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The Hidden Cost of Capitulation

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Now that the president has signaled yet another collapse in agreeing to tax cuts for the rich, there is a hidden cost to this capitulation. He is now stuck defending this deal for the rest of his term. I predicted this on the show yesterday and today it's playing out exactly the way I imagined, with the president sending out advisers to talk about what a great idea it is to give tax cuts to the rich.

Once you sign off on a political position, you own it. This could be a corollary to Colin Powell's doctrine on foreign policy. Powell said if you break it, you own it. In this case, if you make it, you own it.

The president claims he will fight hard against these same tax cuts two years from now. It's hard to stop laughing long enough to make a point against that, but I will try. If you are sending out your people to talk up polls about how right the Republicans were on the tax cuts for the rich now, how are you going to send out the same people to talk about how wrong they were - and how wrong you were - two years from now?

These are the things that make me wonder if President Obama has a firm grasp on basic political fundamentals. Yesterday he said that the political reality is that he just didn't have the votes in the Senate (by far his favorite excuse). He even said "I can't win" in the Senate. That's a damning reversal for a man who ran on "Yes we can."

But more importantly, he doesn't seem to understand Politics 101. You don't just count the votes based on how the other side says they're going to vote. From time to time, you call their bluff. Which means you go to the home states of swing senators like Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Olympia Snowe in Maine and you campaign on this winning issue there until you make them feel the political pain. Then you put them to a decision -- do you want to risk your career voting against me on this issue where I have huge popular support or do you want to vote with me? Then you take the vote and they will bend. If he doesn't understand that, boy did we elect the wrong guy.

Of course, the alternative is that he does understand that but doesn't ever have the stomach for a real fight. Or even worse yet, secretly likes this deal and will always find an excuse to get more tax cuts and sweet deals for the rich and powerful. In which case, boy did we elect the wrong guy.

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