President Obama has likely made more enemies than friends in his effort to sell the Republicans' tax cut for the rich in the last couple of days. Fellow Democrats and progressive commenters alike are buzzing over his "sanctimonious" remark, among other attempts to position himself as Washington's only adult. But in the effort to further cement his reputation as the great compromiser, he made a far more offensive remark yesterday that reveals just how much he seems to misunderstand about leadership in tough times.
Just after calling his fellow Democrats sanctimonious for defending a core principle they've campaigned on for a decade, the president proceeded to tick off examples of principled compromises in American history—FDR taking what he could get on Social Security, LBJ starting small with Medicare. Then he made this stunning remark:
This country was founded on compromise. I couldn't go through the front door at this country's founding. And if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn't have a union.
Mr. President, WTF?! Which one of the "compromises" that allowed a slave republic to endure from more than a century is he celebrating here? Perhaps the one where black people were counted as a fraction of humans in order to preserve a balance of power that allowed Northern and Southern aristocrats alike to get rich off of murderous slave labor? No, we wouldn't have had a union without that. Or maybe he's pitching forward to the "compromises" of the post-Reconstruction era, when the white capitalists of the North got too spooked by white laborers' demands for reasonable wages, and so abandoned the promises of Emancipation. That, too, kept the union plowing forward—into another century of apartheid and state-sanctioned terrorism.
President Obama literally rode into Washington draping himself in historical comparison to Abe Lincoln—whistle-stop train ride and all. But he deeply misunderstands the man he imitated. The fact of the matter is that the only reason the president can "go through the front door" now is that at key points in history important leaders did, in fact, stand up for ideal positions. It was not compromise but rather a long, bloody war that ultimately preserved the union he now leads.
It's maddening to watch a president give in so easily on a matter of such importance in the middle of this brutal economy. But it's plain offensive to hear him spin that crass decision in grand historical terms that he either misunderstands or deliberately distorts. Sell this disastrous policy if you wish, Mr. President, but leave the deadly battle to make this country live up to the ideals it professes out of it.
Cross-posted at ColorLines.com