The English language can be, at once, a wonderful and terrible thing. Our peculiar politics exhibits that dichotomy in double entendres and what an old teacher of mine used to refer to as "simultaneous definition." Take, for instance, a word that has come to mean two very different things in Washington: "compromise."
The Democrats think they're compromising now, specifically concerning unemployment benefits and the extension of the (political and fiscal time bomb that is) the Bush tax cuts. In return for what? A "probably."
What is blackmail to one person becomes compromise to the other. This we've seen played out many times in Washington, and frankly, it is indeed played out. The Obama administration can claim all it wants that they are doing what needs to be done in order to get the unemployment benefits that were blocked to the families that need them, but that ignores, conveniently, the overarching narrative of surrender. When any hint of Democratic fortitude in the face of Republican threat becomes, in and of itself, newsworthy -- something is awry.
Let's just boil this down: Republicans have stated, openly, that their number-one priority is ensuring President Obama is not re-elected. So much so that in the midst of the holiday season, they'll block unemployment benefit and use them as leverage for the benefit of their most ardent constituency, the wealthy. Any victory for the President is unacceptable, the country's benefit be damned. And yet, we get "compromise": one that will cost the country $60 billion over the next two years. (To say nothing of the political price he'll pay in two years when the expiration of this two-year extension becomes an election issue. You can't say he wasn't warned.)
Yes, there is a numbers game at work in Congress, and there will be even more of one once the 112th Congress begins work next month. That said, the issue begins with the President.
We've all heard cries from so many asking, "Where is the man I voted for?" Those cries come largely either from disappointment in the continuation of abhorrent policies, or perceptions that President Obama's being duped or pressured by Republicans to become someone wholly different from the leader he promised to be. However, I think that gets it backward. President Obama is exactly the guy America elected, and at time he is that guy to a fault.
Obama's belief in a Washington that could be free of partisan games has survived two years of unprecedented opposition from the Right. It's not the Right saying, "No, Barack, you're wrong, it can never be like that -- and let us show you why." It's "Barack, you're in our chair."
The President is not naive. He's simply so dedicated to the ideal of compromise that he's not taking the steps needed to achieve it. In the context of double meanings, he's forgetting to do the right thing. Instead, he's doing the Right thing. Alas.