President Obama has made a fatal political mistake: He has shattered his progressive base - perhaps permanently. His liberal hour is over. This is the real meaning of the White House’s tax deal with Republicans.
Contrary to the administration’s spin, the agreement is not a “compromise.” It is a surrender - an ideological betrayal of the Democrats’ central economic principles. For nearly 10 years, the Democratic Party has railed against the Bush tax cuts - especially, those for the “rich.” Class warfare and income redistribution have been at the heart of Obamanomics. Mr. Obama has repeatedly vowed to repeal the Bush tax rates for those making above $250,000 a year. For liberals, it has become gospel, a sacred blueprint for creating a more just, equal society.
Mr. Obama is now an apostate. The deal calls for an extension of current tax rates - on all income levels - for two years. It also proposes temporary reductions in Social Security payroll taxes and provides business tax breaks. The estate tax will be temporarily set at 35 percent, excluding the first $5 million. In exchange, the GOP agreed to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for 13 months. The White House is touting this as a major GOP concession. It isn’t. The Republicans would have agreed to it, anyway.
Hence, Mr. Obama sold out his allies for nothing meaningful in return - and they know it. Progressives are seething. Many House Democrats are in revolt. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman and Frank Rich have denounced him. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has compared the president’s capitulation to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “appeasement” of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Mr. Obama is losing his left flank - the very people who propelled him to the presidency.
Liberals are finally discovering what most Americans already know: Mr. Obama cannot be trusted. He is a narcissist who believes that everyone and everything - including his own country - must be subordinated to serve his needs. His messiah complex threatens to tear America apart.
This follows a pattern of betrayal. His administration’s massive deficits have betrayed Middle America, putting us on the path to economic ruin and national bankruptcy. The passage of Obamacare was a betrayal of our democracy, creating the ominous precedent that sweeping legislation can be enacted without anyone in Congress knowing or even being able to read fully what’s in a bill before it becomes law. This is dangerously close to ruling by decree. His foreign policy - apologizing to the Muslim world, pressuring Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians, withdrawing missile-defense sites from Eastern Europe, coddling Vladimir Putin’s Russia, refusing to confront North Korea and Iran - has betrayed our international allies and friends. His strict rules of engagement, combined with a troop surge that has no plan for victory, has betrayed our military in Afghanistan.
He has now betrayed the socialist progressives. Closing Guantanamo Bay, making the public option the centerpiece of the health care overhaul, pulling all U.S. forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and repealing the hated Bush tax cuts - the list of his failed promises keeps growing.
Mr. Obama is sacrificing his leftist supporters in the hopes of winning re-election in 2012. He is seeking to triangulate, reaching out to the moderate and independent voters that abandoned the Democrats on Nov. 2. He is trying to replicate then-President Bill Clinton’s dramatic pivot to the center in 1994, following a crushing midterm election defeat.
The strategy, however, is doomed to fail. It does not solve the root problem of Mr. Obama’s presidency - namely, that he lacks the depth, experience and maturity to be a successful leader. His embrace of a new pragmatic liberalism is simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; The Democratic ship is sinking.
A clear example was his petulant behavior at this week’s press conference, where he sought to defend the tax deal. Mr. Obama tried to justify his surrender by referring to Republicans as “hostage-takers” (previously he has called them “enemies” who need to be “punished”). In other words, they forced him to swallow all the extensions.
He also attacked his supporters for criticizing the deal, lecturing them on the importance of political compromise. He was visibly irritated because they had the temerity to oppose him. He broke one of his seminal pledges and he is befuddled - even insulted - that there is a backlash. What did he expect?
Mr. Obama does not appear to understand the most basic rule of politics: Don’t vilify the people you need to help pass key pieces of legislation - Republican or Democrat. The art of governing requires consensus-building, not cheap grandstanding. His performance was amateurish.
It is now obvious even to the left that Mr. Obama is not a capable political leader. He is not a Bill Clinton or Grover Cleveland - never mind Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson. He is not a liberal titan. Rather, he is a radical college professor with insufficient experience to govern.
Progressives have only themselves to blame. Conservatives - including yours truly - warned them that Mr. Obama is unfit to be president. They are learning this the hard way.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.