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Posted at 12:12 PM ET, 12/ 8/2010

Love Obama's smack at the 'sanctimonious' left

By Jonathan Capehart

As someone who frequently catches more hell from liberal Democrats than from conservative Republicans, I am completely sympathetic to President Obama's exasperation at the "sanctimonious" folks in his party who cling to "unrealistic" "purist position[s]." He was at his best yesterday when he pushed back against the cranky critics in his own party.

You know that saying that we're harshest towards the ones we love most? Well, for the last two years, Obama has been blow-torched by the left as the expectations of hope and change smacked up against the reality of governing. I completely understand the frustration and anger. But there are some on the left who view compromise as total abandonment. The president barely got to day 100 in his administration before his commitment to gay rights was called into serious question. During the health-care reform debate, the left was none too pleased because Obama junked the public option when he determined that the overall effort would fail if he insisted on pushing it. And now the revolt over the Bush tax cut compromise.

Adam Serwer nails it with his assessment of why the critiques from the left irk the president so.

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.

Obama's harsh assessment wasn't the first time he took the base or a segment of it to task. Folks didn't like it when he lectured the base in that Rolling Stone interview leading up to the midterm elections. Some African Americans in particular have chafed at his stern perorations on personal responsibility before black audiences. But this is the first time that I can recall that Obama has given to the left as good as he's gotten from the left on national television. And I loved every minute of it.

By Jonathan Capehart  | December 8, 2010; 12:12 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Next: Obama's double-or-nothing moment in the Middle East


"The president barely got to day 100 in his administration before his commitment to gay rights was called into serious question. "

You're kidding? During the campaign he made it CLEAR that he didn't believe in gays having the same rights as hetero's. Don't libs have ears?

Posted by: illogicbuster | December 8, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

As Harry Truman said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." We all wondered how Obama would react to the mid-term elections. The answer appears to be that he wants to move forward with part of his agenda instead of none of it. Those who believed he could come in, change the way Washington works, and impose his vision of America on the rest of us were naive. Rather than being angry at Obama, they need to realize that democracy and compromise go hand-in-hand, for better or for worse. As the old saying goes, democracy is the worst system for governing, except for all the rest.

Posted by: SmittyATL | December 8, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I beg to differ:

1. Obama did NOT push the public option. Instead he let the Republicans attack it without response;

2. Obama did NOT present what he expected the Congress to pass, for the ACA, when he set his first 'deadline' (by the August recess if you recall);

3. Obama did NOT push for the rates on incomes below 250000 to be enacted while leaving the rates on incomes above that to expire;

4. Obama did NOT push for the unemployment compensation to be extended.

He should have done all these things, and then been on TV every day demanding:

1. Why they are not being voted on due to Republican intransigence;

2. Demanding for the Republicans to explain why the rates for the 2% only collapsed the economy in 2008.

He may have asked behind the scenes, but that is NOT what the situation calls for.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | December 8, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

The Dems in the Senate and the House messed this up by not pushing for it before the midterms. There were majorities in House and Senate, why was it all on Obama to push the agenda? Dems should have made the GOP put up or shut up on tax breaks for the rich as opposed to relief for the middle class.

Max Baucus let Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln screw up the Health care issue.

GOP labeled Obama as "unwilling to meet" and/or compromise even after saying "No" to every thing he put forth for the last two years. Now that label is GONE.

GOP railed against the debt and deficit for two years, yet they demanded the debt and deficit be exploded to take care of the rich. Another issue GONE.

Dems better stop whining and get to work on START, DADT and DREAM. Right now they are in decent position but they cannot let the GOP run out the clock on this congress.

The Dems have already wasted enough time. They cannot lay this solely at the feet of the President.

Posted by: larrybellinger | December 8, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Drop DADT, close guantanamo, hold SOMEONE accountable for torture, merely ALLOW the the Bush tax cuts to end, at least MAINTAIN the estate tax, etc.

Fools we were, I guess, to think any of that important.

"I completely understand the frustration and anger. But there are some on the left who view compromise as total abandonment."

When, exactly, does he give the GOP as good as he gets? Do you understand completely why that hasn't happened yet? Or how, having compromised what once might have been called his core values, he triumphs in these same fights in the election year of 2012 (since all of his apologists seem to accept this assumption that he has a second term coming)?

This is sanctimony or realism. Two years of congressional control were (at least partially) frittered. Now, though, with an opposition that has made a virtue of intransigence, here comes the Obama agenda!

DADT is safe til the next Dem President; the Bush tax gifts are as good as permanent; torturers can sleep the sleep of the just; and guantanamo (like the poor) will always be with us.

We are a sanctimonious lot

Posted by: adelaide1 | December 8, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

As a Democrat, I am sick and tired of hearing the complaining from the progressive wing of the party. I now understand how mainstream Republicans feel about the tea party.

Posted by: | December 8, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Capeheart loves it when people who ask a politician to act based on what they promised get smacked down?

Compromise is fine... capitulation is not.

That Capeheart cannot tell the difference... perhaps he will, when his friend Obama is no longer in office.

Posted by: Greent | December 8, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Liberal Democrats must be racists.

Posted by: Ynot1 | December 8, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

He also said that long-term changes come incrementally.
He did not add: And that's only because of the dedicated ongoing unrelenting push push push push by those purist, sanctimonious, unrealistic, idealistic, liberal retards that elevated his supercilious self up to the bully pulpit whence he now sneers at them for pushing.
If it weren't for liberals, Social Security and Medicare would still be restricted to the small set of citizens they started with, meaning, not you.
I'm a liberal retard and I will not become realistic, cynical, polluted and corrupt so Obama can feel loved.
Where is a government jobs program?
This is like the town burning down while down in DC they desperately seek ways to spend money on everything but water, anything but creating government jobs.
Billions spent -- how many jobs created?
Why is there no jobs program, like CETA, where jobs were created and paid for in all kinds of jobs?
Tax breaks -- NO STRINGS ATTACHED - for mult-BILLIONAIRES? and their never-need-to-lift-a-finger-for-the-next-six-generations-when-pop-dies offspring? That's where the American people's sympathy and tenderness and concerns lie? I may be a sanctimonious retard but I ain't that crazy.

Posted by: KentL1 | December 8, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

There are comments bashing Obama, there are comments defending Obama, I may have missed it but, I don't see a single comment addressing the true heart of the problem: Harry Reid is the worst Majority Leader in the history of the U S Senate. Harry, hand the reins over to Chuck.

Posted by: picassokat | December 8, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

It's pathetic and immature, but also hilarious, the way liberals wail over Obama and act as if the purpose of public policy is their emotional gratification.

One of the most hilarious examples comes from a Steven G. Brant on the Puffington Host. Brant's bio describes him as a "social systems scientist, reporting real solutions to society's problems." Brant compares congressional Republicans to the mad mullahs who overran Iran and held U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979-81.

The reason Republicans had leverage in the negotiation is because without congressional action, taxes would go up on everybody, not just Obama's class enemies. Brant, addressing the president in the second person, faults him for not just allowing that to happen:

"I heard you say last night that you did what you had to do because the "working families" in America wouldn't be able to survive the extra $3000 in taxes they would have to pay in 2011 compared to 2010.

What about our spiritual recovery, Mr. President? What about how we feel about being Americans in a country where the very wealthy constantly get their way even after we bailed a lot of them out?

Mr. President, if you had asked the American people (instead of deciding this question for us), I think you would have found almost unanimous agreement that it was worth spending $3000 over the 12 months of 2011--$250 per month--to break the backs of those who were trying to blackmail you . . . those who were holding our future--as well as yours--hostage.

But you never asked us, Mr. President. Why? Why did you assume we are so weak that we couldn't tighten our belts for such a very, very good reason?

Why did you treat us like children rather than adults? . . . Stop thinking you have to be our mommy and daddy, Mr. President."

A guy who publicly fantasizes that the president of the United States wants to be his "mommy" is asking to be treated like an adult. Even more delusional is his assertion that the American people would be in "almost unanimous agreement" that their own taxes should go up "to break the backs" of the Republicans. Uh, Steve, who do you think elected the Republicans?

Posted by: kohnfjerry | December 8, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

The president has finally rid himself of of a huge problem preventing him from acting effectively: progressives.

Now that in his own heart he is free of them dictating what his moves have to be to placate them, he will be much more effective and more like the guy we saw on the campaign trail.

And by the way, this isn't "triangulation." It's called governing.

Posted by: jade_7243 | December 8, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I am beyond sick of being attacked by him. First, Emmanuel calls progressives "retards," then Gibbs calls us "crazy." We are the only ones that get yelled at by Obama, not the Republicans, who would rather see millions of Americans homeless than see their richest underwriters pay a dime more taxes. Gibbs, in his rant calling me and my ilk "crazy," said we wouldn't be happy even if Kucinich were President. Well, he's wrong. I would be.

You don't lead with the compromise position, and we see Obama do this over and over. Maybe we would have ended up in the same place even if he HAD fought, but we need to see him fight, and we are not seeing it. Maybe he thinks this is the best way to get things done most quickly. Pragmatism over ideals. He's trying to be a hugely productive one-term President. OK, that's his agenda, then. Lead with compromise to get the thing done fast and move on to the next compromise.

I was getting ready to send him some neuticles for Christmass, but frankly, he shows some balls in kicking his strongest supporters to the curb. His fondest desire is courting Republican and independent votes. Good for him. One thing though, no matter how much he supports their agenda, the Republicans won't be supporting him in 2012. They will run against him no matter how accommodating he is.

I am not a big player. I contributed the "average" of $80 to his campaign. I spent 2 weekend days all day going door to door for him, one night at a phone bank, and took off of work election day to drive Obama supporters to the polls -- all the work I did was in Virginia even though I live in Maryland. That night was a huge high for me, because I felt like a small part of him taking Virginia. I was elated.

I didn't expect to be kicked repeatedly in the teeth for my support. It's like having a hard day at work and going home and taking it out on your wife and kids. Problem is, sooner or later, they leave you. Then you lose your job and have no one to whine to.

I haven't decided whether or not to vote for Obama in 2012, and the fact that my vote is in question is not good. I have decided, however, that even if I do vote for him, I won't contribute, won't phone bank, won't go door to door, won't work the polls. He can heap all the anger he wants on me for that, but there are going to be a lot of deflated souls like me, doing the bare minimum if that. In the end, he will be yelling in the mirror at the only one who really is to blame.

He'll be old and looking back bitterly blaming us for his measely one term after a historic election, but the truth is, he is the master of his fate. He should stand for us, instead of expecting us to always stand for him.

Posted by: lilifreak | December 8, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

It takes at least two to compromise. But the GOP hasn't compromised anything. Therefore, what Pres. Obama has been doing isn't compromising so much as completely backing down.

I'm fine with compromise; I even believe it is necessary for civil society to exist. However, I have yet to see any sort of compromising on Pres. Obama's part. It's not entirely his fault that things aren't working out as they should, but he keeps negotiating with himself, preemptively backing down to GOP positions. This does not make the President look strong. This is what irks his "liberal" base.

Posted by: cartoongal | December 8, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I actually was glad to see the President finally get his back up. It's about time. I do think that the left would not be so upset with him, had he taken the time to communicate his positions all along. Still, I do think the President did the right thing by allowing the GOP to have their tax cuts in order to prevent millions of Americans from being caught between a bitter battle. I also sense that the GOP is in for a surprise in the coming weeks. Also, Democrats like Mary Landreau can hardly be given credibiliity about her righteous indignation about the tax cuts, when she demonstrated her iffy support during the health care debate. These people only care about themselves and not the rest of the country at large. What I also dont understand is why so many people are blaming the President, when it was the Republicans "in your face" telling the world what it was that they intended to do in making the rich, richer. There is a lot of misguided anger out there, and it seems to me that it should be directed at the GOP. After cuts for the wealthy has been and shall continue to be their main objective. Heck...even Stevie Wonder could see that (I kid Stevie)!

Posted by: ruthella10 | December 8, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

All of you -ALL OF YOU -- owe your social security and whatever government health care you have, and unless you're a landowning white male, your right to vote -- especially you descendants of people sold like cattle and all women/ladies -- all those frills you owe to us die-hard never-shut-up bleeding heart knee jerk radical liberals. You're welcome.
Children -- you are not working day and night in dangerous factory jobs for pennies a day -- thanks to annoying gnat-like liberals who didn't take, "yeah, that's ok" for an answer.
You all owe your decent life to liberals who fight on year after year -- which is what Obama said when he said great programs happen over time, and didn't say that only happened by persistent liberal pressure.
So, if you don't like liberals, hand back your social security, your medicare, your vote, and all the other liberalities you enjoy as you bite the hand that feeds you.

Posted by: KentL1 | December 8, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Problem is, we never see him FIGHT for anything. He does it all (if he does it, which many of us doubt) behind closed doors in session with REPUBLICANS alone, and emerges with a noxious deal, expecting us to take it on faith that it's the best he could do. Maybe he has no patience for theatrics, but the fact is -- had he gone on TV in primetime, told America he was going to leave the tax breaks for the folks over $250 but not those over $1 million, said it was the best compromise he was willing to offer, explained how breaks over $1 million would balloon our deficit, NOT eroded social security, and demanded unemployment extensions, then maybe when the Repubs pushed back trying to get those breaks for folks over $1 mill, they would be revealed for the heartless moneygrubbing scums they are. If Obama had fought the good fight, and THEN had to come back on TV a second time, excoriated Repubs for forcing his hand, and explained to America that Repubs were holding the unemployed over a cliff to placate their rich contributors, THEN maybe the pill would be swallo-able. But we don't see that. We don't see any fight. What's pragmatic about adding to our deficit with the extra tax breaks? Nothing. If the unemployed lose benefits, many will become homeless, unable to pay for food or a roof over their heads. It's pragmatic, as well as the only morally defensible thing, to stop that from happening. But if those over $1 million lose their tax breaks what happens? Someone can't renovate their yacht or summer house? Oh cry me a river! Nothing is pragmatic in a time of soaring deficits about keeping their taxes low. It doesnt' create jobs, it just leaves them more money to pump into Republican 2012 Presidential coffers. Oh, and good work eroding social security, as if it wasn't in enough trouble. The Republicans will NEVER restore that money for social security. It's gone for good. Cause there ain't gonna be a 2nd term for Obama, and the Dem Party is a shambles. You would never hear a Republican dress down the core ranks as he did the Dems last night. He doesn't want my vote.

Posted by: lilifreak | December 8, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

As delightful as it may have been for you to witness Obama come out against his "cranky critics," remember the words of Frederick Douglass: "Power concedes nothing without a demand." LBGT voters were among Obama's strongest supporters. Posing a challenge to his commitment was necessary from Day 1 seeing how Obama felt the need to invite Rick Warren to preside at his Inauguration. As to healthcare reform, the legislation was literally shaped by insurance lobbyists. Supporters of the public option were never even formally heard. The public option was never an option.

Obama seems to believe that the people who put him in office are NOT the people he should have to listen to. Correcting him on that misjudgment is not being cranky, but standing up for one’s principles.

Posted by: mambety | December 8, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm amused that the author himself clings to purist positions yet cheers the President for coming down hard on some others who hold their own purist positions.

No wonder he gets heat from those in his own party.

Posted by: MsJS | December 8, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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