NBC’s “First Read” has a devastatingly blunt headline on the Democrats this morning: “in retreat.” But Democrats contend they will win the “longer-term war.”

But when you take a step back from the hour-by-hour movements in this debate, it’s obvious how much ground the White House and Democrats have conceded. First, they retreated on their push for a clean debt-ceiling raise. Then they retreated on the size of the spending cuts (now both sides say the cuts must equal or exceed the eventual debt-limit hike). Then they backed away from insisting that tax revenues be included in the final package (both the Boehner and Reid plans exclude them). And now it seems that their final line in the sand is insisting that the debt ceiling must — in one step — be raised beyond 2012, versus Boehner’s two-step approach, which would guarantee another debt showdown early next year. – First Thoughts: In retreat

Would Pres. Obama really veto a short-term debt ceiling deal or one that demands another round of debt ceiling wrangling in 2012?

Would he instead choose to invoke the 14th Amendment to raise it himself?

Or will Mitch McConnell re-emerge with another version of his devious plan to put the debt ceiling lift element in the President’s hands?

What is needed is a simple, clean debt ceiling one-pager.

Many questions, with Democrats trying to convince everyone that in the end they’ll come out the winners. Perhaps, but right now I’m just not seeing that, though you certainly can say Pres. Obama bent over backward to give Republicans every reason to make a deal, because he gave in on taxes and revenue, which actually began in 2010, plus embraced right-wing austerity with both hands.

But if you’re one of those who believe Pres. Obama is bluffing on putting entitlements on the table, perhaps you do see a way for Democrats to win the “longer-term war.” Then you also believe Barack Obama is an ideologue who thinks the tenets of the Democratic party are non-negotiable. The trouble is there is absolutely no evidence Obama’s an ideologue, unless you’re sucking up right-wing talking points with a very large straw. (Oh, or maybe you’re a believer in Obama’s mythical 30 dimensional chess?)

So, it’s hard to see how Democrats win in the end on this one, unless you think Pres. Obama winning a second term is the only priority. That’s decidedly 20th century thinking, long before the cable, new media and social media explosions gave people an avenue to get their voices heard and respected.

Pres. Clinton would have gone through the same hell in the ’90s over welfare, NAFTA and his banking deregulation antics if media had been what it is today back then.

But then again, there really isn’t much difference between the two parties in the age of Obama, so we really are splitting hairs on this one. Obama and the Democrats changing the social safety net as it’s been known would, however, put any doubts to the grave.

If the people lose, how can Democrats win?

This piece has been updated.