He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn't much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday's press conference.
President Obama was supposed to be announcing an important compromise, as he put it, on tax policy. Normally a president, having agreed with the opposition on something big, would go through certain expected motions. He would laud the specific virtues of the plan, show graciousness toward the negotiators on the other side—graciousness implies that you won—and refer respectfully to potential critics as people who'll surely come around once they are fully exposed to the deep merits of the plan.
Instead Mr. Obama said, essentially, that he hates the deal he just agreed to, hates the people he made the deal with, and hates even more the people who'll criticize it. His statement was startling in the breadth of its animosity. Republicans are "hostage takers" who worship a "holy grail" of "tax cuts for the wealthy." "That seems to be their central economic doctrine."
As for the left, they ignore his accomplishments and are always looking for "weakness and compromise." They are "sanctimonious," "purist," and just want to "feel good about" themselves. In a difficult world, they cling to their "ideal positions" and constant charges of "betrayals."
Those not of the left might view all this as straight talk, and much needed. But if you were of the left it would only deepen your anger and sharpen your response. Which it did. "Gettysburg," "sellout," "disaster."
The president must have thought that distancing himself from left and right would make him more attractive to the center. But you get credit for going to the center only if you say the centrist position you've just embraced is right. If you suggest, as the president did, that the seemingly moderate plan you agreed to is awful and you'll try to rescind it in two years, you won't leave the center thinking, "He's our guy!" You'll leave them thinking, "Note to self: Remove Obama in two years."
In politics, the angry person is generally understood to be the loser, which is why politicians on TV always try not to seem angry. And politics is always, at the end of the day, a game of addition, not subtraction.
Mr. Obama's problem is not only with the left of his party. Democratic professionals, people who do the work of politics day by day, don't see him as a bad man or a sellout, but they scratch their heads over him and privately grouse. They don't understand a Democratic president who, in the midst of a great recession, in our modern welfare state, doesn't know how to win support! The other night Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, was on "Hardball" sounding reasonable on the subject of Mr. Obama, but I thought his eyes, his visage, his professionally pleasant face were screaming: Those crazy birthers are wrong, he's not from another country—he's from another galaxy! He doesn't do politics like any normal person!
Friday, December 10, 2010
And The Horse You All Rode In On
Noonan on Obama: