In his press conference yesterday, President Obama testily defended his tax cut deal with Republicans and labeled Democratic opponents of the plan "sanctimonious" and "purist."
So do Obama supporters agree with the president’s assessment that this was the best compromise he could get and he did all he could to fight for middle-class tax cuts and not those for the wealthy?
The answer seems to be a pretty resounding no. A poll commissioned by MoveOn.org yesterday found that 74 percent of Obama volunteers or financial backers in ’08 oppose the deal. More than half said they’d be less likely to support Democrats in 2012 who back the compromise and would be less likely to donate to Obama’s re-election campaign. Pretty sobering statistics for the president and his team.
Yesterday I asked Obama supporters on Twitter and Facebook (an admittedly unscientific sample) what they thought of the deal. Were they satisfied or dismayed? Would it effect how they’d vote in 2012? The responses I received strongly rebuked the president’s position.
"I feel betrayed and insulted," wrote Casey Erixon from Des Moines, Iowa, who volunteered for Obama in Council Bluffs and worked for the Iowa Democratic Party in 2008. "Why should I have to apologize for expecting courage and progressive leadership?"
Ashish Java from Atlanta said he was "horrified with Obama’s inability to fight." Mark Bunster from Lake Oswego, Oregon, called the tax deal the "final straw" and said he’d support a primary challenge to Obama in 2012. Judith Chambers of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, expressed a similar sentiment: "I’m upset by tax cut deal. I’m tired of ‘compromises’ Obama has made on most major legislation. I won’t vote 4 a compromiser."
Andrew G, an Obama volunteer from Ann Arbor, Michigan, said he was "dismayed, but not enough to risk Obama losing in ’12 with a vote for anyone else." A number of responders concurred, saying they’ll still vote for Obama in 2012, despite their unhappiness with the current policy.
Not everyone was upset with the president’s deal and rhetoric. Melissa Achtien, an Obama Republican from Hamilton County, Indiana, liked what she heard. "I appreciated his comments to the left today. If you look at the chart at thinkprogress.org it looks like he did pretty well in his negotiations. He has to compromise and govern more from the center. It is just a fact of life that the liberals have to accept."
But Pam Williamson, a longtime Democratic activist in Boone, North Carolina, who led her local party to big victories in 2006 and 2008, only to suffer major losses in 2010, took strong umbrage to the latest deal, which she saw as a symptom of a much broader problem with Obama. "I’m done with him," Williamson wrote. "Have learned not to expect anything from him. I try to get educated about issues, and I think with few exceptions he is much more interested in the deal than the particulars. Problem is: he’s not good enough to beat the Republicans at…that game. I think he’s hurting the Party, and I’m in it for the long haul. I am going to be more particular about what candidates I support. Fact is, even if I did support him, I know my county pretty well. We are going to have to run away from him hard to try to recoup here in 2012."
Beyond her frustration with Obama’s politics—and how it’s playing in a key swing state Obama won in 2008—Williamson makes a very good point about why the latest tax deal could haunt Democrats and progressives in the future. "This most recent sellout is very serious," she writes. "We are going to have to pay the $1 trillion it costs with borrowed money, and then the Republicans are going to start screaming again about the deficit to slash education, student loans, health care, childcare, you name it to pay for it all. Obama is also going to fall for cutting social security benefits—that’s what that payroll tax cut is a set-up for. This is a political coup by the Republicans. I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday, but apparently President Obama did."
—Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics.