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Posted at 10:57 AM ET, 12/ 8/2010

Does Obama have contempt for the left?

By Adam Serwer

Yesterday, President Obama gave a combative response to criticism he's been receiving from the left for his proposed deal with Republicans to extend both the middle and upper income tax cuts. Sounding a note that resembled his rebuke to neoconservatives regarding the "satisfying purity of indignation" in his Nobel acceptance speech, the president said:

Now, if that's the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let's face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime, the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of preexisting conditions or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out.

While there are a lot of easy rejoinders to the notion that, as the president said, America was "founded on compromise" it happens to be true. Not compromise with the British, but compromise between the states. When the president was referring to the three-fifths compromise that allowed slavery to continue in the ostensible land of the free, or the fact that original passage of Social Security essentially excluded large numbers of people (particularly, I might add, black people) he was referencing the reality that the story of progress, particularly liberal progress, has ever been one of noxious, painful compromise. That's a rhetorical flourish that doesn't reflect one way or another on the merits of this particular compromise, but it's accurate.

Jonathan Chait points out that Obama explicitly rejected the Republican logic behind the upper income tax cuts, stating "I'm as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I've been for years...[T]he American people, for the most part, think it's a bad idea to provide tax cuts to the wealthy," while conceding that the deal was necessary:

I've said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. 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.

Republicans briefly stopped calling the president a Kenyan Muslim Socialist to denounce him for comparing them to hostage takers. But insincere Republican pearl-clutching aside, this really is a partisan statement. He's basically saying he thinks liberals are reasonable but wrong about the deal, while Republicans are almost impossible to deal with. Who is he really showing contempt for here?

Following press secretary Robert Gibbs' remarks about the "professional left," I think there's been a general idea in the liberal blogosphere that Obama has contempt for his liberal supporters, a notion that's likely to gain traction after yesterday's performance. But there's a reason why the president invoked FDR and not Ronald Reagan, why he reached for Social Security as a defining American accomplishment, and why he was comfortable invoking America's founding defects so casually -- something that makes conservatives go apopletic. It's because the president, for all his failures and disappointments, whatever his statements in public, largely still sees himself as a liberal. While many commentators have noted his apparent sensitivity to criticism of the left, I think it's probable that such criticism makes the president angry not because he hates liberals, but because he identifies with them. His defense of the Affordable Care Act, whatever you think of it on the merits, was an attempt to place it in the context of other historic achievements of American liberalism. 

I don't think that there's much comfort for liberals there, and I'm not sure it matters for the purposes of evaluating Obama's record of governance. The strange thing is that the left has chosen to deal with Obama as he exists, and as he has governed, while the right has largely engaged an Obama that resides only in their fevered imaginations. Perhaps that's another reason why those slings and arrows from the left seem to leave a mark.

By Adam Serwer  | December 8, 2010; 10:57 AM ET
 
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Comments

I caught a TV clip of Mitch McConnell(The guy that President Obama apparently has appointed as the new Senate Majority Leader, since that is who he struck the sell out deal with)

Mitch's eyes were gleaming with delight. He could barely stop from gloating, but around his pursed lips; the canary feathers were clearly visible.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 8, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Adam

I don't think you understand WHERE on the left Obama really is.


Obama is to the LEFT of the LEFTISTS


Listen to Obama over the past two days: the income redistribution aspects of the tax policies have already been worked out by him -

Obama knows exactly how many billions the poor is getting, how many billions the rich is getting -

AND Obama knows how hard the Middle Class is going to get slammed - because they ultimately have to pay the Trillion dollar bill for all of this.


Obama's OBJECTIVE is to destroy the Middle Class - make them all poor.


ONLY THEN can Obama lead the giant poor against the rich.


Obama knows he can not defeat the rich right now - he needs the Middle Class to be poor first.


Obama is in favor of all this -


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 8, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I don't know if it will have much of an effect, but Obama engaging in hippy punching might assuage the indies who are undecided about just how liberal he is.

Personally, I think he's similar to Bush in that they tend to *not* be as partisan as their constituency would like when it comes to being the president. Which actually I think is good-they are the president of all the people.

Posted by: ChuckinDenton | December 8, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I'm not sure about the last paragraph, but the rest of this post seems right on the money.

Posted by: AllButCertain | December 8, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Uh, Greg, it's a little sloppy to refer to any politicsin America as "left." I know, I know, "relatively left" is a pedantic mouthful and "slightly less extreme radical right" is just going to start arguments, but to be clear, there is no left in America.

You would need to come here for that.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=228408&l=b5b5eef705&id=100001182823513

Posted by: caothien9 | December 8, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I totally agree. When people are calling you a Kenyanmuslimsocialistanticolonialisthaterofamerica and saying all they care about is defeating you in the next election, it's easy to brush off their criticism because it becomes so unhinged. When you get an almost universal healthcare bill passed that's been a priority of your party for 100 years and all you hear from your friends is that you didn't do enough, it stings.

Posted by: amy130 | December 8, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Republicans held a hard line on the tax cuts because of their devious, brilliant strategy. First, you do your wealthy friends a huge favor by not requiring them to pay their fair share of society's costs. Then you run up trillions of dollars in fiscal deficits. Then you use those deficits as an excuse to eliminate the entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare that you have been trying to get rid of for decades. Obama fell into the trap hook, line and sinker. www.killingmother.blogspot.com.

Posted by: killingMother | December 8, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

"just wait until December of 2010, and boy will I ever stand up to Nelson Muntz then, if he still keeps taking my lunch money.
Milhouse Van Houten in the fall of 2008.

Milhouse Van Houten December 7th. 2010("A day that shall live in infamy")

"Just wait until 2012, and boy will I ever stand up to Nelson Muntz then. I sure will. You just wait and see; that is unless he scares me again"

Posted by: Liam-still | December 8, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Chuck-in-Denton


You can speak for your people


Obama has NOT been representing my people the whole way through.

Obama has practiced a Bait-and-Switch Scam on the American People - even the people who voted him found out that Obama refused to represent them, or even what Obama said he was going to do during the campaign


Obama is a fool - he has offended the center. Obama has offended and sacrificed the Blue Dogs. And now the left doesn't want him either.


Obama represents no one - and he should be impeached.


20 democrats in the Senate is all they need to make Biden President - its a good deal for everyone.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 8, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

@Liam-still: "Just wait until 2012, and boy will I ever stand up to Nelson Muntz then. I sure will. You just wait and see; that is unless he scares me again"

Ha-ha!

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | December 8, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Pelosi did not have the votes to pass the extension in September. The Blue dogs were not willing to cast that vote then, because they knew that The Senate was not going to pass it, after them, and they did not want to be left out to dry, before the election.

They had every reason to believe that passing the bill then, would be an exercise in futility, because many other measures that they had passed had died, in what Anthony Weiner calls "The Senate Meat Locker".

Obama blinked, and Mitch McConnell knew he would. Rescuing Hostages, my Arse!. Two thirds of the American people say they were against such a fantasy rescue.

Ted Kennedy would have been appalled at such a weak kneed capitulation, and would probably have awarded President Obama "A Profile In Discouragement medal.

The entire American population were really in existential danger during the Cuban Missile crisis, but JFK did not blink.

I could hardly believe my own ears when I heard President Obama claim that he gave in to hostage takers. That really worked out well for President Carter.

Mitch McConnell is now in charge of The White House.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 8, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

@amy130:

"When you get an almost universal healthcare bill passed that's been a priority of your party for 100 years and all you hear from your friends is that you didn't do enough, it stings."

I agree. I also think it stings even more when you try to get better legislation through (e.g., bill with a public option or bill with $250K tax cap), it fails because you don't have the votes, and then people impugn your motives, and state that you wanted it to fail, or worse, accuse you of trying to subvert your own efforts.

Posted by: associate20 | December 8, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

So Obama attacks the liberals because he's really one of them and it just hurts so much when they accuse him of not working hard enough in the relationship.

That's so sweet; it makes me a weepy just thinking about it.

This is from the very short list I posted under The Morning Plum thread this morning, lets look at how liberal Obama really is:

--from the FISA fight BEFORE he even won the Democratic primary, --

Because protecting companies that illegally spy on Americans is such a liberal principle.

-- to turning a blind eye to the war crimes committed by the previous administration, --

Because protecting war criminals is such a liberal principle

-- wholesale adoption of the Bush security state, --

Because torture, extraordinary rendition, abuse of state secret statutes, terror warning in line at Walmart, porn scanners/gate groping at airports, etc., are all such liberal principles

-- extra-judicial assassinations of American citizens, --

Because targeting drone drops at American citizens with no due process is such a liberal principle

-- escalating the endless wars, --

Because spending trillions of dollars to combat a few thousand radicals and endless death porn are such liberal values

-- watered down health care reform, individual mandate without a public option, etc --

Because forcing millions of Americans to send checks to directly to leeching insurance companies so they can refuse coverage when it's most needed without even giving the choice to buy into a public plan is such a liberal principle

-- no medicare negotiation of drug prices, no drug re-importation, --

Because making Americans pay 2-3 times more than most citizens of other countries pay for the exact same drugs is such a liberal principle

-- killing off the employee free choice act, more NAFTA (KORUS) style trade deals,--

Because screwing unions and American labor while enriching corporate executives is such a liberal principle

-- supporting DOMA and DADT in open court,--

Because relegating our GLBT fellow human being to second class status is such a liberal principle

-- tax cuts for the rich accompanied by deafening silence as his deficit commission recommends cutting social security and eliminating middle class tax policy (health care, mortgage deduction exemption)--

Because enriching Americas richest 3% at the direct expense of the other 97% and driving more Americans closer to poverty is such a liberal principle.

(And this is the short list)

---

Yes, Obama is clearly a flaming liberal and he only lashes out at the DFH's because he loves them and relates with them so.

I'm sold. I will be rejoining the Democratic Party now....

Posted by: unymark | December 8, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

"It's because the president, for all his failures and disappointments, whatever his statements in public, largely still sees himself as a liberal."

Well if he sees himself as a liberal, why doesn't he act like one?

His grand health care plan was a privatized one. It was the Republican alternative in '94, and Nixon's alternative to Medicare.

In the fact of horrible unemployment, he keeps talking about deficit reduction. Any economist will tell you that will INCREASE unemployment!

Posted by: mikediaz1 | December 8, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Healthcare is a red herring that Obama threw out yesterday. People had every right to fight for the best health care options that they favoured. At the end of the process, I fully backed President Obama's compromise on health care, because, like many others, we understood that one should never let the unattainable perfect be the enemy of the attainable pretty good.

This back room deal with Mitch McConnell to prolong the Bush Era pampering of the fattest cats in the land, is nothing like the health care debate. It is a case of letting Mitch McConnell walk up to Obama's blackjack table, hand Obama a deck of market cards, and end up taking the White House to the cleaners. Then Obama comes out and explains that he had to do it, and look at the chips that Mitch flipped to him, as a tip, out of his winnings.

Posted by: Liam-still | December 8, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Good post, Adam. Thanks for the sanity.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | December 8, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Okay then, let's just say that Obama doesn't have contempt for the left but just for the criticism he gets from the left, feeling it underestimates the value of his accomplishments and the difficulty of their achievement.

The left, and some not on the left, have contempt in turn for the self-congratulation and excuses offered by him and his defenders. The problems with his main "accomplishment", health care reform, were that it was done when the wars and the economy presented far more pressing issues and the public was, quite properly, not prepared to participate in development of the issue. Consequently the parties that were prepared, the special interests, had a field day and the result was a package of "reforms" so deeply flawed as to be doomed to broad unpopularity and, therefore, such a wasteful expenditure of political capital as to make useful progress on other matters, like the tax issue, practically impossible. His "victories" have been skirmishes made without benefit of thought-through priorities and a broader strategy and have served mainly to leaving him vulnerable to defeat in the larger battles. That he actually takes pride in these Pyrrhic victories is galling. What will it take for him to see how he has been failing us and to wise up?

Posted by: Adam_Smith | December 8, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Here is a great run of ideas...

"The problems with his main "accomplishment", health care reform, were that it was done when the wars and the economy presented far more pressing issues and the public was, quite properly, not prepared to participate in development of the issue. Consequently the parties that were prepared, the special interests, had a field day and the result was a package of "reforms" so deeply flawed as to be doomed to broad unpopularity and, therefore, such a wasteful expenditure of political capital as to make useful progress on other matters, like the tax issue, practically impossible."

If I could have said it better, I wouldn't have made a better point. Thanks.

Posted by: shrink2 | December 8, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

caothien9, if you would read, Adam wrote this post not Greg. I guess we are even now.

Posted by: clawrence12 | December 8, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

unymark -

I can't find fault with your laundry list of Obama's non-liberal positions. What's rather depressing is that he will probably be the most liberal, dare I say "progressive", Prez we will have in our lifetime.

On the issue of the national security apparatus and the previous admin's manifest war crimes - I have a sneaking suspicion that after the 08 election, Obama was told by the Cheney/Bush crowd in no uncertain terms not to go there, because he has a beautiful family, and it would be too bad should something befall them.

Posted by: filmnoia | December 8, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Lower taxes = greater, faster recovery. It's just that simple. Lighten up people.

Posted by: laugh_riot | December 8, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I have no doubt Obama thinks he is a liberal. He's a recognizable sort: a comfortable elitist who knows he knows best for an idealized people and is surprised when the passions, prejudices and irrationalities of those who truly are hurting demand of him principles, not posturing. Poor people aren't amoral in their need. Very often, they would rather have decency than bread. Politicians, Machiavellian utilitarians all, are always surprised by this.

See also, Clinton dumping the poor via acquiescing in "welfare reform" and watch how the poor simply continued their exit from the electorate.

Posted by: janinsanfran | December 8, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm disappointed that BHO pretends that everything we learned from FDR and LBJ never happened. It isn't as if he can't stand on their shoulders. It seems as if he doesn't want to.

Posted by: eRobin1 | December 8, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Do you take the President for an idiot? Of course he has contempt for the loony Left.

Hey, I'm beginning to like the cut of this man's jibe!

Posted by: happyacres | December 8, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

"The strange thing is that the left has chosen to deal with Obama as he exists, and as he has governed, while the right has largely engaged an Obama that resides only in their fevered imaginations."

Adam nails it.

I've been feeling like the health care debate all over again.. One side is having serious debate amongst themselves and the other side is just babbling away with the latest crazy talk. It's funny how we are basically ignoring the right wing as we debate amongst ourselves. They've made themselves irrelevant. We already know they aren't serious.

Posted by: Alex3 | December 8, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

"while the right has largely engaged an Obama that resides only in their fevered imaginations"

And then our resident right winger posts:

"Obama is to the LEFT of the LEFTISTS"

LOFL!! They are not serious people and should not be treated as such.

Posted by: Alex3 | December 8, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

"Lower taxes = greater, faster recovery."

You do realize these tax cuts have been in place for 10 years do you?

Again, NOT serious.

Posted by: Alex3 | December 8, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Does Obama have contempt for the left?
You're kidding, right?
Obama IS the left. Don't be fooled by the smoke and mirrors, lefties ALWAYS try to appear to be moving to the middle after the get their arsses handed to them. Just look at Clinton.

Posted by: SShink | December 8, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

And what, exactly, did we "learn" from LBJ? Among other things we learned that a politician on a mission will ignore all sorts of warning signs.

For example, LBJ completely ignored the actuarial concerns raised by Wilbur Mills. He viewed Mills' opposition to Medicare as fundamentally political rather than economic and ultimately overcame these objections and achieved his dream.

the only problem is that LBJ's dream will be a nightmare for our children. Wilbur Mills was right, there were some significant actuarial concerns then and they are raining down on us now. the program is unsustainable while Medicaid LBJ's other dream threatens the fiscal soundness of the states.

LBJ's great lesson: doing what feels good now, while ignoring valid concerns is just perfect. He's beyond caring about our fiscal woes. And we're broke.

Some lesson

Posted by: skipsailing28 | December 8, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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