My favorite part of the budget negotiations is when a glum-looking John Boehner — backed by the vulpine Eric Cantor, eyes blazing — steps in from of the cameras and accuses Barack Obama of “not negotiating in good faith.” And he does it with a straight face.
Apparently, good faith negotiation to a Republican consists of demanding unconditional surrender and an apology for disagreeing in the first place. This qualifies as theater of the absurd. Republicans can’t even negotiate in good faith with each other, for crying out loud, let alone with the president of the United States.
I had high hopes. I admit it. The economy was starting to revive, we had beaten the barbarians back from the gates of the city in the election and Mr. Obama seemed informed by a new resolve.
I was encouraged by Obama’s tough talk at the onset of the budget negotiations. He was prepared to cut the size of government and gradually reduce Social Security benefits through a complicated formula, yes. But he was also going to let tax rates rise by a few percentage points on income of more than $250,000 to even things out.
That wasn’t good enough for the Republicans. They kept holding out for no rate hikes on the rich, instead leaning heavily on taking money and benefits from the sick and the disabled to balance the budget.
Then Obama offered to raise the tax threshold to incomes of $400,000 or more.
“Oh no,” I said to myself. “He’s starting to negotiate with himself again. He always does that and he always loses.”
But then John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of House, started to negotiate with himself too. He offered to accept a tax rise for incomes of $1 million or more.
This, of course, was unacceptable to Democrats but, as it turned out, the Republican knuckle-draggers in the House wouldn’t go along either.
So, at this writing, there we are, on the very edge of the fiscal cliff with no easy way back. (Republican conservatives have an ancient Greek warrior streak in them. They stake out a position, then burn the boats they came in.)