President Obama should give in. Yes, He should speak to the nation and say,
“I cannot in good conscience put you and this country through the traumatic consequences of a default. The Republicans apparently don’t feel that way. They don’t care whether veterans and seniors get the benefits they have earned. They don’t care whether they destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, which has never before defaulted on its debts and made the dollar the world’s safest currency. They don’t care if their irresponsibility drives us into a new recession or worse. They don’t even seem to care if the families of soldiers dying in defense of our freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq get a proper opportunity to grieve and honor them.
“The sad truth is that if you don’t care about any of that, it gives you tremendous power over those who do. Perhaps unfortunately, I do care. And I believe the stakes are too high to let this become a testosterone contest. So I have sent a letter to Speaker Bohner, saying that I will agree to a year’s postponement of the Affordable Care Act, if he will agree to a rise in the debt limit that is at least big enough to spare us another episode like this for a year."
Just as not caring about the good of the country gives strength to the Republicans, not caring about how he looks would give strength to Obama. You win the game of chicken by refusing to play.
The significant thing to me about the Kinsley Argument is that it is based on a very deep seated distaste for real conflict, for getting down in the mud and punching back, and, essentially, for the rough and tumble of politics. Kinsley's goals are not for the Democrats to pursue any particular agenda, not for people to actually get health care--his stated goal, Alternate Universe Obama's stated goal, is merely to gain "strength" and rising above "caring how he looks" is the way to do it. Alternate Obama is playing to shame the Republicans into better behavior so, to an extent, Kinsley does think there is something to be gained in the contest but his real focus is not on the actual conflict but on Obama's status as a President, as someone who important observers may misunderstand or even judge weak and ineffective, unmasculine and powerless but whose real power is found in the negation of expectations and in long term gains in popularity or public opinion. Absurdly Kinsley argues that "you win the game of chicken by refusing to play." But its not a game. Its actually real life. Some people drive off the cliff. Some people get driven over. Standing on the sidelines watching the other guy drive over your companions is not a viable option.
But in Kinsely's mind The Alternate Universe Obama should be above such messy realities as (for example) actually pursuing the policies he advocates. He should be as disgusted as Kinsley is with all this kiddie infighting and he should withdraw from the game, given in, and let the kiddies fight it out and suffer the “natural consequences” of their acts. He’s a parody of liberal parenting where you try to reason with the kids for a while but your main objective is not losing dignity or moral authority by descending to their level. You don’t argue with the kids, and you don’t punish them by taking away their toys, you let them suffer through their bad decisions and let outsiders (teachers, DUI tickets, bad consequences) “teach them a lesson.”
But politics isn’t some kind of game egos and life lessons and, in fact, there’s just as much bizarre ego gratification in the Alternate Universe Obama withdrawing from the contest and giving up (he’s above this sort of thing) as there is in Boehner and the Tea Party insisting on “getting something” for their trouble. Politics and the ACA is about helping real people to really live better, safer, healthier lives. 40 million of them. That is a literally immeasurable benefit on a massive human scale. The people freaking out about one child on one cancer trial are simply unable to scale up to the level of what the Republicans want to deny 40 MILLION PEOPLE. Kinsley’s tin pot, paper Obama, simply reflects the fact that Kinsley is one of those people whose imagination and morality and guts are not up to the task of being President and taking on responsibility for 300 million people. Because that is what matters and that is what Obama is fighting for. Not the approval or disapproval of journalists calling him “weak” or “strong.”