I found Obama's press conference Tuesday afternoon on the tax deal with Republicans absolutely fascinating. We were treated to two Obamas for the price of one (three Obamas, if you count yesterday's announcement; see previous post). The Great Question confronting him in the remainder of his first term was vividly clear.
Monday, you recall, he set out to defend the tax deal as an honorable compromise and a victory for common sense--which in my view it is. He also put himself above the partisan fray, in a way that was bound to offend many Democrats. But he did this very tepidly. Tuesday, especially in response to questions, he was much more animated and forceful. The problem was, he forcefully defended not one but two rationales for what he has done--rationales that are at least in tension and in the end, I think, irreconcilable.
The first was addressed to liberal Democrats, and very different from Monday 's message. He said, in effect, that Republicans are incapable of compromise or seeing reason. This time, and this time only, he had been forced to surrender to their threats to harm the American people, because he had no choice. Republicans had taken the American people hostage, he said, and sometimes, much as you may detest it, you have to do business with hostage-takers. Agreeing to this deal was a necessary evil, and not a habit he intended to get into. The public does not want this deal, he emphasized; he had already won that argument, and the Republicans had lost. But what can you do with these people? Rest assured it won't happen again. Bring on the new Congress and the next debates. You'll see how tough, uncompromising, and unyieldingly partisan I can be.