If Barack Obama hoped to launch his triangulation strategy with his tax-cut deal, so far it has failed to impress. Charles Hurt, a frequent critic of Obama at the New York Post, spends most of today’s column praising Obama for finally cutting the Left loose and working with newly-energized Republicans on tax rates. At the end, though, Hurt lays out the brutal political math that Obama faces, and declares that Obama has made himself a one-term President with this move:
The left is apoplectic that their savior would turn around on them and adopt Bush’s most “draconian” tax policies that “only favor the rich.”
If they were frustrated before, now they are palpably angry and publicly voicing their disillusionment with Obama.
Without those voters rocking with enthusiasm, Obama could not have won in 2008.
Now, ask yourself this question: How many people do you know who voted for Obama in 2008 but now express regret about the vote or reservations about his leadership?
Now ask yourself this: How many people do you know who voted against Obama in 2008 but have since been won over?
Probably not a single one.
All that math adds up to a very lonely number: One, as in One Term.
That may be a little premature, but without doubt Obama is off to a bad start for his apparent triangulation strategy. When Bill Clinton executed it in 1995-6, he put himself at the lead for what had been Republican agenda items on spending and welfare reform. Obama didn’t get out in front on tax-rate extensions; instead, he obviously capitulated in return for a lot less than his base is willing to tolerate.
That should surprise no one, because Obama hasn’t provided much leadership on anything all year long. He handed the stimulus fight to Nancy Pelosi rather than lead or even arbitrate between Democrats and Republicans. Obama did the same with ObamaCare, occasionally promising his own version of the bill and waffling on whether he would demand the public option the progressive base wanted. In the end, he did neither, and instead acted as if he were above his own agenda for most of the last two years while Pelosi and Harry Reid did all the work. In short, he’s the most celebrated backbencher in American history.
That could change in the next two years, simply out of necessity. With Republicans controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate, Obama will have to get more engaged on legislation. He can’t just wait for his own allies to give him bills to rubber-stamp any more. But if he wants to convince people that he’s a born-again centrist in the way Clinton did, Obama will have to do more than that. He will have to frame his new triangulationist agenda in clear and original terms in ways that pre-empt the GOP and sound convincing enough to voters to reap the credit for its successes. Given that even his winning 2008 legislative agenda was little more than a rehash of populist rhetoric and progressive wish lists, that seems unlikely, too, but perhaps not impossible.
If Obama can’t do that, or attempts to do it in a half-hearted manner as he did here, he won’t look like a leader but a capitulator. As Hurt rightly states, that won’t convince his base to fight for him, nor those who voted against him in 2008 (and perhaps especially those who voted against his leadership in the 2010 midterms) to change their minds about him, either. He’d better check to see if Ross Perot is busy in 2012 if that’s the best he can do.
The poll shows clearly that these contributors are deeply opposed (74%) to a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax breaks for those making over $250,000 a year. The depth of opposition to a deal is severe with former Obama contributors saying that they are less likely (57%) to support Democrats who support this deal in 2012.
A majority of the former Obama contributors surveyed also say that the President’s deal also makes them less likely (51%) to contribute to his reelection campaign in 2012.
But he could win them back, right? Sargent isn’t so sure:
While Adam Serwer is right to note that over time passions on the left could subside, particularly if Obama delivers on other core liberal priorities such as the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell, it’s also perfectly possible that trading away core liberal priorities will levy major political costs on Obama and Democrats in general.
Obama will probably get DADT repeal anyway, but that’s on a different plane of existence from the Bush tax cuts. And it’s not likely that Obama will be able to gain anything else on the progressive wish list from this point forward, thanks to Republican control of the House.