One of my pet peeves these days is that the hapless Republicans have let President Obama get away with framing the fiscal cliff discussions: we need to raise tax rates on “the rich” to help the middle class. Untrue—but also not rebutted.

Daniel Henninger notes this today in the Wall Street Journal:

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have worked hard to keep their thumbs stuck in the dam of rising tax rates. Still, the fiscal cliff is looking more each day like an inside-the-Beltway CYA operation. Does anyone in the country beyond the halls of Congress and media specialists have any idea what these people are doing?

The Republicans' rote rationale for this sorry state is four words: We have no leverage. We lost the presidential vote. We only control the House. By law, the Bush tax rates will rise for everyone Jan. 1. The default strategy is: Survive. Give Barack Obama some version of the soak-the-rich revenue-raising he ran on, get past the cliff and regroup in 2013. Not a very happy New Year, but that's the best we can get. …

Where is the Big Picture? Why is it not possible for John Boehner or anyone else in this party to articulate for the dumbstruck public watching these dreadful cliff negotiations what the Republican Party stands for? Who speaks for the GOP? …

Barack Obama is controlling the cliff narrative now because the GOP has no one whose job is counter-narrative. Mr. Obama this week was recycling campaign speeches about the middle class at the Daimler Detroit diesel plant while the GOP has been a Babel of Beltway voices. Don't any of these senators go to church on Sunday morning, rather than running around television punching the "entitlement crisis" card?

Henninger says that the GOP should be talking about the size of government. Is government going to pervade every nook and cranny of our lives and kill off the private sector (and with it the old American principle of self-reliance)? I think the GOP also must make the point that President Obama is not being candid when he paints himself as a champion of the middle class. He is, in fact, waging war on the middle class through his job-killing policies.

Another thing that many people don’t realize is the degree to which the president is simply refusing to negotiate. William L. Gensert of the American Thinker explains (correctly, I think) why President Obama isn’t afraid to go over the cliff:  

Well… in fiscal negotiations Barack Obama is a terrorist. Think about it; he has nothing to lose, because he cares only about winning — the nation be damned. In fact, the economic depredations inherent in cliff diving provide him with an advantage.

By letting lower tax rates on the middle class expire, potentially he has access to so much more money to transform America, along with the ability to blame the Republicans for the entire debacle — should he choose that route.

Or… he could wait, and then propose legislation restoring the rates for the middle class only, while including an increase in executive power — the ability to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling without the approval of Congress.

Control of the debt ceiling is one of the few tools the House can wield, but it only becomes effective as a weapon in the beginning months of the year, when the ceiling is reached, whereas the cliff is New Year's Day….

Barack Obama is a terrible negotiator. When he went up against the Russians in the New Start Treaty of 2010, he ceded, before talks even began, the one card he held, missile defense systems scheduled for deployment in Eastern Europe. This is how we ended up with an agreement where we disarm, while they modernize their nuclear weapons.

Yet, his offer in the fiscal suck was brilliant — in its way. It basically says "I give you nothing. You give me everything — now go away. I have my impending $4 million vacation coming up. Aloha, suckers."

Is any Republican speaking effectively about the president's willingness (and possibly more than mere willingness) to go off the cliff?

It may be that in this particular stand-off with Barack Obama–the man who has nothing to lose–the GOP can’t win.

But, if it doesn’t learn to frame the issues and do a better job of talking to the American public, this is just the beginning of what will be a very long losing streak.