The raja of reasonableness

    Obama re-election maven David Plouffe was certainly “on message” yesterday. Consider these excerpts, culled from his appearance on Meet The Press:”Our leaders in both parties on behalf of all Americans showed they could come together, compromise. Compromise, by the way, cannot be a dirty word. It’s the way we’re going to move forward as a country in divided government…”The President’s approach, as you saw, was to try and encourage all parties to come together. Not get engaged in kind of the political spitball fight back and forth. But, listen, we have divided government…”We have divided government. So we’re going to have to bring leaders together, and figure out where we can compromise…”It’s going to be hard to bridge divides. But we have to find common ground…Certainly we can come together…And now we’ve come together to cut spending…The important thing is, both parties came together…We need to come together in this country…”Come on, people, now. Smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”OK, I’m just checking to see if you’re awake; that last paragraph consists of lyrics from the touchy-feely ’69 hit song “Get Together” by The Youngbloods. But the preceding four paragraphs were all Plouffe. His message: President Obama, between now and 2012, intends to position himself as the seeker of centrist consensus, as the raja of reasonableness, as the high-road nonpartisan broker who will smile on his partisan brothers and get them together in the spirit of love and conciliation.The big question, however, is whether this stance will satisfy his ever-restive Democratic base – because, based on the last two deals (December and last Friday), it appears that Obama’s idea of centrist compromise is to give the Republicans most of what they want.Last Friday, for instance, he boasted that the ’11 budget deal to prevent a government shutdown features “the biggest annual spending cut in history” – $40 billion, which is deeper than even House Speaker John Boehner originally proposed – a cut that most Democrats believe will actually slow down economic growth and inch unemploymnent upward. Drew Westen, a political analyst who specializes in Democratic messaging, undoubtedly spoke for many in the party base when he complained late Friday that Obama’s idea of compromise is tantamount to a sellout: “Herbert Hoover must be smiling in his grave tonight, having finally won his victory over FDR.” And California congressman George Miller, a prominent voice in the progressive camp, complained that, thanks to Obama’s two compromises, “Poor and middle-class families have already received more than their fair share of pain…while the wealthy and special interests have paid no price.”The electoral risk for Obama, at least with respect to revving up the Democratic base, is that his chosen role of Great Compromiser will inspire more snores than enthusiasm. It’s all well and good to be a reasonable guy who is open to compromise, but the Democratic base is still wondering whether Obama has convictions on which he is loathe to compromise.Compromise, in itself, is merely a process; it is not a substitute for principles. And only one side right now is pushing its principles; the Republicans are already poised to squeeze him hard on the ’12 budget, with their principled pitch to end Medicare as we know it, and lower the tax rate for rich people. Plouffe, on Meet The Press, suggested that those GOP’s ideas won’t fly at the bargaining stage (“certainly the president is not going to support a lot of what’s in that plan”), but where’s the evidence that Obama will stand firm? Obama is slated to outline his own ’12 budget ideas in a Wednesday speech – he’ll reportedly propose tax hikes for the rich, along with Medicare savings that would preserve the program – but Obama’s supporters, the people he needs to vote en masse in 2012, are undoubtedly concerned that he’ll move the needle rightward, in the spirit of “coming together” and “common ground.”What’s the good of compromise, his own voters may ask themselves, if the Republicans continue to roll him? Because thus far it would appear that the raja of reasonableness is channeling The Beatles:”Come together, right now, over me.”

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    But Obama still seems like he has the edge in the ’12 presidential race. At least at the moment. In the wake of his official re-election announcement last week, I looked at his re-election odds in my Sunday newspaper column. The remark by liberal leader Roger Hickey is germane to the blog post today.

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