Meanwhile, there’s a real deficit issue on the table: whether tax cuts for the wealthy will, as Republicans demand, be extended. Just as a reminder, over the next 75 years the cost of making those tax cuts permanent would be roughly equal to the entire expected financial shortfall of Social Security. Mr. Obama’s pay ploy might, just might, have been justified if he had used the announcement of a freeze as an occasion to take a strong stand against Republican demands — to declare that at a time when deficits are an important issue, tax breaks for the wealthiest aren’t acceptable.
But he didn’t. Instead, he apparently intended the pay freeze announcement as a peace gesture to Republicans the day before a bipartisan summit. At that meeting, Mr. Obama, who has faced two years of complete scorched-earth opposition, declared that he had failed to reach out sufficiently to his implacable enemies. He did not, as far as anyone knows, wear a sign on his back saying “Kick me,” although he might as well have.