been the champion of progressive and liberal policies and principles of government.

The party has failed consistently when through political trading and chicanery it has fallen into the control of those interests, personal and financial, which think in terms of dollars instead of in terms of human values….

The Democratic Convention, as appears clear from the events of today, is divided on this fundamental issue. Until the Democratic Party through this convention makes overwhelmingly clear its stand in favor of social progress and liberalism, and shakes off all the shackles of control fastened upon it by the forces of conservatism, reaction, and appeasement, it will not continue its march of victory.

Then as now, we’re being pushed to the brink by a Republican Party willing to achieve its ends with a scorched earth policy. The fiscal cliff, as it has come to be called, was the result of President Obama’s appeasement of our GOP-controlled congress. Time will tell if he was electorally correct, but it seems clear that Obama was willing to make major concessions in order to achieve a compromise with uncompromising Republicans during the negotiations leading up to the Budget Control Act of 2011.

We are in a somewhat different position today. Although he has shown neither a willingness nor an aptitude for negotiations, our president presumably understands the only compromise the GOP accepts is doing what they want. We have time, we have a nervous business community, and we have an electorate keyed into–if not in support of–our Democratic message. As Krugman details the situation,

It’s worth pointing out that the fiscal cliff isn’t really a cliff. It’s not like the debt-ceiling confrontation, where terrible things might well have happened right away if the deadline had been missed. This time, nothing very bad will happen to the economy if agreement isn’t reached until a few weeks or even a few months into 2013. So there’s time to bargain.

More important, however, is the point that a stalemate would hurt Republican backers, corporate donors in particular, every bit as much as it hurt the rest of the country. As the risk of severe economic damage grew, Republicans would face intense pressure to cut a deal after all.

Meanwhile, the president is in a far stronger position than in previous confrontations. I don’t place much stock in talk of “mandates,” but Mr. Obama did win re-election with a populist campaign, so he can plausibly claim that Republicans are defying the will of the American people. And he just won his big election and is, therefore, far better placed than before to weather any political blowback from economic troubles — especially when it would be so obvious that these troubles were being deliberately inflicted by the G.O.P. in a last-ditch attempt to defend the privileges of the 1 percent.

Most of all, standing up to hostage-taking is the right thing to do for the health of America’s political system.

Any war is fought and won on both the home and battle fronts. As Democrats, we need to shore up our home front and let the President and our congressional delegation know what they need to do. It will take some maneuvering, but the Republican hammer could become our anvil.


2 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Democratic Opening Position: $2.50 in cuts for every $1.00 in new revenue


    We need FDR to end this depression, not Hoover.

    • It's so true

      Krugman has noted a few times in his blog of late that all the self-styled “deficit hawks” are now freaking out about this “fiscal cliff” (which really is more of a ramp), but trying desperately to disguise the fact that the problem is too much “deficit reduction” right now, not too little.

      We’ll have to fight to avoid what Krugman calls the “bait and switch” whereby a Keynesian “crisis” is “fixed” by raising the retirement age, cutting S.S. benefits, and slashing spending.

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