President Obama’s speech tonight on the debt ceiling debate was not an attempt to bridge the gap between his position and that of his congressional opponents. By repeating the rhetoric he has been using all through this debate by attempting to demonize Republicans, it was clear his goal was not to make a deal but to exacerbate a situation he has already described as a crisis.
Rather than continue to negotiate and accept–as Senate Democrats already have–that there will be no debt deal that includes higher taxes, Obama has doubled down on his position. That he has done so even though he is now the only one left in Washington who says a deal must include tax increases speaks volumes about his own intransigence. If he really wanted a solution, he wouldn’t have spent the weekend trying to torpedo talks between the two parties in Congress in order to assert his power. Nor would he have gone on TV tonight to play the class warfare card again in order to intimidate Republicans into giving in on their core issue.
In response, House Speaker John Boehner’s short speech simply indicated the Republicans understand Obama is either bluffing or actually wants a default because he believes it is in his political interest. The problem for Obama is that although he has thought all along he can repeat Bill Clinton’s 1995 triumph over Newt Gingrich on a government shutdown, this time it is more than likely in order to prevent a deal that is not “balanced,” he will have to veto it. If so, it will be Boehner who will have outmaneuvered the president, not the other way around. Though Obama believes the American people like his ideas better than those of the Republicans, it is hard to believe he is really willing to risk the disaster of a default in order to exploit those positive polling numbers.
By attempting to go to the people over the heads of Congress in a speech in which he blamed the country’s economic problems on everyone but himself (and curiously omitted the largest single expansion of entitlements—Obamacare—in his laundry list of reasons why we are in debt), the president has shown that his rhetoric about compromise and balance is merely a cynical political ploy. Though he acts as if he is the only person in Washington who is above such depraved behavior, instead, the president has again proved himself to be the one person in this drama who is most committed to avoiding a solution. If there is to be a solution to this impasse—and the bet here is there will be one—it will be in spite of Obama’s efforts, not because of them.