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Obama’s Sister Souljah Moment?

During his successful 1992 run for the presidency, Bill Clinton famously denounced the rapper Sister Souljah at a Rainbow Coalition address.  This drew angry criticism from his host, Jesse Jackson, and charges of betrayal by others in his base.   But the incident bolstered his “family values” credentials with centrist voters and, ultimately, the blacks had nowhere else to go.

While less dramatic, I’m wondering if President Obama’s press conference yesterday, bitterly railing against Democrats in the Congress for being “purist” and “sanctimonious” while he’s working hard to “get health care for all Americans” and other “victories for the American people,” isn’t his equivalent.

Ezra Klein thinks “the White House cut its deal and lost its base.”  And it’s true that Nancy Pelosi, Mary Landrieu, and other Democrats are hopping mad, thinking Obama gave away the store.  But, frankly, who cares what they think?  Certainly not Obama, who wants to get credit for compromise and really didn’t want to be defending raising taxes during a recession in the next campaign.

As with Clinton and the Rainbow Coalition, where exactly is the base going to go?   Nowhere.   Oh, there are murmurs of a primary challenge.  But they’re coming from the Hard Left.  And, unless they want to hand the White House over the the Republicans, they’ll fall in line.

Meanwhile, the Hard Right is mad.  Jim DeMint tells Hugh Hewitt he’s going to oppose the deal.  Michelle Bachman hates it, too.  Because the deal would explode the deficit.

But, again, making enemies of the extremists on both sides is a win.   It makes it easy for Obama to dodge the “socialist” and “most liberal ever” labels.  And it both belies the Republicans’ newfound zeal for fiscal responsibility and makes it harder to keep the Tea Party zealots on the reservation.

Oh, and as GI notes, the short term impact of the deal is likely very good for the economy and thus very, very good for Obama.

What will ultimately matter in 2012 is how the economy performs, not whose policies are responsible for that performance. If the economy is booming a year from now, Mr Obama may be seen to have lost the battle but won the war. In spite of their grumbling, the rest of the Democratic caucus may also benefit. As a correspondent notes, “This is a pro-incumbent kind of package. And Democrats have a lot more incumbents running in 2012 than Republicans do.”

Outside the beltway, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses but whether it’s good for the economy. In the short run the answer is, unambiguously, yes. In the long run, there’s not much comfort to be taken from the fact that Democrats and Republicans have once again proven they can come together to run up the deficit. Awfully nice of White House officials to credit both the Bowles-Simpson and Domenici-Rivlin commissions for the payroll tax cut idea; pity all their ideas for reducing the deficit remain untouched, like the vegetables on a kid’s dinner plate.

Well, the incentives all push in the other direction.

UPDATE:  Keith Olbermann and Ralph Nader are very, very angry.  I love it when a plan comes together.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. just me says:

    Over the long term I don’t see how this hurts him that much.

    Sure it has made his base angry with him, but I don’t see them abandoning him over it either.

    Personally the one benefit I see of the GOP retaking the house is that the days of ramming anything through from start to finish are over. I hope the result is a little more compromise and a little less partisanship, but I won’t hold my breath on the partisanship one.

    In the end I believe Obama is easily re elected come 2012 barring some really big issue that makes him unpalatable to his base. I just don’t see this issue as a deal breaker or something that would make his base fail to vote.

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  2. Brian Knapp says:

    Sure, the anger from the Democrats come out now, but their reluctance to take it on forced the compromise. They have no one to blame but themselves.

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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s not 1995. The parties are more polarized than they were then. If, as is being asserted by some, President Obama got everything he wanted from this bill, then at the very best he has accomplished a minor policy victory at the expense of electoral politics.

    To win re-election President Obama needs to bring out the Democratic vote while encouraging moderates and independents that he’s the lesser evil. I think it’s pretty unlikely that he’ll get any substantial crossover vote in 2012.

    Although progressives constitute 20% or less of the electorate they comprise 50% or more of Democratic voters. Unless President Obama can turn out progressives, he’s sunk. His support for this bill makes that harder.

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  4. Mithras says:

    As soon as the Republican primary season starts in earnest, liberal Democrats will forget all about how Obama “sold out.” I know the people who are calling for Obama to be primaried. They’re stupid, but they’re not that stupid.

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  5. TG Chicago says:

    “ultimately, the blacks had nowhere else to go.”

    Wow, I’ve never heard someone on the right say something so damning about the Republican party’s outreach to African Americans. According to Joyner, the GOP is simply not an option for an entire race of people. That’s a pretty strong statement.

    “As with Clinton and the Rainbow Coalition, where exactly is the base going to go?”

    Probably not to a different party (though some might go Green). But did you notice who came out for the midterm elections? A big part of the reason the Republicans did so well is that a disproportionately high number of people who voted for Obama in 2008 stayed home in 2010. Sure, they didn’t vote Republican, but they didn’t vote Democratic either.

    We don’t have to wonder about how this could hurt Democratic electoral hopes. We’ve just seen it last month.

    Now am I claiming that Obama’s hippie-punching in 2010 is going to have a huge impact on the election in 2012? Not really. There are going to be tons of other issues between now and then that are weighing much more heavily on people’s minds come November 2012. So in that sense, the hippies’ black eyes will likely have healed by then…

    …unless Obama keeps punching.

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  6. tom p says:

    “Although progressives constitute 20% or less of the electorate they comprise 50% or more of Democratic voters. ”

    Dave, there are progressives and then there are PROGRESSIVES. None of us like the deal, but I suspect most of us realize it is probably the best we were going to get out of the Repubs in the senate. As to Obama’s lacking in deal making skills, not having been in on the negotiations, it is real easy for others to find fault with what ever deal came out of them. My challenge to those who make that complaint is,

    “You got a better deal made?’ The answer is “No.” because they could not make ANY kind of a deal.

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  7. Tano says:

    I have to completely disagree with Dave here. I think Obama emerges from this fight in a very strong position. He stands dead center on the political spectrum with this, and, as Gallup today shows, there is 66% support for both the taxcut extensions and the unemployment extensions.

    I don’t know that anyone is claiming that Obama got everything he wanted – Obama certainly does not claim that. But he comes across as the reasonable one, who has forged an acceptable deal with his opponents, the details of which are widely supported by the people.

    The progressives are doing what they should in this – posturing in such a manner so as to prepare the ground for the fight in two years. The narrative going forth on this could break in either of two ways – either there will be a sense that the GOP played hardball and got this unpopular provision extended for two years because they had some leverage because of the elections and the continuing struggles of the economy – but this victory should only be for two years. Or the narrative could be – that the Bush tax cuts are the “new normal”, and that the GOP successfully fought back attempts to undue them, and though the extension is only for two years, the real battle is over, and they should be seen as permanent.

    The progressives are working very hard to establish the former narrative as the operative one that shall dominate the discussion of this issue from henceforth. The right obviously prefers the latter narrative, and I have to say, surprisingly, it seems like the left is winning this fight. Taking a page from the tea party – I guess it is remarkable what you can achieve in American politics by jumping up and down and stamping your feet and holding your breath until you turn red in the face.

    So I don’t take the progressive noise at face value. Its not even a question of them not having anywhere to go. They really do support Obama and there will not be any rebellion against him. They just want to keep him focused on the left agenda, while he remains focused on dominating the center. That is the perfect formula for a successful center-left presidency.

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  8. PD Shaw says:

    I suspect Obama believes his Presidency depends foremost on whether there is an economic recovery in two years and he figures raising taxes on the wealthy poses some degree of risk of slowing the recovery.

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  9. PD Shaw says:

    The problem with the Sister Souljah analogy is that Congress isn’t just some citizen off the street a president can attack with impunity, Congress is composed of important people.

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  10. john personna says:

    I can accept that this is “triangulation” but if it is, we have to draw a funny, bent, graph – because I don’t see this putting Obama at the center, with moderates.

    Perhaps it is something smaller than a barbell, something still made up of two ends … but sized to fit inn one hand ;-)

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  11. steve says:

    ” he figures raising taxes on the wealthy poses some degree of risk of slowing the recovery.”

    He probably figures it wont affect the economy very much, but it makes good politics. If the economy improves, he takes credit. If it does not, he can say he gave the Republicans what they wanted.

    Steve

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  12. Herb says:

    “If the economy improves, he takes credit. If it does not, he can say he gave the Republicans what they wanted.”

    Like the old 3-card monte game. A winner every time.

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  13. ponce says:

    “This is a pro-incumbent kind of package. And Democrats have a lot more incumbents running in 2012 than Republicans do.”

    Nobody know for sure what will be “important” during the 2012 election.

    The funny thing is, if the economy is doing well, some other issue(s) will what’s “important.”

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  14. Tlaloc says:

    “Personally the one benefit I see of the GOP retaking the house is that the days of ramming anything through from start to finish are over. I hope the result is a little more compromise and a little less partisanship, but I won’t hold my breath on the partisanship one.”

    Have you paid any attention at all? There was NEVER any ramming of things through from start to finish. On every single policy Obama has bent over backwards to try and appease the right. On the stimulus he gave them a third of it as useless tax cuts. On health care reform he killed off the progressive plans and adopted (and eventually got) a plan that was almost exactly the GOP’s plan from 2 decades ago. He has at best given a token effort for EFCA, DREAM, and DADT repeal. He expanded the war in afghanistan, retained retention and torture, expanded a whole host of civil liberty violations inherited from Bush. The current tax plan is the latest in a long line of examples of Obama giving the GOP everything and pissing on the left.

    Seriously step outside of the bubble- your view is almost 180 degrees opposed to the facts. Can you name one policy the dems “rammed” home? One policy they enacted that didn;t include either a long period of trying to get GOP support or of making huge concessions to the GOP? I bet you can’t. I know I can’t think of any.

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  15. PD Shaw says:

    steve, I largely agree though I might massage my initial point. The economy is either going to get worse, or better or stay the same. This may be true regardless of whether taxes are raised on the wealthy. Even if he believes that the tax cuts will have no effect, it will be better for Obama to support measures from the opposing party to avoid blame.

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  16. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***There was NEVER any ramming of things through from start to finish. On every single policy Obama has bent over backwards to try and appease the right. ****lol…..

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  17. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    What I saw, as did most of Americans, was a President blame everyone but himself for having to make the best deal he could with an opposition who will have control of the purse strings next year. I think this narcissist we have for leader was so sure of himself, he felt it unnecessary to get tax regulations he wanted when he had the ability and majorities in both houses to get it. I think he has been shocked back into reality by an ass kicking his party took in the last election, no doubt thinking he would have majorities in both houses for the rest of his first term. Well, calling the GOP hostage takers and then what he said about the PROGRESSIVES was the act of petulant child. Outside of increasing our national debt by 3 trillion dollars in his first two years of office, what has he accomplished? Then again, we must remember his long list of accomplishments which seem limited to getting elected to undeserved offices. Obama has a bigger deficit in two years then Bush did in 8 and that is with 2 years of Democratic control of both houses of Congress.
    Obama has very little choice about compromise with the GOP on this issue. They were going to let the whole thing expire, take up the issue when the next congress convenes where Obama whould get very little compromise.
    I think calling his actions brilliant is setting the bar very very low. I am guessing James, you grade on a curve.

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  18. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    tlaloc, what are you drinking? He had a majority in the house and Senate. He told the opposition he won the election. Do you get all of your news from Comedy Central and the Daily Kos?

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  19. john personna says:

    Ever heard of a filibuster Zelsdorf? Any idea how the silent versions of it were used in the last few years?

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  20. ponce says:

    “On every single policy Obama has bent over backwards to try and appease the right. ”

    Indeed.

    The wingnuts were big proponents of the health care reform bill, bailing out the auto industry, putting Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan on the Supreme Court, etc.

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  21. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    John, to filibuster you need 41 senators. Sixty votes ends a filibuster. Study government.

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  22. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve become more and more convinced that this was smart.

    There’s no poll evidence of erosion in Obama’s base so far. And faced with a Romney or Palin or Thune in thrall to the Tea Party GOP the base will go nowhere.

    Could there be a primary challenge from the left? If there were Obama would probably write them a check. It would be excellent for Obama to be attacked from the left. Because in the end the base will unite behind him and a challenge would intrigue the center.

    In the meantime Obama has neatly avoided blame in the event of a double dip, and he’s spread the blame in the event of continued slow growth.

    And he’s deprived the GOP of their signature (only) issue. What’s the GOP have to say for itself for the next two years? Meanwhile he got enough stimulus to lessen the likelihood of a bad economic scenario.

    In short: the base may bitch but they won’t bail in 2012. In the meantime the GOP suddenly has nothing to talk about. If Obama lays out a long-term deficit reduction strategy in the state of the union that includes serious cuts along with down-the-road tax increases conditioned on a growing economy he’ll gut the GOP and control the initiative.

    Then all that will be left for the GOP to do is pander to the Tea Party with increasingly desperate rhetoric.

    It’s a win for Democrats.

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  23. john personna says:

    Does Jim DeMint need to study government?

    He says he’s going to filibuster this tax agreement.

    Dateline March 4, 2010: “Obama calls for reconciliation to prevent filibuster on health-care reform”

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  24. BobN says:

    Leaving the issue of what the Executive is doing “negotiating” on behalf of the freakin’ MAJORITY in Congress aside, if the 111th Congress ends without a vote on START, the Dream Act, DADT, etc., etc., etc., you can be your tush this “compromise” will be remembered for a long, long time.

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  25. PD Shaw says:

    michael, it may be a win for Obama, but not necessarily the Congressional Democrats. That I believe is where the animosity originates.

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  26. michael reynolds says:

    PD:

    That may be true. So they throw their hissy fits for the hometown crowd and we move on.

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  27. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    John, can you spell cloture?

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  28. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t think you can use reconciliation here; that process is only available with the budget the next fiscal year.

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  29. sam says:

    Guys, as I argued before, the base will stay with him and who cares about the Republicans. It’s the independents who are important, and I think this is a good step to getting them on his side.

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  30. mantis says:

    John, to filibuster you need 41 senators. Sixty votes ends a filibuster. Study government.

    You only need one senator to filibuster, moron. You need 41 to prevent cloture (or really, you just need to keep the cloture voted below 60).

    And there aren’t sixty Democrats in the Senate.

    Therefore, Republicans can block any legislation they want, and have done so for two years.

    Don’t tell other people to study what you clearly don’t understand yourself.

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  31. André Kenji says:

    “Meanwhile, the Hard Right is mad. Jim DeMint tells Hugh Hewitt he’s going to oppose the deal. Michelle Bachman hates it, too. Because the deal would explode the deficit.”

    I don´t like neither Bachman or DeMint, but they are right.

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  32. mike says:

    other than health care, is there any real difference between what Obama has done and Bush has done – both seem to spend money we don’t have for TARP, bailouts etc.., wars have not changed, no end to DADT, GITMO is still open for business, economy is still lousy -

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  33. Raoul says:

    I am a progressive and voted for Obama- probably will vote for him again- but let’s not be fooled- this is as deficit busting deal as it gets and it is bad for the country long term- I doubt it will even be that good short term. The sad part is that all this is viewed in a political prism- what we have now is two political parties who resolve problems by borrowing- at least the base of my side is responsible- I cannot say this about many of my leaders or the other party. I really do not respect any republicans since Reagan bankrupted future generations- are there any Republicans who voted against Bush tax cuts (mind you while we are at war) and Plan D? If there is, he or she will get my respect- I do believe in a liberal agenda but only if is paid -which is why I support ACA. Yes we will have political winners but the entire country loses.

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  34. [...] while I argued in yesterday’s “Obama’s Sister Souljah Moment?” posting that the deal was very smart politics for the president in that it both distances [...]

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  35. [...] the triangulation came in was in his press conference, wherein he denounced his own party’s congressional leadership as “sanctimonious” and “purist.”   Also — and this is obviously pure conjecture on my part — [...]

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