Sometimes the best political move you can make is to give folks exactly what they say they want. It may seem counterproductive to your best interests at first, only to prove beneficial later.
That is why it's time for President Obama to let the Republicans have their tax cut for the rich. It would be the best way to shift the narrative on the economy toward 2011. Many Democrats and liberals are against this option, opposing it to the point of pushing for a symbolic vote in Congress before actually working with Republicans to get new tax policy in place for January. That should not be a guiding factor for the president in crafting his stance in the tax-code standoff. After all, many of these Democrats are the same politicians who shunned Obama during the midterm election cycle just a few weeks ago.
Such a surprise move would put the onus of proof back on the Republicans, soon to be the party in power in the House of Representatives. And with this shift comes the opportunity for President Obama to create a win-win situation politically for himself.
Obama can cunningly put himself in position to take credit for turning the economy around through a bipartisan effort that includes both his stimulus package and his guidance in keeping the Bush tax rates of the past decade. Even if Republicans attempt to hijack the kudos, they would not be able to untie Obama's bond to the successful turnaround — something that would go a long way toward keeping the Obamas in the White House for another four years. Every mention of economic recovery would include the White House narrative that it took the president's intervention in the process to override the opposition within his own party to bring the two sides together for the good of the nation.
And if the tax cuts do not work? Well, that may shut down the Republican argument on economic growth — and perhaps even that of the Tea Party — for some time. Should the economy fail to get restarted under the Republicans' leadership, despite their having saved the Bush-era tax rates for 2011, the Obama-led stimulus to save the American economy in 2009 will start looking even better. Republicans' failure to grow the economy after midterm elections could power the president and the Democrats past the conservative momentum that has dictated the national conversation.
By putting in place conservative economic theories that Americans making more than $250,000 a year will re-invest their tax savings into the economy to create jobs and other economic opportunities, Obama would play the "put up or shut up" card in this political poker game, knowing that he will be able to claim political victory as an incumbent president, even if the policy works.
President Obama can neutralize the card that unhappy liberal voters have been using against him: that he campaigned as a centrist candidate, only to serve as a leftist president who refused to hold his own party accountable. The president can keep a stoic presence and silently — yet effectively — dictate the economic-recovery narrative in a way that he has not been able to in some time.
Whichever way the economy develops over time, President Obama can position himself to benefit from "cowering" before the demands of the Republicans and their Tea Party backers. Even after giving them what they wanted — and showing a different aspect of his leadership qualities — he would be holding all of the cards to begin crafting the narrative for the next two years.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister at 5 a.m. on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. He is the author of an upcoming edition of the book The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.