WASHINGTON -- Despite his protestations at Tuesday's press conference that he had no choice, President Obama's concession to Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy appears to have sent many of his historically most fervent supporters to new levels of despair.
The president's refusal to fight harder against the massive giveaway to people who need it the least has disheartened not only activists, former Obama advisers and members of Congress, but his grassroots.
In a poll taken just before Obama announced his agreement with Republican leaders Monday night, an overwhelming majority of former Obama campaign donors and volunteers said they strongly oppose extending the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 a year. And nearly three fourths said they oppose a deal with Republicans, according to the Survey USA poll commissioned by MoveOn.org. That liberal group's executive director issued a withering statement Tuesday:
Watching the tax cut negotiation has been like watching a car crash in slow motion--Republicans successfully held the middle class and unemployed Americans hostage until they could make the nation's wealthiest 2 percent even richer. Now billionaires will get thousands of dollars in new tax breaks, while teachers get pink slips and hard-working Americans fall even further behind. Our 5 million members oppose this 'deal,' and--as last night's poll shows--so do a majority of Democratic donors and supporters. The President's commitment to bi-partisanship should not mean leaving principles behind, especially when the Progressive base is working to strengthen the economy for middle class Americans by making the wealthiest--many of whom helped to get us into this mess--pay their fair share. We hope Congress will pay careful attention to the message this poll sends--and stand up against this millionaire tax bailout.
And it didn't help any Tuesday afternoon, when Obama spent a good chunk of his press conference hectoring his progressive critics, who he said would rather feel "sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are" than make the compromises necessary to actually achieve something "for the American people."
Obama's insistence that he only made the compromises that were absolutely necessary did not impress Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, who said in a statement:
Today, President Obama repeatedly stated that he 'can't persuade' Senate Republicans to end tax cuts for the rich. In addition to undercutting his 'yes we can' mantra, the sad reality is that President Obama never even tried to persuade Republicans to do the right thing. He telegraphed his willingness to cave from the start by solely talking about 'compromise' and never talking about holding Republicans accountable to their constituents if they opposed him.
Until President Obama flies to states like Maine and Massachusetts to rally the constituents of Republican senators and command local media attention, he has zero standing to say he tried to persuade Senate Republicans and zero standing to ask millions of his former supporters to support an incompetently negotiated deal.
A new Democratic group, the Agenda Project, is claiming it jammed some White House phone lines on Monday after its leader, Erica Payne, blasted an email to progressives questioning the effectiveness of the White House political operation and urging them to complain. "You don't concede battles before you walk onto the battlefield," Payne told HuffPost.
The chief complaints are that Obama doesn't fight hard enough -- and that his negotiating tactics aren't up to the challenges he faces.
The New York Times editorial board wrote Tuesday:
President Obama's deal with the Republicans to extend all the Bush-era income tax cuts is a win for the Republicans and their strategy of obstructionism and a disappointing retreat by the White House.
Brad DeLong, an economics blogger and Clinton administration Treasury official, told HuffPost Tuesday: "The thing that's disappointing is the level of tactical professionalism that the core Obama White House has exhibited... I would expect a much greater recognition of the tactical realities of the ground on which they work than they appear to possess," he said. "My impressions was that the Clinton team had a much, much firmer grasp of what was attainable and what was not, and where to push and where not to."
As for Obama's jabs at progressives at the press conference: "That's not effective coalition maintenance," DeLong said.
Dean Baker, the co-director of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research, called Obama's tax negotiations just the latest in a "series of disappointments" that stretch back to when he picked his economic team during the transition.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman seemed to reach a nadir of exasperation last week, writing
Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse -- a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.
The details of what Obama got in return for his concession -- which the White House and its remaining supporters are spinning as a second stimulus of sorts -- haven't changed the fundamental equation.
As Krugman blogged on Tuesday, "enough sweetener has been added to diminish, but not eliminate, the bitterness of the disappointment."
And all that was before progressives fully recognized that Obama's deal also includes another gift to the super-wealthy: dramatic estate tax cuts.
There is one silver lining for progressives, however. As Bill Scher writes: "Deficit Hysteria Is Out."
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.