Ok, I saw the press conference. I get what Obama is saying. People were about to lose their unemployment insurance. That prospect was both ugly and imminent. Now, we can at least say that the loss of unemployment benefits is no longer imminent. By cutting a deal with the GOP, Obama might have saved us from experiencing the evil of families losing unemployment benefits that they rely on to pay for basic necessities (at least for the next few months).
But we have to ask ourselves whether, by avoiding that evil, we have exposed ourselves to a greater evil: A GOP that now believes it can get whatever it wants by threatening to harm the interests of working-class Americans. We might have won a small victory by holding the line on unemployment benefits, but that victory may turn out to be a Pyrrhic one.
Obama can plausibly claim a tactical victory against the Republicans: Middle class Americans got a tax cut and unemployment benefits were extended, but the tax cuts (including those for the wealthy) were not made permanent. But the cost of this "victory" was high. Obama now looks weak and ineffectual, and Republicans will be able to take control of the House confident that they will be able to stare Obama down in the future.
The most frustrating aspect of this "victory" is that the victory could easily have been much more decisive had Obama held the line and played his cards right. I mean, really: How long do people think the GOP would actually have been able to hold out on that issue? If the GOP was holding the unemployed hostage for the benefit of the wealthiest 2% of Americans, what do you think would happen to their approval ratings? They would fall through the basement. The next GOP Congress would start off with a 30% approval rating while the President's approval ratings would go back over 50%. It would not take long for the GOP to see the writing on the wall, realize that the American people weren't with them, and been forced to limp out of the battle just as they did after the 1995 government shutdown.
The 1995 shutdown harmed working-class Americans too. But the PR damage done to the GOP as a result of the shutdown had the effect of castrating the GOP-run Congress for the next 6 years and basically ensuring that the GOP would lose the 1996 election. As a result, it was Clinton's legislative priorities that dominated the next 5 years rather than the GOP's. I honestly think we can all say that despite the damage done to working families as a result of the '95 shutdown, they were better off in the long run because of Clinton's refusal to cave to Gingrich.
I realize that the GOP is about to take control of the House and gain seats in the Senate. But here's a news flash - if the GOP attempted to filibuster unemployment benefits and held other legislation hostage due to its insistence on tax cuts for the rich, it would have given us the PERFECT excuse to finally end the filibuster. If it failed to pass the House, the GOP would find itself politically crippled, a la the "do nothing" GOP Congress in 1946-48.
We had an opportunity to politically castrate the GOP for the next two years and all but guarantee a return to full control of Congress in 2012. Instead, we are the ones who look castrated. Like Pyrrhus, Obama has to realize that one more such victory, and we shall be undone.