Michael Kinsley is someone who wrote columns worth reading during the first Bush administration, which for some reason means that he continues to draw a healthy paycheck to bring you such insights as “mass unemployment has to make things better in the future because ice cream,” “I invented the concept of same-sex marriage in 1989 which qualifies me to say that premature anti-homophobes are much worse than homophobes,” and “how dare people challenge Rush Limbaugh’s inalienable right to his current level of advertising revenues.” He has a new column, and it has finally achieved his goal of reaching a Level 10, or “Jonah Weiner,” level of contrariansim.
Kinsley’s argument is that Obama should surrender to Republican extortion. When you see the premise, you might expect him to make a bad but at least vaguely defensible argument, like “Obama should give Republicans some token face-saving concession to save the economy.” I think that would still be wrong, because even a token concession would make debt ceiling extortion a permanent feature of the American political system and hence eventually produce a default anyway, but I can at least see an argument there. Kinsley, however, argues that Obama should just pay the Republican ransom and undermine his signature domestic policy achievement in exchange for nothing. The imagined speech Kinsley would have Obama give:
The sad truth is that if you don’t care about any of that, it gives you tremendous power over those who do. Perhaps unfortunately, I do care. And I believe the stakes are too high to let this become a testosterone contest. So I have sent a letter to Speaker Bohner, saying that I will agree to a year’s postponement of the Affordable Care Act, if he will agree to a rise in the debt limit that is at least big enough to spare us another episode like this for a year.
So something that’s terrible short-term and long-term. How does Kinsley deal with the obvious problem that this will make extortion a permanent feature of the American political system? With pure comedy gold, that’s how:
The media will no doubt call Obama weak because he gave in. So let them. Sticks and stones. Meanwhile, will the Republicans really take the past couple of weeks as a precedent and push him around on every issue that comes up? Highly unlikely. They are already getting most of the blame. They surely don’t look forward to trying to convince voters it was such a swell experience that they’re going to put us through it again and again.
This is, as far as I can tell, not meant as a joke. Kinsley quite seriously seems to believe that House Republicans will be chastened by national public opinion polls not to pursue a strategy that won them major unreciprocated policy concessions, the complete inconsistency with the actual behavior of the actually existing Republican Party notwithstanding. One could point out the fact that most House Republicans are in safe seats regardless of the national standing of the party, that the urban concentration of the Democrats means that Republicans can lose the national vote badly and still retain a majority (for this to happen you have to go all the way back to…2012,) that the house Republicans most threatened by the massive unpopularity of the party are the dwindling group of “moderates” who are abjectly useless but aren’t driving the bus, etc. etc…but it doesn’t matter. Kinsley doesn’t know much about contemporary American politics, and he doesn’t care that he doesn’t know. And since taking a random news item and making a trademark “counterintuitive” argument that collapses on the slightest inspection is still working for him professionally, why should he be expected to put in any actual effort?