A reader writes:
I think the question over whether the tax cut compromise is ultimately a win or a loss for Obama sort of misses the point about why liberals are angry over the whole thing. Two things he talked about in the press conference stand out for me. First, when he criticized the left for being sanctimonious and purist and seeing compromise as weakness, saying "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."
The problem with that is, for the past two years liberals have watched as the right wing has been more sanctimonious and ideologically uncompromising than the left ever has been or could be, and still get everything they want and more thanks to Obama's particular way of compromising (namely, giving away the store as an opening to negotiation).
It's always the Democrats who have to be practical and pragmatic because they're the only ones who care even a little bit about actual governance, and because the other party doesn't, the Democrats always have to settle for less. Maybe it is the only way in this political climate, but it still sucks. And to be honest, I think you are being a bit unintentionally condescending here by telling liberals to basically get over it, given the fact that one reason you're not angry like we are is because the parts of the progressive agenda being sacrificed to compromise are all things you don't support in the first place. It's easy for you to take the long view; not so easy for people who've been fighting for this stuff for years.
Also, there's the sense that Obama seems to be working from a false premise, buying into a weird Halperin-esque view of the world that somehow the country that elected Obama and the Democrats to historic majorities did so because they really wanted Mitch McConnell calling the shots. "This is a big, diverse country," he says. "Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people." Thing is, they kinda do. I'm not saying the 2008 election was a huge national shift to the left ideologically, anymore than the recent midterms were a shift to the right, but on a lot of these issues he's giving away, stuff he campaigned on by the way, he actually had pretty broad public support. You often ask how the Democratic congress with it's huge majority, a president so sympathetic to the cause, and such favorable poll numbers can't seem to pass DADT, and I know you've framed that as not just a sign of political reality, but also a sign of political weakness on the part of Democrats. Well, the same can be said about the public option, extending unemployment insurance, and only extending the middle class tax cuts. Again, when you're particularly invested in something, it's a weakness when it's not done, but when you're less invested, as with all the stuff we liberals care about, that's just the way it is.
I take the point. We all tend to get more exercized over what we care about - and it's true, I have nothing like the interest in progressive taxation that most liberals do, and so don't share their outrage. What DADT and the tax deal represent, it seems to me, is the danger of procrastination. Both should have been tackled long before now (and the midterms) ... and it isn't Obama's fault that Reid ducked for cover on taxes before an election (although it is Obama's fault that he waited so long on DADT - a study could have been set up very soon after his election to give everyone time to mull it over). Nonetheless, given the constraints, it seems to me that Obama's GOP-endorsed second stimulus is a rather impressive feat of jujitsu. And if he gets DADT repealed and START ratified in the same Congress, quite a coup.