Abandoned in the debt deal are the liberal ideal of "shared sacrifice" (i.e., tax increases) and the Keynesian tenet of government spending surges during recessions. Preserved is the political framing that helps the Democrats in the 2012 election: no more embarrassing debt-limit votes before the election, no prominent debate on a balanced budget amendment, and a stage set for some good old corporate-jets-vs.-Medicare demagoguery.
Details of the debt deal were still being finalized as this column went to press, but it appears that the White House and Senate Democrats have agreed to up to $3 trillion in spending cuts with possibly no tax increases. On substantive grounds this is a complete Democratic surrender.
A twitter theme started up late Saturday night with angry liberals tagging their messages "#HopeAndCave." Chris Hayes, Washington editor of the liberal Nation magazine, wrote on Sunday, "Deal on the table is all cuts, no revenue. This is a rout." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the stern parson of progressive true believers, objected on Sunday morning television that "we shouldn't even be talking about spending cuts right now."
The Saturday New York Times noted that Obama has "adopted the Republicans' language and in some cases their policies, while signaling a willingness to break with liberals on some issues."
The Times reporter chalked this up as an Obama tack to the center and an "appeal to the broad swath of independent voters." But that misses the point. Obama's repeated concessions to Republicans all have a pattern, and it's not courting centrist voters. Rather, it's an attempt to jockey for better position -- in terms of framing and fundraising -- in the 2012 elections.
When Obama agreed during the 2010 lame-duck session to extend the 2001 tax cuts, he pushed the debate about upper-income tax rates back closer to the 2012 election.
When Democrats and Obama gave Republicans most of what they wanted during the government shutdown debate in April, Obama drew the line at funding for Planned Parenthood -- he would protect those subsidies at any cost. You could chalk this up to dogmatic dedication to abortion on demand, but more likely, Obama's firmness on this stems from the abortion lobby's central role in Democratic fundraising networks.
Look at a top Democratic fundraiser and you're likely to find someone intimately tied in with the abortion lobby. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is heralded by Planned Parenthood as a "heroine," and former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey was similarly a Planned Parenthood favorite. Obama's SuperPAC, Priorities USA, was seeded with money by Ellen Malcolm, founder of the pro-choice PAC Emily's List, along with some of her richest donors. Obama's top Texas fundraiser, Naomi Aberly, is a Planned Parenthood board member, as is Joanne Egerman, whose husband has been hosting Boston fundraisers for Obama since 2007.
That's just a sampling of the abortion lobby's importance in Democratic fundraising circles. In this light, consider Obama's willingness in April to compromise on taxes and most spending, but to stand firm on Planned Parenthood subsidies. It looks like liberal principles took a back seat to 2012 fundraising.
And this debt deal is similarly Machiavellian: Substance was subjugated to political framing. Republicans had their demands: no tax increases, yes spending cuts. Democrats' demands had a different tone.
First, Democrats wanted to ensure this was the last debt-limit increase before the 2012 elections. Raising the debt limit, as Sen. Obama said in 2006, is "a sign of leadership failure" and politically unpopular.
Second, they wanted to ensure that the right issues would be debated in the election year. A high-stakes debate over a balanced budget amendment -- as required by the bill the House passed on Friday -- would make it clear that Democrats, unlike most Americans, do not want a balanced budget.
Instead, the "trigger" in the new compromise bill sets up a debate that Obama can easily cast as a fight between cutting Medicare and raising taxes on Big Oil, corporate jet owners and the richest 1 percent.
If raising taxes on these politically disfavored classes was really the Democrats' priority, they could have done it already -- either before the 2010 elections or by driving a harder bargain in the last three budget battles. But instead, their priority is debating these targeted tax increases and pretending they will save Medicare from insolvency.
Democrats' willingness to compromise doesn't reflect superior maturity to the more rigid Republicans. Quite the contrary: It reflects caring less about policy than about politics.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.