The Sorrow And The Self-Pity: There is a case for the tax cut deal, as the best of a very bad situation. But Obama did not help that case yesterday by lashing out at “purists”.
Leave aside the merits for a moment: what possible purpose does this kind of lashing out serve? Will activists be shamed into recovering their previous enthusiasm? Will Republicans stop their vicious attacks because Obama is lashing out to his left? It was pure self-indulgence; even if he feels aggrieved, he has to judge his words by their usefulness, not by his desire to vent. This isn’t about him.
And beyond that, who are these purists? Yes, a few people on the left refused to support health reform over the lack of a public option — but not many. To the extent that Obama has had trouble selling that plan, “purists” weren’t a factor; his own lack of effective messaging was.
On taxes: there might be more forgiveness now if Obama had shown any sign of fighting..., the administration really didn’t push Congress to take up the issue... Let me add that Obama has never, as far as I can recall, pointed out that these horrible tax increases on the rich the GOP warns about would bring rates back to what they were under Bill Clinton — a time of enormous prosperity. But then, Obama has always had a weirdly hard time making the case that the Clinton economy refuted Reaganism.
Add in the White House’s repeated validations of the right-wing position on the evils of public spending, from the spending freeze to the pay freeze, the appointment of a conservative Democrat and a paleo-conservative Republican to head the debt commission, etc. — and now Obama expects trust and praise from progressives?
What’s particularly striking is that Obama seems passionate about denouncing his progressive critics, even as he has nice words for the people who have spent two years trying to destroy him.
So look: there’s a policy issue here, and it’s a tough one; you trade off the stimulus Obama extracted now for the increased likelihood that low taxes for the rich will be made permanent, crippling policy for decades to come. But there’s also a character issue: what we really don’t need right now is a president who blames everyone but himself, and seems more concerned with self-justification than with sustaining the alliances he needs.
Obama is missing that the reaction from the left is not specifically about the public option, it's the more general issue of what it says about his presidency. Many Democrats were already frustrated over Obama's acceptance of conservative positions on the wars in Iran and Afghanistan, torture, Guantanamo, government wiretaps, data mining, the refusal to temporarily nationalize banks, and other issues (I can't recall if the offshore drilling decision came before or after health care was passed), and this fed into a larger narrative. To interpret the reaction of Democrats as just about narrow issues such as health care and the public option is a mistake.