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Angry Left to Obama: Stop Caving on Agenda
Liberals furious with a White House they view as constantly telegraphing compromise with Republicans are pressuring President Obama to get tougher, arguing that is the only way he will win both progressives and independents in 2012.
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and an outspoken critic of the White House, said liberal anger has less to do with fears of a Clintonian move to the middle by Obama and more with a misreading of the election results by the administration.
"It's less ‘Oh no, they're triangulating,' and more ‘Boy, their political instincts are really stupid,' " said Green, who along with other liberals has blasted the White House for suggesting it would compromise with Republicans on expiring tax cuts.
The White House "fundamentally" doesn't get that "the only way to get Republicans to deal in good faith is to fight them, crush them and teach a lesson that if Republicans are on the wrong side of an issue there will be consequences ... so it makes sense to negotiate," Green said.
"Right now, every time Republicans are on the opposite side of an issue from the public, it's the Democrats who cave and talk about ‘compromise.' It's ridiculous."
While the White House declined to comment for this story, Obama's remarks since the election indicate that pursuing compromise with Republicans, including on the tax issue, will be one of his top priorities moving forward.
It's also clear the White House is concerned about the migration of independent voters.
Obama won a majority of independent voters in 2008 when he was elected, but those voters abandoned Democrats two weeks ago. According to a poll by Resurgent Republic and Democracy Corps, 56 percent of independents voted for Republican candidates in 2010, compared to 38 percent for Democrats.
There's some evidence that independent voters want the White House to work with Republicans. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 57 percent of independent voters want GOP leaders to cooperate with Obama, and 59 percent want the president to work with Republican leaders.
Jane Hamsher, founder of the liberal blog Firedoglake.com, points to recent polling in arguing there is little evidence that much of what Obama views as areas of compromise - cutting the deficit, bending on tax cuts - would appeal to independents, who she says are fixated on jobs.
Hamsher noted Obama has given signals that he wants to move a free-trade deal with South Korea even though many voters question the wisdom of free-trade policies.
She also said there is support for ending tax breaks for the wealthy and protecting Social Security from reforms, despite the changes recommended by the chairmen of Obama's debt commission last week.
"It's not liberals that Obama is having a clash with, it's reality," Hamsher said. "And anyone who thinks his problems are just with the base is not paying attention.
"No reasonable person could look at the data and say that the center has support for Obama's priorities right now: cutting Social Security, passing Korea free trade and ballooning the deficit by $700 billion with tax breaks for millionaires.
"So can we please stop with this fiction that Obama is attempting to woo independents?" Hamsher said. "The things he is doing are not any more popular with independents than they are with the base. Just because something annoys the base does not axiomatically mean it is popular with independents."
Green said independents who voted Republican in the midterms would move back to Obama if he supported "progressive change."
"It would be a complete misreading of this election to think that independents who voted for Obama suddenly voted en masse for Republicans," Green said. "In truth, the independents who showed up in 2010 were McCain-voting independents - and the way to ‘win back' independents in 2012 is to fight harder for popular progressive change that inspires Obama-voting independents to return to the polls. Caving to Republicans on Social Security and tax cuts for the wealthy is the worst way to do that."
Talk of compromise rankles liberals even more when they hear Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) saying their top priority is to prevent Obama from winning a second term even as the White House talks of a compromise.
"That contrast bothers the left," said Peter Daou, a Democratic strategist and adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.
Of Obama's strategy over the last two years of trying to work with the GOP, Daou says: "We all know how that turned out."
The anger from the left is nothing new to those who watched President Clinton tack to the right following huge Democratic losses in 1994.
Dee Dee Myers, Clinton's press secretary at the time, said liberals were "definitely mad" at Clinton after he pledged in 1995 that the "era of big government is over."
"It was a real tug-of-war throughout 1995," Myers said. "And I think it will be an equally long, emotional, difficult path forward for Obama."