I remember an extremely jarring moment during one of President Obama’s press conferences about extending the Bush tax cuts, when Obama said he must give in to hostage-taking tactics. Via Huffington Post:
“I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”
It was a shocking moment in which Obama totally gave up the game. It was a validation of the Republican strategy and an acknowledgement that hostage taking is the best — and possibly only — way for the Republicans to get what they want.
The President might as well have directly told Speaker John Boehner, on national television, “if you ever want something just make a legitimate threat about possibly hurting the economy and I will give in to your demands.”
The current fight may have gone differently if Obama had made the GOP think he just might let the hostage get harmed this time; but since it was the administration beating the fear-mongering drum about default, that just wasn’t going to happen.
Similarly, the debate would have unfolded differently if Obama at least made the GOP think he would be willing to take extraordinary measures to protect the hostages from harm if the Republican didn’t act. For example, he could have hinted he might use the 14th Amendment or create a $1 trillion coin. Instead of at least pretending to potentially carry a stick, Obama had his Treasury Department actually close the door to the very idea of a possible fallback. Once that happened there was only one way this fight was going to end.
As the deadline moved closer and it looked more and more likely the GOP would be willing to harm the hostage, Obama rapidly gave up on his demands. All that is left is to run down the clock until the moment Obama folds completely, because he has told them in advance that he won’t allow the hostages to be harmed.