For much of Barack Obama’s first term, when one of his proposals was dismissed by Republicans, he would make another one.
Republicans wouldn’t like that one, either.
This process is known as “negotiating with yourself,” and somehow, you never win.
Tuesday night, in the State of the Union, Obama took a different approach. Calling for an upper-income tax increase to pay for child care and college tuition benefits, he knew he was proposing ideas that the Republican Congress would consider, basically, never. But he laid down a marker, which is better than just laying down.
Everybody in Washington, D.C., is a big fan of tax reform, but nobody means the same thing by it. Most Republicans would rather reduce upper-income tax rates, insist the strategy would bring in more revenue, and when it doesn’t, cut government services for everyone else.
By setting out his own goals, President Obama couldn’t set the agenda for a Republican House and Senate, but he could set the terms of the debate. He could remind the country that our problem isn’t that the top one percent are too heavily taxed, but that the gap between them and everyone else is getting impossibly vast.
President Obama was negotiating the future of the country. That’s better than negotiating with yourself.
NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV, 1/24/15