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Was Fiscal Cliff Deal a Stinker, or Did Obama Win One?

Mike Tomasky of the Daily Beast and AlterNet's Joshua Holland have very different views on the question.

According to Gallup, two-thirds of Democrats say they're "satisfied" with the deal Congress struck on January 2 to avert the "crisis" that it had itself created. Only 23 percent say they don't like it. Two-thirds of Republicans say they don't approve -- and Rush Limbaugh is typically furious -- but anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist says he  is "happy" with the agreement

Did Obama get the better of Republicans, or did he get rolled? It's been a hot debate among progressives since details of the deal were announced. This week, on the AlterNet Radio Hour, Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast joined Joshua Holland for a friendly debate. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the exchange (you can listen to a podcast of the whole show here).

Joshua Holland: Mike, did you find it kind of surreal to see Congress patting themselves on the back for dealing with a phony crisis they conjured out of thin air?

Michael Tomasky: I’m not so wild about the idea of Congress patting themselves on the back. But I actually think Obama deserves a little pat on the back.

JH: We’re going to have a disagreement here.

Now, I’ve had a number of criticisms of this administration but I think Barack Obama has done a pretty good job on balance, given the multiple crises he inherited and the craziness of opposition. That view has caused people to call me an Obamabot. I mention that as context, so you understand where I’m coming from.

You wrote a piece in the Beast this week that I would have agreed with right up until [last] Tuesday, but now I disagree. It’s titled, “ Dear Liberals: Stop Complaining.”

In it, you write, "There’s a style of criticism that really bugs me. It’s that which reproves [Obama] for failing to be Captain Liberal while refusing to recognize that the guy has to be Mr. President." Can you unpack that a bit for us?

MT: Yes. Look, in my heart of hearts, I would like him to be able to assert his will over Congress. Raise the tax rate on dollars earned -- I say dollars earned, not on people, because that’s really what’s correct – on dollars earned to above $250,000. I don’t want to see that go up to 39.6 percent, I want to see that go up to 42 or 45 percent. I’d like to see more generous unemployment benefits then we have.

I’d like to see higher capital gains tax rates ... a whole lot of things. As a liberal, I believe that Barack Obama … I wish Barack Obama would push for those things. I think they’re good things for the country.

But I recognize, I’m sorry to say, that he’s president of a big country, only about a quarter of which at best, is liberal. He’s got to deal with people whom we don’t like but who are there – who were legitimately elected. We can’t deny it. They’re legitimately elected, they legitimately represent 47% of the United States and he has to be in a negotiation with them. There’s just no getting around these facts.

Given all those circumstances, he did pretty darn well in this negotiation.

JH: I am also sick of liberal hand-wringing about how Obama hasn’t used his magic Negro powers to make really crazy right-wingers in Congress more reasonable! I totally agree with that.

This deal however, is just a stinker and I think liberals have every reason to complain. I want our listeners to understand why I think that way in context. Bear with me for one minute here.

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