In what was supposed to be a press conference explaining his tax deal, President Obama unleashed a furious tirade both against Congressional Republicans and liberals who have criticized him for caving too easily. The basic gist of his argument was that Republicans were being intransigent and liberals were being unrealistic, but he has the responsibility of governing and taking the best steps to ensure economic growth.
While that may be the standard argument one would expect a president to make after having to swallow a compromise, Obama’s tone and word choice were deeply bitter. He blasted Republicans as “hostage takers” who considered tax cuts for the wealthy their “Holy Grail.” Asked whether his capitulation in this instance foreshadowed future capitulation to Republicans, Obama promised that there were many issues on which he was “itching for a fight” against the GOP.
Yet Obama reserved some of his harshest criticism for liberals, who he scolded for being “sanctimonious” purists who wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything if they got their way. To drive home his point, he complained about the way liberals behaved during the health care debate, sounding like an unappreciated lover.
“Somehow this notion that we are willing to compromise too much reminds me of the debate we had during health care,” Obama said. “This is the public option debate all over again. So I pass a signature piece of legislation where I finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats have been fighting for for 100 years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get that would have affected maybe a couple million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people, and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise. Now if that’s the standard against which we are measuring success or core principles, the let’s face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about ourselves about how good our intentions are, how tough we are.”
All presidents face the problem of having to make compromises that inflame their voting base. But typically, this is an argument that should be left to surrogates, or friendly members of the media, while the president tries to stay above it all. So it’s really amazing to watch a sitting president lash out at his core constituency so forcefully, and speaks to Obama’s notorious thin skin. Given that liberals were already upset by this tax deal, this press conference is not likely to improve their mood, to say the least. At the same time, his sharp words for Republicans hinder his ability to come across as a bipartisan leader to the American people, which you’d think would be one of the political upsides to compromise.
UPDATE: Here’s a full transcript of the press conference.