If we lived in a just world, liberals would still be singing (nondenominational) hosannas in honor of the extraordinary political sacrifice our president has made to further their cause. Instead, many whine and fume.
Quick question: What do you people want from this man?
Sure, it was odd seeing Barack Obama getting testy at Tuesday's news conference as he defended the tax compromise with the GOP. It was odder still watching him lash out at left-wing critics. Yet the president is neither a sellout nor a pragmatist (as some of his dwindling defenders contend). He's just a man at the effective end of his triumphant first term.
It's not as if the president takes any pleasure negotiating with "the enemy." A grumpy Obama admitted Tuesday that divided government impels real compromise. But, he explained, those who oppose tax hikes aren't engaged in legitimate opposition brought on by a belief in certain economic policies; they are "hostage takers." (It is so true: Hostages will always help with leverage.)
It is also clear that the man won't waste time waging "symbolic battles" or winning "symbolic victories." Certainly, the president has been more effective in solidifying the welfare state, strengthening centralized federal policy, growing government, and instituting a regulatory burden of an impressive scope than any lightweight president in memory.
And this is the thanks he gets?
"Sympathetic as I am to those who prefer a fight over compromise," Obama explained, "it would be the wrong thing to do."
"Wrong thing," as in "impossible thing." With Republicans coming, tax rates were going to stay the same or rise for everyone.
"Sympathetic," as in "I wish we could use reconciliation or some other procedural ruse to cram this tax hike through, but oh, yeah, we already did that to pass the most contentious domestic legislation in memory."
Again, this is the thanks he gets?
Obama gave us health care reform. In the middle of a downward economic spiral, he turned all his political capital, all his considerable power, all his impressive popularity, and his two congressional majorities into a grab bag of liberal policy schemes that, in the end, could only be passed with reconciliation.
True, some squishy Democrats wouldn't go for the entire single-payer nationalization scheme—which was, until today, considered "compromise"—but give it time. "When Medicare was started, it was a small program. It grew," explained the president Tuesday. Things grow. This thing of ours, he explained, "is a long game; this is not a short game."
After 10 silly years of blaming everything on the Bush-era tax rates—despite the subsequent stable federal revenue stream and recovery—it has become the Holy Grail of the economic policy for Democrats. So the tension rooted in extending the life of this mythical beast is understandable. Similarly, it must be nearly intolerable to support legislation that doesn't feature some embedded social engineering or spreading of wealth. After all, what are laws for?
Unseemly as it is to allow the "rich" to keep their own money, Democrats should be thanking the president for taking the hit on this lame-duck deal, as it can only help their prospects in 2012. We recently had that "national conversation" about the economy. The left, I believe, lost this time around.
Things change, of course. But it is a mystery how progressives can look back at these past two years and not appreciate that they had a president willing to sacrifice himself politically to champion their ideology.
It probably won't happen again for a while.
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