Fighter or compromiser?

    Apparently it’s the Republicans’ world. Barack Obama only lives in it.The president said as much yesterday, during a press conference. In his words, “I have not been able to budge them.” (Translation: “They’re stronger than me.”) So he was the one who budged. He climbed into the trunk of their car, and off they drove.On Monday, Obama essentially signed off on the signature domestic achievement of the Bush era: an extension of tax cuts for the fat cat Americans who least need them. He paid a high ransom to the party that was holding America hostage. Yet he insisted in the press conference that his retreat was only temporary, “a very unique circumstance,” and that in two years time he will escape from the trunk, grab the wheel, eject the Republicans, kill off the fat-cat tax cuts, and steer America to safety.In his words, “I’m itching for a fight…I’m keeping my eye on the long term and the long fight, not my day-to-day news cycle.”But the big unknown, as I indicated here yesterday, is whether in 2012 he’ll indeed wage that fight on behalf of Democratic party principles, or whether he’ll again signal a desire to “compromise” with the Republicans by caving to their fat-cat priorities. What assurances do we have that Obama will fight any harder over the next two years – when the Republicans, having already deemed him weak, will be incrementally cranking up the heat?As former Bill Clinton chief of staffer and Democratic think-tanker John Podesta asked yesterday, “How will he avoid repeating the same scenario being played out again and again for the next two years? That’s a question that is keeping me awake at night.”And no wonder. Obama, during his press conference, telegraphed the usual mixed signals. On the one hand, he insisted that “I’ve got a whole bunch of lines in the sand,” and that he intends to draw those lines in 2011 and 2012 – when, presumably, a rebounding economy will have boosted his job-approval numbers, and the Republicans will have discovered that sharing governance requires making tough choices. In his view, he’ll have the upper hand; presumably, the Republicans will realize, given the ever-deepening deficit, that they’d have to slash popular entitlement programs in order to permanently keep their fat-cat tax breaks. Here’s how he framed the near future: “Over the next two years, (the Republicans) are going to have to show me what it is they think they can do. And I think it becomes pretty clear, after you go through the budget line by line, that if in fact they want to pay for $700 billion worth of tax breaks for wealthy individuals, that that’s a lot of money, and that the corresponding (spending) cuts that would have to be made are very painful. So either they rethink their position (on favoring the rich), or I don’t think they’re going to do very well in 2012.”Under that scenario, he’ll be the populist defender of the average American, drawing lines in the sand against the party of the rich, saying no forever to those high-end tax cuts.On the other hand, his most impassioned remarks yesterday were aimed not at Republicans, but at members of his own party – those who are “sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are.” And he was most eloquent when talking not about the importance of fighting for principle, but about the fine art of brokering good-faith deals within the opposition: “In order to get stuff done, you have to compromise….This country was founded on compromise….If we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn’t have a union.”The thing is, Republicans are always thinking about their “ideal positions.” As Obama himself said yesterday, “On the Republican side, this is their holy grail, these tax cuts for the wealthy.” Yet, in the apparent spirit of compromise, Obama seems less committed to the Democrats’ holy grail, which decrees that the wealthy should pay their fair share. Why should anyone believe his vow that he’ll defend his party’s holy grail during the next two years – given the fact that, in his words, the Capitol Hill GOP will be in “a stronger position” than it is now? So which Obama are we likely to see, going forward: the fighter or the compromiser? His likely oscillations are bound to keep Democratic voters awake at night.——-Thirty years ago tonight, while I was watching the brand-new cable channel CNN, a young news reader named Kathleen Sullivan informed me, with the shaken demeanor of a deer framed by headlights, that John Lennon had died of an assassin’s bullet wounds. As a first-generation Beatles fan, my insides emptied out. Lennon would be 70 if alive today, and, given the still-vital careers of aging rockers such as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, it’s tragic that he was denied the chance to stage repeated artistic reinventions, as well he might have. We are all the poorer for it.Elsewhere in death, we should salute Elizabeth Edwards for her classy twilight years. Even her last posted words were classy. Granted, she came off as a crazy person in the pages of Game Change, the dishy best-seller about the ’08 campaign, but it’s safe to assume that she was seriously stressed by her killer illness and craven spouse. In any event. none of the politicking and scandal-mongering is important now. I keep thinking about the two young boys she left behind. They should be proud of their mother. ——-On a far lighter note, check out this Johnny Carson riff, from 1982, about lying politicians. It’s not edgy by today’s standards, but, oh, did that guy have great comic timing or what?

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