Liberal commentators, lawmakers are not amused

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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By the looks of things, if there is finally a debt deal, liberals must feel like they’ve had their head rammed into the ceiling fan.

While The Wall Street Journal may have called the late-night agreement a “victory for the cause of smaller government, arguably the biggest since welfare reform in 1996,” not everyone is jumping for joy. Some are mourning, some are angry, and some are just flat-out disappointed at a president who campaigned on a platform that went beyond partisan fights between red states and blue states.

To Huffington Post namesake Arianna Huffington, the bipartisan agreement represents exactly the opposite of what politics is all about: making compromises.

“I think this is a real breakdown of our political system,” said Huffington Monday on “Morning Joe.”

Paul Krugman, however, was the first liberal commentator to scowl. In his New York Times column, which started the avalanche of complaints, Krugman wrote that the deal was a “disaster” and a complete failure on President Barack Obama’s part.

“Make no mistake about it, what we’re witnessing here is a catastrophe on multiple levels,” Krugman wrote. “It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats … Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.”

Krugman was more subtle than the New York Times editorial board, which wrote that apart from averting a “catastrophic government default” the debt deal is “nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists.”

And who is being held hostage? “Reasonable people … forced to give in to those willing to endanger the national interest.”

The Times also picks up on a theme — echoed in the New Republic, The Daily Beast and The Nation — that could bring even lower approval ratings for the president: Obama chickened out.

Titled “Obama Gives It All Away” the morning piece by The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky goes downhill from there.

With the deal, Tomasky sees a “horrible precedent” for both sides that threatens a bleak future of less government spending and Republicans in charge of Capitol Hill.

“Would Democrats do something similar to a Republican president — demand that she or he support dramatic tax increases? That wouldn’t be any more right than the other way around,” write Tomasky, who then oddly concedes that Democrats don’t have that Elephant-like backbone. “Of course Democrats, given their different DNA, might well be afraid to do something that … mean — which suggests that this precedent will have extremely conservative impacts on our politics for years to come.”

Just for good measure, Tomasky also throws in a reference to the Republicans’ criminal act of issuing “hostage-takers’ demands.”

Meanwhile The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn swings the pendulum between Obama’s practical need for compromise and his lack of cojones. Despite the “difficulty of fighting Fox News [and] the Koch brothers” and Cohn’s admission that “the actual deal seems considerably better than reports early on Sunday suggested,” the whole thing is still “ugly.”

Cohn spends a good amount of ink wondering if he should blame the president, but in the end Obama was the “grown-up in the room, the one who can rise above all the partisan bickering in Washington to do what must be done” because he didn’t want to “poison the atmosphere for negotiations.”

Cohn ultimately lets conservatives (mostly) off the hook. After straddling a rhetorical fence for a while, he eventually does what most liberal critics do best: self-flagellate. The debt deal represents “failure by progressives to apply enough political pressure on Congress.” To bad all those Tweet recommendations didn’t work.

While liberal commentators mourned, worried and shook their heads, it would seem Democratic lawmakers could finally take time out of the debt debate to say really interesting things themselves.

“I would say … that symbolically, that agreement is moving us to the point where we are having the final interment of John Maynard Keynes,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin on Sunday, according to the Huffington Post. The quick eulogy concerned the late British economist who advocated wide-ranging government policies to control a country’s economic fortunes.

To Republicans, fiscal conservatives and libertarians, however, Durbin’s statement sound more like someone announcing that the battle for Middle Earth has come to a happy end. The free-market Shire is safe again!

Of course, nothing so far can compare with Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who called the deal a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.” The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus made absolutely no sense, so naturally his quip took off like a bologna hoagie out of hell.

Practically all of Google is obsessed with the one-liner. It’s not official, though, until it has its own Twitter handle.

Alas, that happened on Monday morning. Yes, @SatanSandwich is now tweeting about debate news, members of Congress, and threats against Mitt Romney and all of earth’s children.

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