I'm on vacation, but this Charles Krauthammer column in my morning paper is so wildly obtuse I cannot restrain myself from blogging about it. Krauthammer argues that President Obama's claim to favor a deficit reduction deal is phony because he's offering it in closed door negotiations:
All of a sudden he’s a born-again budget balancer prepared to bravely take on his own party by making deep cuts in entitlements. Really? Name one. He’s been saying forever that he’s prepared to discuss, engage, converse about entitlement cuts. But never once has he publicly proposed a single structural change to any entitlement.
Hasn’t the White House leaked that he’s prepared to raise the Medicare age or change the cost-of-living calculation?
Anonymous talk is cheap. Leaks are designed to manipulate. Offers are floated and disappear.
Say it, Mr. President. Give us one single structural change in entitlements. In public.
The basis for this argument is Krauthammer not understanding, or pretending not to understand, the concept of negotiation. Allow me to give an example. Suppose the New York Times wanted to hire Krauthammer away from the Washington Post. The Times offers Krauthammer $50,000 a year to take the job. Krauthammer asks for $60,000. Now, imagine the Times says that Krauthammer's willingness to accept its offer is fake. If he wants to make this deal, then why doesn't he publicly announce that he wants to come write for the Times?
Because -- he's only willing to work for the Times if they meet certain conditions! Meanwhile, he understands that publicly conceding his willingness to give up his side of the bargain (I'll leave my job and come work for you) without getting what he asks in return would make a negotiated settlement impossible. Obama is willing to cut entitlement spending if and only if Republicans make policy concessions in return. He is not willing to offer unilateral concessions.
Indeed, Obama has been operating all along on the principle that unilateral public concessions will make it harder to reach a deal. Pundits have lambasted him for "ignoring" Bowles-Simpson, when in fact he's simply been signalling that he wants to bargain along the lines the commission established. It's worth keeping in mind that the Republican members of that commission voted against the plan.
I'm pretty sure that Krauthammer is smart enough to understand how negotiations work. He simply chooses not to understand.