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Are Progressives Losing Touch With Reality?

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This afternoon, Markos Moulitsas wrote an offhanded comment on Daily Kos that seems completely in line with the recent upswing in progressive apoplexy. Referencing a post by Duncan Black about the president's tax cut deal, Markos wrote, "Tax cuts don't create jobs. It's really obnoxious hearing Democrats like Obama trying to make that argument."

Right off the bat, and not to go all Aaron Sorkin nitpicky on Markos, but it's President Obama. Come on. Is it seriously that difficult to type the word "president?" And while I agree with the first part, I'm not sure what Markos is talking about in the second part. The president has never once suggested that tax cuts create jobs.

In fact, he said exactly the opposite as recently as Dec. 10 on NPR. From ThinkProgress:

And in an interview on NPR this morning with Morning Edition host Steve Inkseep, President Obama reflected this point of view, agreeing that the tax cuts for the wealthy will not create "one single job":

INSKEEP: Let me ask you about something that we heard from one of our listeners... The question that we got was: "Please ask him how keeping the tax rate for the richest the same as it has been for a decade creates one single job."

OBAMA: It doesn't, which is why I was opposed to it -- and I'm still opposed to it.

Here's the audio.

"It doesn't" create jobs, the president said. No gray area there. The exact opposite of what's being claimed by Markos and other progressives.

Concurrently, the president has obviously been ballyhooing his tax-cut compromise with the Republicans, while commenting that the deal will create jobs -- not the tax cuts part of the deal, specifically, but the overall deal. And he's right. If the CBO numbers indicating $1.61 in stimulus for every dollar spent on unemployment benefits are correct, then extending the benefits will create jobs as the economy grows.

What's so difficult to understand about this?

My intention here isn't to single out Markos -- or the tax-cut deal, for that matter. There's a larger and growing crisis within the progressive movement. I'm worried that certain factions of the movement are losing touch with reality.

No, this tax-cut deal isn't perfect. We're all well aware that tax cuts for the richest two percent won't create jobs, nor will they stimulate the economy. But -- and this is the case the president is making about the deal -- the only way to pass some form of economic stimulus (unemployment benefits) is to achieve a whip count that includes Republican votes.

And the only way to get Republican votes is to accept their deficit-ballooning tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- financed with money borrowed from China. Toss into the mix their laugh-out-loud, self-satirical contradictions about the deficit and debt "crisis" even though they're supporting the Bush tax cuts, which will add another $830 billion over the next 10 years. But the challenge is to overcome the GOP filibuster of, well, everything. Hell, they're even filibustering health care for the 9/11 heroes. These Republican 9/11 fetishists, who gladly exploit images of planes crashing into buildings along with the rubble-strewn streets of New York in campaign commercials, are filibustering health care for the heroes of that terrible event. And if they're willing to filibuster 9/11 heroes, naturally they'll filibuster unemployment benefits -- or any other form of effective stimulus for that matter.

President Obama understands this. And while the optics and his performance in trying to sell the deal have been lacking, the politics are best case, given the opposition party's carpet-bombing strategy.

Somehow, though, certain progressives don't get it. They believe the president is betraying progressive principles and deliberately sticking it to "the base."

First of all, the progressive movement is hardly the president's base. Most progressive leaders supported John Edwards during the primaries, and many were ambivalent about the president once he was nominated. The president's base is made up of mostly non-political Americans -- many of whom desperately need their unemployment benefits to continue until the jobs return.

Second, stop whining and wise up, progressives. The president isn't going to pass every last thing on your personal wish list. Just because he compromised on something that you've been frantically tweeting about doesn't mean it's time to pitch a tantrum and hurl the board game across the room -- storming off in a snit.

The volume of progressive crabbery and moping lately has been staggering -- otherwise sane progressives vowing to not vote in 2012, or to somehow conjure up a viable primary challenger to run against the president. Suffice to say, both ideas are ridiculous and ultimately self-defeating. Fun to bitch about as a way to blow off steam, but also a great way to elect Awful Republican President X.

Good gravy, are we really this fragile? The president accurately criticizes progressives for not understanding the political climate on the Hill, and we stomp and flail like a gaggle of infants? Pathetic.

Last week, Keith Olbermann delivered a Special Comment about the tax cut deal. In it, he predictably eviscerated the president for accepting the tax-cut compromise. Fine. I get it. And I like Keith.

But within the cablecast essay, Olbermann noted how the president engaged in a "preemptive abandonment" of both the public option and single-payer. Regarding the aforementioned and ridiculous notion of running a primary challenger to the president, it's worth noting here that not one serious Democratic presidential candidate has ever proposed single-payer. Ever. Not the 2008 progressive favorite John Edwards. Certainly not Hillary Clinton. And not even 2004 progressive favorite Howard Dean. And neither did Barack Obama. So I'm not exactly sure how President Obama can "abandon" a policy he never proposed in the first place.

The public option wasn't "preemptively" jettisoned either. Like every aspect and line item contained within the various health-care-reform bills that were ricocheting around Congress, it was up for negotiation. Every policy within those bills was negotiable. Not just the public option.

And despite that, it was still alive by November and December of 2009 -- at the end of that protracted battle. The president himself even promoted the idea in his joint session address in September of 2009, deep within the belly of the process. Hardly a "preemptive abandonment." (By the way, I couldn't believe my ears when Olbermann brought up the Gitmo closing in his list of presidential trespasses. Keith surely must be aware that the president ordered Guantanamo closed, but the Senate, including the progressive members like Bernie Sanders, voted against funding to actually close the base and move the detainees to Supermax prisons on the mainland.)

Okay, okay. I'm not making any friends here, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to participate in a movement where so many colleagues have careened off the rails. We're supposed to be the smart ones, the reality-based people.

And yet, out of some sort of manic-depression or desire for hipster cred, we've become overly preoccupied with tearing down the most liberal president in decades using non-reality-based criticisms instead of laser-focusing our efforts and resources on tearing down the real killers -- conservatives, Tea Party people and the GOP.

We need to focus and engage in smart accountability -- carefully pick our battles with the White House and, when we fight, we need to employ airtight, concise, reality-based arguments designed to convince rather than to hector. Otherwise, we're everything the president said in his press conference last week -- or worse -- and our attempts at accountability will increasingly resemble Tea-Party-style screeching. Featureless, brainless white noise in the distance.

But mainly, enough with the pouting. We have to stop mistaking petulance for "principle" and get something done.

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