It goes like this: The Republicans take two steps to the right. Then Obama takes two steps to the right. Then the Republicans take two more steps to the right. Then Obama takes two more steps to the right, calls it a "compromise" and declares victory.
Obama and the Republicans just concluded an extended performance of the dance during the fight over raising the federal debt ceiling. On Tuesday - the deadline beyond which the nation supposedly would have gone into default on its debts - the Senate passed and Obama signed what was described as a compromise bill to raise the ceiling in exchange for $2.5 trillion in government spending cuts.
But in a compromise deal, both sides generally give up a little of what they want in exchange for giving the other guys a little of what they want. How did this "compromise" break down?
Well, the Republicans got to keep their beloved tax cuts for billionaires. The "compromise" bill contains no revenue increases at all - not even through the closing of loopholes. The Republicans also got promises of cuts to "socialist" programs the radical right has long dreamed of gutting or killing, including Head Start, environmental regulation, consumer protection and (the real biggies) Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
In return, Obama and the Democrats got ... well, if you can figure out what they got besides kicking the debt ceiling can down the road until after the 2012 elections, you're smarter than we are.
House Speaker John Boehner told his Republican colleagues before the vote on the deal that it gave them 98% of what they wanted. When the other side in a deal gets 98% of what it wants and your side gets 2%, that's not called "compromise" - it's called "getting rolled."
The Senate approved the debt ceiling sellout by a vote of 74 to 26. Six Democratic senators broke ranks with Obama to vote against it. To his credit, Oregon's Jeff Merkley was one of them.
Merkley said he recognized the need to extend the debt ceiling and avoid default. "But," he added, "at some point we must finally stand up for the middle class and insist that their jobs and their futures be our priority, or this ugly drama will repeat itself again and again."
After signing the bill, Obama promised that in future he'll fight for a balanced approach to deficit reduction, including revenue increases. We'd like to believe that, but after watching Obama in action for three years we're convinced he's wedded to his strategy of pre-emptive surrender.
There's probably nothing that individual members of Congress can do to make the president grow a spine - or maybe a little cartilage where a spine should be. But at least they can cast a token vote for the ordinary working Americans who Obama has betrayed time after time. For doing that, Jeff Merkley has earned the GLASS SLIPPER.