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It was just a couple of days ago when we were all cheered to learn that President Obama was emphatically rejecting the possibility of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. After Bush’s wars of choice, and the recession that resulted from his deregulatory economic policies, these ill-considered tax cuts have been one of the biggest drivers of the deficit. They were a mistake that needs to be fixed.

Sadly, although President Obama is promising to stand firm, his resolve may come to naught. An article in The Hill reports that Democrats like our own Claire McCaskill are, predictably, wavering and in the process endangering the entire Democratic strategy:

Democratic leaders maintain they are content to play defense, but are worried that some vulnerable Democrats might defect and support a temporary extension of all the Bush-era rates, which would undercut their negotiating position.

Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.), two Democrats facing tough races this year, on Thursday declined to rule out support for an across-the-board extension of the rates.

“If you want to do something in the spirit of compromise, you don’t start out by saying, ‘I refuse to do this’ or ‘I refuse to do that,’ ” said McCaskill. “It’s not my preference to extend tax cuts to multimillionaires – that’s not my preference – but I want to keep every option open in the spirit of compromise.”

No, Claire, we do not go into a negotiation and send signals that we’re so intimidated that we’re ready to hand all the goodies over if the other party says boo to us.* Nor does it hurt the process to draw clear lines in the sand – let everybody know upfront what’s negotiable and what’s not. Which is precisely why, as The Hill writer implies in the quote above, the Democratic leadership is so worried that pols like McCaskill will give the game away before they players even get onto the field.

And as far as many of McCaskill’s Democratic constituents are concerned, given the misery that her deficit hawk colleagues in the GOP have inflicted on poor and working Americans – not to mention the harm they have done to the economic recovery – tax cuts for the wealthy aren’t negotiable. President Obama has it right and God bless ‘im for it.

I know that McCaskill’s in a hard place, but I promise acting like her GOP opposite numbers won’t help her out. Of course, we’ve got to take some responsibility too. I quote Peter Dreier on FDR’s blending of ethics and realpolitik:

FDR once met with a group of activists who sought his support for bold legislation. He listened to their arguments for some time and then said, “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”

We’ve got to make McCaskill do it. We’ve got to write and call her and let her know that we are counting on her. We also have to write letters to editors, talk to our neighbors and friends, do everything we can think of to do to help remind people that the GOP is willing to balance the nation’s budget on the people’s backs in order to privilege the wealthy. We’ve got a lot to do in order to make the world safe for progressives.

ADDENDUM: Jonathan Bernstein explains why caving on the tax cuts is stupid politically. Maybe I should send Claire a link?

*Sentence edited slightly.