Know When to Hold ‘em and Know When to Fold ‘em

We’ve been hearing a lot this campaign season about “conservative principles.”  Some of the tea party conservatives held out on the payroll tax bill because it was only a short-term fix and didn’t make economic sense.  And so, voting for it would violate their “conservative principles.”

Never mind that it’s the Republicans who look bad because House conservatives held out for a better payroll tax bill.  Never mind that they could have walked away days ago and claimed victory, since the Senate bill (and the one the House finally agreed to) was a winner for Republicans.  The bill forces President Obama to make a final decision on whether or not he’ll give the green light to the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision he was hoping to put off until after the election.  Now he’s got a problem: If he votes to proceed with the pipeline, he risks losing some of his progressive base, mostly environmentalists.  If he says he won’t proceed with the pipeline, he risks losing blue-collar union workers.  Forcing the president to make a decision by early next year is a win for Republicans, a win they could have had without the delay that makes them look like obstructionists.

The headline on ABC News.com said, “House Republicans Cave on Payroll Tax Cut Extension.  On the CBS News Web site, readers saw this:  “House GOP takes a political beating in payroll tax fight.”   But  it wasn’t just the so-called mainstream media that was taking shots at the GOP.  Conservatives like Senator John McCain and Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal editorial page said it was a mistake for the House to hold out for a long-term extension.

“There’s no doubt this hurts the Republican Party, and that bothers me a great deal, as a Republican,” McCain said.

Here’s a bulletin:  We don’t live in a theoretical world where principle always trumps everything else.  On certain matters – life and death issues, for example – standing on principle is the right thing to do.  We should not expect someone who believes abortion is murder to compromise on the issue. But to stand on principle over a payroll tax bill isn’t noble.  To the outsider it doesn’t look like it has anything to do with principle, but everything to do with partisan politics.

I have principles.  One of them is that I refuse to give my hard earned money to some lazy bum simply because I have it and he wants it.  I’ll give my money to people who work for me or sell me something or sometimes just to people I like in the form of a gift.  But if a mugger comes up to me, puts a gun to my head and demands my money,  I’m going to be realistic.  Besides, after he shoots me he’s going to take my money anyway.  Did I violate my principles by forking over my money to this sleaze ball?  I guess so but only a fool would not.

I can understand the frustration of tea party conservatives.  They didn’t go to Congress to piddle around with measly payroll tax deductions that last only two months and create exactly no jobs.  They went to Washington to accomplish bigger things.  I’m with them.  But in the real world, the man or woman of principle can come off looking like an obstructionist.  The man or woman of principle can do a lot of damage to his or her cause.  Sometimes you have to give in.  In the payroll tax debate, lots of conservative Republicans in the Senate had already voted to accept the bill.  But to the “real conservatives” in the House, I guess they weren’t conservative enough.

That kind of rigid thinking could get Barack Obama re-elected.  Moderates and independents – the crucial voters in the 2012 election – don’t care much for Mr. Obama’s politics.  That’s the good news for Republicans.  The bad news is that care even less for those “real conservatives” in Congress who should be smart enough to know what The Gambler knew:  You have to know when to hold ‘em … and know when to fold ‘em.

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  • Romanoshka

    Hi Mr… Goldberg, I saw you interview in Fox and any time I see anything like you opinion machine is very scary, I don’t know if you are aware of the damage that many people like you are doing to this country, FACE THE REALITY, we are in a new generation 21 ft.century, and very sad that you DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF HUMAN BEING AND SOCIETY. did you know what happen in South America, Argentina Chile Brazil?, many young people are moving to those countries for big opportunities in business and better way o living and this people are from different countries from Europe. Did you know why? because old people in Europe are against the evolution of society and humans. people like you are doing the same damage to this country, the party is over, please analize the history from other nation after hundreds of years. Many nations when down the toilet because the greed and luck of wisdom, just like you and people in the right wing. God bless you and educate yourself.

    • rider237

      Romanoshka, it is that very “evolution” that has caused societies to fail. when a society undermines and disregards it’s first principles, in our case our constitution, it is doomed to failure.

      societies are built on a foundation. just as a building can’t stand if the foundation erodes, so societies fail when their foundations are destroyed.
      liberals know this. it is why the work so hard to destroy the foundational principles of this country. they want something different. it’s not a secret. they have been very open about it.

      what wonderful evolutions do you think we have missed out on?

  • rider237

    here is the thing that bothers me about this ‘reality vs. principle’ argument: it’s exactly what got us where we are!

    if we elect people to do principled things and then when they get there tell them “oh yeah, but not THAT thing”, we are asking them to perpetuate the behavior of the past….that got us into the mess we are in.

    if you are going to do the right thing, it’s very often going to be unpopular. another of daddy’s little sayings…”if you are popular, you are probably doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons”.

  • Shirl

    Didn’t the House have the right to put forth their bill and then have a sit-down to discuss a compromise with the Senate; all whom were in such a big hurry to leave for holiday vacations? Towards the end, I thought the House had an alterior motive, being that Obama threatened to make a recess appointment for the consumer protection boon-doggle dept. they created that would have un-checked spending power. I respect the Tea-Party reps.; they are doing exactly what they were sent to DC to do.

  • David R. Zukerman

    If the GOP worries about accusations from the left that it is “obstructionist” — and therefore tacks to leftist breezes, we need to focus on developing the Tea Party into America’s party of the people, and let the GOP wither on the Democrat vine.

    What is mind-boggling is that in this circumstance the House GOP was pitted against the Senate GOP.

    Fact is — the GOP’s basic problem is not that it is obstructionist, but that it is polemically inept.

    I recommend for study by conservatives the concluding paragraph in Chief Justice
    John Marshall’s Gibbons v. Ogden opinion — advising that when powerful people offer ingenious ideas, the rest of us should test the validity of those ideas by the common sense standard. Of course, one must be willing to confront those who put forth ingenious notions.

  • Fred Pasek

    I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I want them to fight for every inch, regardless of what it does to us in the media frenzy that follows. If you don’t fight, then the next time they say, “Well, you didn’t have a problem with it last time.”

  • Bob Hadley

    The mission of the House Tea Partiers and associates is undoubtedly to reduce spending (at least in certain areas), reduce regs and streamline lower taxes. One of their strategies is obstructionist. A key tactic of theirs is brinkmanship. Generally, they are true believers.

    First, leading House Republicans spoke negatively about extending the payroll taxcut – whether this was a gambit or was made out of conviction is a different question.

    At Rep. Boehner’s request Sem. McConnell worked out a deal with Sen. Reid, and apparently Boehner initially approved of it.

    After 88% of the Senate passed the temporary compromise, some of the same House Republicans said they wanted the taxcut but that they wanted it to cover an entire year.

    This obviously was a brinkmanship tactic to get more concessions, i.e. spending reductions and possibly elimination of certain regs. And, yes, the House Republicans caved. Denying that is spin.

    Joblessness is due to lack of demand. The middle class creates most of the demand. If the taxcuts were not extended, a certain loss of demand would result.

    Some of the goals of the House Tea Partiers are good for the long-term economy, but cuts in spending and regs will not create jobs in the immediate future.

  • Pingback: Conservative Hand-Wringing: Right-Wing Calls GOP’s Payroll Tax Strategy ‘A Fiasco’ – ThinkProgress | Conservatives for America()

  • Iklwa

    I hear a lot of talk about “gridlock” in Washington DC.

    I hear a lot about the new Tea Party Republicans’ lack of “compromise” in the House.

    Weren’t those folks were hired to stop the actions of liberals that had been running wild for the past few of years?

    I find it interesting that the only time the term “compromise” appears in the Democrat lexicon is when they are not in complete control of the government.

    Washington State is an example of what you get with continuous, liberal, one party rule: ever expanding taxes, ever expanding spending, ever widening deficits, fewer local business opportunities and an economy envied only by the likes of Oregon.

    Yes Virginia, elections do have consequences. An overwhelming segment of the electorate wanted the leftist train derailed and that’s what we got: brakes firmly applied to a juggernaut careening uncontrolled down the steep hill of leftist idealism.

    My suggestion to the Democrats is: Get your hope and change selves back to the ballot boxes and stuff them full. When you once again are firmly in control, I can only hope you are still as interested in compromise as you say you are now.

    Meanwhile, I don’t think it hurts too badly for conservatives to press the idea of rational government at every opportunity.

    I’ll say it again, why is it we only hear of democrats pleading for compromise when it suits their agenda or when they have lost control of the narrative?

    Hope springs eternally within my heart that the American voter is getting a belly full of Obama and the Democrats’ line of horse hockey.

    From my lips…

  • Ron Kean

    Very good thoughts.

    Like Shakespeare said, ‘To be or not to be’. To cave or not to cave.

    The event should be known for two things. Republicans held out until it hurt. And they compromised.

  • IndependentLasVegas

    Ted Danson, Larry David, Spielburg and Shaq will swing the Follywood vote for president BO.

    • Barrie in PA

      Isn’t the big question whether the Mods and Independents are more unimpressed with the Tea Party types than with the Occupy Everything goons?
      That should be a no brainer, but perhaps that’s the deeper problem with this group, who voted for Obama in the first place…

  • Ken Hansen

    House GOP has a messaging problem, not a principle problem – if they could have gotten traction for the idea that the two month tax holiday was really a ten month tax hike, they could have come out on top.

    Too often the GOP lets the MSM and/or Democrats define the debate.

    Also, how can maintaining our current tax holiday turn into ‘more’ jobs? At best, it will sustain jobs, since it lets Americans maintain their current level of spending, you know, $20/week more than they had in 2010…

    • LAD

      Good Point

      Meanwhile, the Republicans are on a Feeding Frenzy attacking each other. I couldn’t believe Ann Coulter, one of the early authors who published using facts backed by quotes and footnoted citations bashing Newt Gingrich, someone who knows how to ‘message.’

      Republicans, If you are going to DEFAME someone, cite your sources and have the decency to do it in a forum in which the object of your incivility may respond.

  • Ken Besig, Israel

    No one, no one not ever, has led from the opposition, all the opposition can do is follow.

  • Jen.I.Am

    Note to house republicans. Democrats control 2/3 of the government. If you really want to pass any meaningful legislation getting rid of Obama is a good start. Stop messing it up! Please! Pragmatism not ideology.

  • Wallace Flint

    Bernie,
    Just watching all of this, I realize that the easiest way for Obama to get back in again,is for the Repuboicans to keep “shooting themselves in the Foot”.
    All this indecisiveness can only help the “clown prince” of politics to get another 4 years as president of this great country. This, the people of this country DON”T need!
    There are plenty of issues for us to dicide on- let’s get on with it, while we have the time.

    In God We Trust!
    Wally Flint- Boonville,NY

  • Hoyt Clagwell

    Did holding out for a full year of payroll tax relief hurt the GOP? Well, that depends on the definition of “hurt.” When voters go into the voting booth in Nov, will anyone cast a vote for Obama based on the GOP holding out for a year instead of two months? No. This whole things will be forgotten in another week if it hasn’t been already.

    This is all hype and bluster by the media who need some sort of controversy to fill TV time. The payroll tax cut will eventually be extended for the entire year. After all, that’s what Obama wants and no one in the GOP is going to stand up against it in an election year (even though economically, it makes little sense).

    The GOP is really the biggest winner in all of this by getting the Keystone pipeline decision moved up. Now either Obama goes forward with it (which would be good for the country but anger some of his fringe supporters) or he blocks it and hands the GOP a big fat campaign issue.

    • Ken Hansen

      When taxes go up March 1st, and they will, since Dems will find it a great thing to stick around the neck of the GOP as we head into 2012 elections, the Republicans need to remind everyone of their paid-for 12 month tax holiday extension the Dems wouldn’t even bring to the floor.

  • Darkcloud

    The problem is, who gives a rat’s ass what the press thinks. A representative should do their job regardless of what the press reports. One honorable term doing what is best for the country is better than a life of political whoring in order to keep your title.

  • DOOM161

    When did Senator McCain become a conservative?

  • Don Holder

    Both party;s raiding the SS Trust Fund, been doing it for years. Like 2 packs of wild dogs fighting over a rotting carcass.

  • Santafeconservative

    Bernie,
    Well written article as usual. I agree with you 99.99% of the time and look forward to your appearances on FOX as well as the articles on your website.

  • USS Constitution

    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I believe in the adage “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”.

    • Neal Angel

      That may be true, but it is also important to pick your battles. A good fighter knows better than to throw caution to the wind.

  • W. Orrin Eldred

    Excellent article. Never make a fool of yourself or cause your party harm because of principals when you know, in the end, the bigger battle is down the road, which we know is coming.

    Thank you for adding great thought to the whole argument of what the right thing to do is and when not to push principals. That time will come in due time.

  • Don Holder

    This is both party’s raiding the SS Trust Fund, been going on for years. Like two wild dog packs fighting over a rotting carcass.

  • waterlilies84

    This bill is not about payroll taxes it is about funding Social Security and the “tax cut” digs into that funding. If you’re going to chide one side be sure you tell the whole story. The Dem’s are going to push Grandma over the cliff or make Grandpa eat dog food.

    • Ken Hansen

      SS isn’tbeing cut – the Dems are making mortgages more expensive to make up the list SS revenue as I understand it.

  • RecknHavic

    I’d say that the conservatives in the House did get mugged by the Press on this issue and did do the pragmatic thing.
    How is your “bum/mugger” analogy any different than what those, so-called rigid, Tea Partiers did by passing the two month extension?

    Bernie to Tea Party: you guys are great, except when you’re bein ignorant.

  • chuck.tatum

    This is off topic, my apologies.

    Bernie, I never heard any comment from you on the passing of the great Christopher Hitchens.

    • Barrie in PA

      I think that’s because Hitchens wasn’t great nearly all the time, with spasms of deviation into sense. [The last three words are Alexander Pope’s, not mine]

  • Kathie Ampela

    “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.” – Sir Edmund Burke

  • lenny

    Hey ,your commeents are usually correct. But you still are the jew that no person likes. Tryingto get something for nothing; Stop being the jew that has caused people like hilter to hate you. I love my jewissh friends, but there are the ones 80/20 rule that justify stealing through the the jewish club. People want to kill people for a reason, stop being a jew that no one likes.

    • Glen Stambaugh

      I don’t know who your “Jewish friends” are, but they are obviously more tolerant of you than you deserve. Just judge a person as a person instead of some sterotypical preconception.

    • chuck.tatum

      lenny, please identify yourself to this webmaster. Science could use your brain after your death to be studied and most certainly your body to be displayed in a museum next to some other dinosaur.

      OK, I’m kidding. Now it’s your turn to fess up. You cannot really believe that silly, imagined garbage, can you? C’mon, admit you didn’t mean any of it (including having Jewish friends)and we’ll all have a good laugh.

      • cmacrider

        lennie: It is generally considered advisable to have some at least tenuous correlation between your beliefs and reality. Unfortunately for you, Bernie’s actual biography and the suggestion that he tries to “get something for nothing” has no such correlation leaving open the questions as to your sanity. My understanding of BG’s life history is as follows. (1) He was raised in Brooklyn in very modest circumstances (2) through hard work became a respected journalist (3) worked hard and published a book called “Bias” which because of his insights became a best seller (4) continued publishing books and makes money for TV appearances all of which require him to provide services in exchange for money. So where is the “something for nothing” in that???? … And no I’m not Jewish … and no I am not BG’s friend I’ve never met the man in person. Possibly you should attempt to live in a world based on factual realities rather than simply spread your stereotypical vitriol.

    • Barrie in PA

      ‘Stop being the jew that has caused people like hilter to hate you.’ Ah, the wonderful Haters whose views you line up with tell me something about you, nnely.

  • cmacrider

    Bernie: As I understand your central point of this article is captured in the following few lines “But in the real world, the man or woman of principle can come off looking like an obstructionist. The man or woman of principle can do a lot of damage to his or her cause. Sometimes you have to give in.”

    The conservative Republicans could have avoided “looking like obstructionists” and avoided the feeling that they were “giving in” if they had applied a modicum of logic, namely:
    1. Recognize at the outset that this was simply an Obama game of wedge politics to attempt to win a second term.
    2. Recognize that McConnell met “wedge politics” with his own game of “wedge politics” as you note in your article wherein you point out that Obama was faced with choosing between his environmental base and his union base
    3. Recognize that a “Bachmann” type conservative does not have to worry about their base criticizing them for “abandoning their principles” when the situation calls for pragmatism. (Nixon could deal with China whereas a Democrat ran the risk of being “soft on communism.)

    All they had to do was say .. we are supporting McConnell’s Senate deal because:
    1. As a “matter of principle” conservatives do not agree with tax increases during a recession which are going to directly target the working people in America;
    2. George Bush brought in these reduced payroll deduction rates to benefit the working people in America … and since Obama’s initiatives have all failed we can understand that he has to fall back on Bushes policies.
    3. There is a weakness to this Obama proposal namely … as is expected he has no genuine way to pay for this tax reduction extension and it is going to increase the already burgeoning national debt … but that shows what a poor leader he is.
    4. This is why in November we need a change in the WH and the Senate so that we can bring adult solutions to adult problems.

    • Ken Hansen

      Payroll tax holiday was an Obama invention, not GW Bush.

      • cmacrider

        Good point Ken, thank you.

  • Ralph M. Hahn

    “100-Percenters,” liberal and conservatives who won’t budge an inch to compromise, are just as wrong as the other. When I heard the news that a deal between Boehner and Reid had been reached, it sounded first like the GOP House got nothing out of the Boehner-Reid agreement. All the bluster and BS was for nothing. Learning more, I still wasn’t impressed that this was much of a deal for the conservatives because there was absolutely no give on the Democrat side between two months and three months. The whole year tax cuts were already off the table. What did we get?

    First, a “promise” there will be talks before the New Year about making the tax cuts permanent. Like Charlie Sheen, Democrats are “winning.” At least on the legislative side. But, when I read that this deal forces Obama’s hand to rule on the Keystone pipeline before next year’s election, then I didn’t think it was such a bad deal. But, both sides of a “compromise” have to walk away from the table as a winner or at least, a gainer of something. Or with something substantial.

    No matter what strides Obama had made for the Libs, many are looking for the rest of their agenda to be non-negotiable. So, Obama does have something to worry about, despite the Congressional deal.

    Like Lyndon Johnson’s famous words when Walter Cronkite opined that the Vietnam War was unwinnable: If he lost Cronkite, he had lost America. In the waning days of 2011, Obama lost Matt Damon. But, has he lost Hollywood?

    • Ken Hansen

      The House GOP drafted and passed a 12 month payroll tax holiday that was funded by spending cuts, the Senate Democrats refused to bring that bill to the floor for a vote, calling it “Dead on arrival.” The Senate Democrats then worked hard and found a way to extend the payroll tax holiday for two months, and they agreed to force the President’s hand and oblige him to decide on the Keystone pipeline in 60 days.

      The goal wan’t to ‘secure a tax cut for working American families’ – it was all an exercise to make the GOP look bad, since they could rely on the media to ignore the 12 month tax holiday extension the House passed (since they have already ignored about two dozen bills the GOP House as passed and the Senate refuses to take up, it was a safe bet), and by painting Republicans as the reason it’s only two months not twelve, we are going to be treated to another round of ‘blame the GOP’ when the current tax holiday is about to expire.

      Did you notice how many times Democrats referred to this as putting $1,000 in the picket of working Americans? Well, no one pointed out that the $1,000 number was based on a 2% point ‘holiday’ for twelve months – a two month extension is only good for one-sixth as much, or around $150/175 spread out over two months.

      The press backed the Democrats ‘celebrating’ this ‘win’ for the average working family.

      But i’d still like someone to explain to me how an employee payroll tax cut encourages employers to create more jobs? This tax holiday adds no money to the pockets of employers, so what were they looking for in this legislation that signaled it was time to start hiring?

      And finally, the real story here is that by extending the payroll tax holiday politicians didn’t put any more money in the poket f working Americans than they had in 2011 – this doesn’t give workers any more disposable income than they already had, so why should this stimulate hiring?

      Nobody’s payroll check grew, their checks just didn’t shrink.

  • Glen Stambaugh

    Bernie, point well made. The mugger analogy is excellent.

  • Bill F Wade

    Another point to consider. We often criticize the Liberal for living in unrealistic platitudes. What sounds good often isn’t what actually works. A lack of distinction making skills often is responsible for this type of thinking about the world and politics. But think about it, the principled conservative that will not budge on principle is just as guilty of living in platitudes as the liberal is. This type of principled conservative actually believes that by principle alone he will win the day. The platitude here is one that assumes that the playing field is fair and balanced, where the truth is pursued by all for it’s own sake.
    A war is not won by tactics/principles alone but by strategy as well.

  • Bill F Wade

    This is an important point to make. I see too many who are principled, who think that a battle has to be fought without ever budging on principle. Those who believe this need to look at the history of such battles. In the modern news media which is biased liberally, the principled republican will be maligned 24/7. This is a successful tactic by the news media because quite a few Americans are reeds that bow in the wind, and the liberal media wind is what’s blowing.
    We need to keep the big picture in mind, the war so to speak, and fight the battles we can win for the overall war. If we don’t you might as well put a big X on Obama’s name in the booth.