On Monday, President Obama made a statement claiming that a structure for an agreement was made with the GOP to extend the Bush tax cuts for all Americans for at least another two years. Unemployment benefits and other such goodies were to be exchanged for doing so. Nevertheless, I was more than stunned to see this president agree to such terms. I knew that the left would be irate and it turns out they are.
Pretty soon, the reactions came in from the liberal talking heads and media personalities. “President Obama: Who are you?” was the tweet from liberal fire-breather Michael Moore, a man who recently told the president to take off his “pink tutu.” A day before the president reached his compromise, Bill Maher complained to Fareed Zakaria about how “wimpy and wussy” Obama has become when he should be standing up for the principles he believes in. Keith Olbermann in his nightly rant dismissed the administration for “giving in,” and later lambasted the president and his team for always accusing others of not understanding what they are trying to do.
Shortly after, the complaints from policymakers within the president’s party began to roll in quicker than the White House could handle. Senator Bernie Sanders, almost always a reliable vote for the president, stated that he is going to do whatever it takes to stop the tax-cut package from becoming law. Mr. Sanders has referred to the compromise as a “moral outrage,” and is in the process of reaching out to others in his party who feel the same way to see if he can filibuster the legislation. He may want to contact Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, another loyal Democrat who has been overheard calling the legislation “bad economic policy.” The White House did not take this criticism very well. The next day, President Obama was back on T.V. equating those who disagreed with his compromise to “hostage takers” This is a perfect example of how thin skinned this administration really is. So what exactly just happened?
President Obama ran a campaign in 2008 that made the left very happy. He ran hard against President Bush’s economic and foreign policy agendas. In Obama’s first two years, however, he has done a great job alienating his base. To name a few things, the left feels they were abandoned on the closing of Guantanamo Bay, domestic surveillance, the escalation of the war in Afghanistan and the abandonment of the pubic option. The extension of the Bush tax cuts, however, is something that can sink his chances in 2012.
In early November the American people resoundingly rejected the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda. Soon after the midterm massacre, the liberal media was immediately drooling over the president’s re-election chances, simply because Bill Clinton suffered a similar set back and went on to win re-election by a sizeable margin. Just a few short weeks ago, the conventional wisdom was that Barack Obama would move to the center, moderate himself and be in great position for November 2012. That could not be further from the truth.
Obama’s compromise on the Bush tax cuts is more in line with George H. W. Bush’s “no new taxes” pledge than anything Bill Clinton ever did. Bush 41 made a promise not to raise taxes during his campaign, yet he broke that promise because he felt raising taxes was in the country’s interests. The right never forgave him for it. Consequently he drew a primary challenge (Pat Buchanan) that was extremely damaging. He later had to fend off assaults that he flip-flopped on an important campaign pledge (which he did) and a third-party challenge from Ross Perot, who garnered 19 million popular votes. Many of these votes were in states that could have pushed Bush into a second term. It didn’t matter that the economy was getting better by Election Day in 1992, because the damage to Bush’s credibility and his standing with conservatives had already been done.
Today, the left feels betrayed for many reasons, but for Mr. Obama, this issue may be too much to overcome. It doesn’t matter if this compromise becomes law because he has already shown his true colors. After a resounding defeat in the midterms, he was very quick to give in. Liberals want someone in the White House who will stand and fight. It’s not always the talking heads you need to win over, but the grassroots supporters who run the phone banks, walk the neighborhoods and subscribe to MoveOn.org’s email updates. MoveOn.org, a group that heavily supported Barack Obama, has since put out a web ad titled “We Want Obama Back.”
The president’s first term is only officially up in January 2013, but politically it ends long before that. In about 6 months, the GOP candidates will have formed their exploratory committees and the White House will be responding to some of their attacks. If the president continues angering the left, Howard Dean and his scream machine may be just around the corner. There will also certainly be calls for Hillary to jump in, especially if unemployment remains high and the president’s approval numbers remain low. Some will say, “a primary challenge will be good for Obama. It will keep him on message and push him to the left.” Those who say so will have to be reminded of the re-election campaigns of Taft, Johnson, Ford, Carter and, of course, George H. W. Bush. At a time when the left feels abandoned and the right has yet to choose a standard bearer, centrists like Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be itching to jump into the race. Where have we seen a self-funded billionaire, third-party candidate before?
President Obama is trying to replicate the lessons of Clinton’s re-election in 1996, but he is forgetting the lessons of Clinton’s first election. If he continues to alienate his base, he will do so at his own peril.
John Stapleton received his MA in Comparative Politics from American University in 2009 and is currently the Deputy Editor of The New Guard, a quarterly magazine published by Young Americans for Freedom. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with his wife Nealey.