Republicans played chicken with a brick on the accelerator, the brakes disconnected, and a steely, macho resolve to hold the steering wheel straight. (Never mind the nation's children in the back seat.)
Many on the left are understandably not only outraged at the GOP for being amoral sociopaths, but at Democrats for "backing down". But let's remember: this is a game of chicken, and we on the left are not supposed to buy into a heteronormative, atavistic model of what a president is supposed to act like.
It may have been great PR for Obama when he got OBL, but do we really want him to engage the presidency as though he were an '80s action hero? In the metaphorical game of chicken with the GOP, do we want him to adopt their reckless abandon and refuse to turn the wheel as well, to hell with the chlidren in the back seat? Do we want him to be all NRA and pack a concealed weapon to fire at the other side? Or do we as progressives want to avert ourselves from the head on collision with the madmen, and look to civilised institutions to deal with those who refuse to live peacefully in the community?
I may have stretched the metaphor to the limit or beyond, so I will be more direct: we need to continue to "cave" to the maniacs who control the House of Representatives while we make it all about the election of '12. Pass the draconian cuts the teabaggers want, but with the condition that no cuts take effect until spring of 2013. Then frame election in very simple terms:
I. Republicans took innocent, vulnerable Americans (including children, seniors, front line soldiers trying to support their families back home) and callously held them hostage to their extreme ideology, which has as its central organising princple helping the rich get richer. The GOP's tactics violated unwritten social mores about the limits of ruthlessness toward one's own fellow citisens in pursuit of a rigid ideological agenda.
II. Democrats have averted the crisis by prudently refusing to play chicken with barbarians. The American public will have a stark choice in the election: either end the madness, or sign off on it.
III. Democrats have a very simple platform: repeal of GOP cuts to progressive programmes (leaving the military cuts in place without specifically mentioning them in the campaign), combined with an increase in taxes for the very rich and the most profitable corporations.
Then let people choose one or the other. I have faith that our side would win a contest framed in these stark terms; if we did not, then America would be getting the government it deserves (and I would be looking for a place to emigrate to).