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Declaring victory

Back during the Vietnam War, Vermont Senator George Aiken, a Republican (back in those days there were Republicans who were perfectly sane. You can look it up.) made the following suggestion about the war: Declare victory and leave. A lot of people saw the wisdom in his suggestion, and in the end, though it was rarely mentioned, that’s pretty much what we did.

The critical thing, though, was that we left, and could feasibly pretend that the war was well and truly won. We couldn’t have engaged in that pretense had we stayed. Well, maybe we could have; we are so good at self delusion. Still, in the case of Vietnam, it would have been hard.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with anything. Well, Aiken’s formulation came to mind today as I read this article, in which we find that the White House, once again, has declared victory in a situation that can, with charity, be optimistically characterized as a draw. This is a longstanding habit with the Obamites:

The chaos on New Year’s Day in the House validated the president’s strategy to find a solution now, White House aides said.

Despite the ugly process and bruised relations, the West Wing thinks it won big.


But, of course, this declared victory was in a battle. The war goes on:

But the failure to address several big issues sets up another fiscal showdown in late February, when the two-month delay in the sequester coincides with the deadline to raise the country’s $16.4 trillion debt limit

So far as I can see, other than getting half a loaf on the tax issue, all the Democrats did was kick the can down the road. At the end of March the Republicans will have two hostages, and Obama will have nothing. At that point, there will be another battle, and perhaps another declared victory, but after all those declared victories, and given the relative size of the armies, who is going to feel like they’re winning the war? The craftier Republicans are already looking forward to the next round, when they can take aim at Social Security and Medicare, knowing that Obama is fairly eager to “compromise” them away.

TOM COLE: Again, I would prefer not to raise taxes on anybody. But we protected almost every American. We did it at a higher income level than the President campaigned on. And again, frankly, we’ve denied him I think his most important piece of leverage in any negotiation going forward. So I particularly like that part. I understand unemployment extension. I prefer, you know, a more focused effort in that regard. But we do have parts of the country where that’s necessary and it’s a fair compromise. The entitlement issue, just too much to deal with I think in one piece of legislation. But again, still sequester is in front of us. The continuing resolution runs out the end of march and obviously the debt ceiling. All of those things honestly are Republican leverage not Democratic so I think there will be opportunities to deal with the spending issue next year. Honestly I expect that will be the dominant issue along with trying to overhaul the tax code going forward. So that’s usually pretty good ground for Republicans.

(via Hullabaloo: QOTD: Republican Tom Cole)

What Aiken realized is that declaring victory only works if you truly leave after you make your declaration. When you stay, as Obama must, you will inevitably fight again. And even in “winning” Obama once again demonstrated that when he draws a line in the sand, the fact that it’s in the sand, and not in concrete, is the salient point. Don’t be surprised if we hear, with the usual media amplification, a Republican meme in March that since they “compromised” in January, it’s up to Obama to “compromise” in March. And he will. He’ll get a meaningless increase in the debt ceiling (timed to run out at yet another opportune moment) and they’ll finally say yes to his offer to cut Social Security or Medicare, and then run against Democrats for doing it. He’ll declare victory yet again, and maybe he’ll be right. It may only be the rest of us who will be the big losers.

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