Political commentator, Chris Mathews, one of the President Obama's most outwardly and expressively supporters, hosts a show called Hardball. Hardball, a pseudonym for baseball, is also a term used to describe playing any kind of game, including real life, in the toughest possible way but without breaking the law. Hardball politics is what many on the left would like to see President Obama play with the republicans, after what many on the left believe was a too conciliatory and compromising first term.
I believe there is a middle ground. There is an opportunity to get something big done in Washington and get it done quickly by both sides engaging in softball. What you say, President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and the House republicans playing softball? Perhaps, not literally, after all, the president is a basketball player, and the last time he and the speaker got together for sport, it was, well golf. But political softball doesn't require securing a neutral field, equipment and impartial umpires.
The Bush tax cuts, which since President Obama kept past their initial expiration, can certainly be called, the Obama tax cuts, are set to expire. Sequestration looms, which would be devastating to an already fledging recovery and level upon the middle-class an alternative minimum tax costing families about $4,000 more, come January 1, 2013. Softball is the order of the day.
The difference between President Obama's proposed 39.6% top tax rate and the current rate 35% is just 4.6%. This is the playing field for softball. Softballs are larger, they are easier to catch and hit. They are softer; they don't hurt as much when you catch one barehanded or are hit by them. Besides, the top tax rate, there are also capital gains tax rates, dividend tax rates, not to mention payroll tax rates, all set to go up without a deal, but softball may allow the first inning to be played to a tie, before one side or the other comes out swinging for the fences trying to win it all.
The question is, can Speaker Boehner get Eric Cantor and the tea-party suited up to play? The speaker, at least in theory, had a deal with the president in the first term, yet he couldn't sell it to his caucus. So what has changed? There are two things really. Sure the President won and won big. But more importantly republicans lost and even while keeping control of the house, Eric Cantor's home state of Virginia has now gone blue two presidential elections in a row and the state elected a democrat to the senate. The Speaker has more muscle. He can point to the new reality. He can demand a little softball.