Obama Calls Republicans 'Hostage-Takers,' and the Right Takes a Tantrum
In explaining his decision to give in to Republicans on an extension of the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy -- in exchange for maintaining middle-class tax breaks and the extension of unemployment insurance -- President Barack Obama took a jab (well, actually quite a few) at Republicans.
"I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers -- unless the hostage gets harmed, in which case, I think people will question that strategy," Obama said. "In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.
Obama made his remarks at a press conference in the White House press room this afternoon. As soon as they were uttered, the right predictably took great umbrage. At HotAir, AllahPundit called Obama's remarks "snotty," while Michelle Malkin complained about the president's "gracelessness" and "petulance." Because, you know, Republicans and right-wing pundits are typically so gracious and not petulant when it comes to discussing America's first African-American president.
Malkin also took issue with the fact that Obama implied that House Minority Leader (and Speaker-to-be) John Boehner was a "bomb-thrower." Oh, yes, he did. And he named tax cuts for the wealthy as the Republicans' "Holy Grail."
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor ruefully said of the president's "hostage-taker" remarks, "I don't think those kinds of comments were helpful."
John Boehner demurred when asked to comment, claimed not to have heard the president call him names.
Obama's ire was not reserved for Republicans only. He displayed impatience with progressive critics, as well, suggesting that a protracted fight on the issue of tax cuts for the wealthy would have been a "sanctimonious" exercise that would have ultimately hurt real people when unemployment benefits expired, and tax rates for middle-class people went up.
In short, Obama came out swinging -- in ways that are guaranteed to piss off a whole lot of people in Washington, but that will probably play well outside the Beltway. The question is whether they alienate the base. I suspect that, beyond the conference rooms of Washington, not so much.
That's because Obama pounded home a singular theme throughout the 30-minute press conference: that the deal he made was made to keep the American people from harm, to keep them safe. It's the first time I've seen him exercise real message discipline in a press conference since he took office. And it's one that should resonate with regular people -- you, know, people who live outside of Washington.
Now, where Obama refused to own up to his own weakness was when Chuck Todd of NBC News asked the president to respond to criticism from the left that he had gone into negotiations with the GOP from a weak position because he telegraphed that he was willing to compromise on the Republicans' tax-cuts-for-rich-people demand in exchange for what he needed: unemployment extension, extension of middle-class tax cuts plus tax credits for parents of small children, and the college tuition tax credit.
But it sounds as if he's learned something from that criticism. In this press conference, he threw down a gauntlet, promising fights to come on a range of unspecified issues. Of course, he's already told them they can win by holding the American people hostage, so it remains to be seen how much harm Obama will be willing to let them do to any one segment of the population before he cuts a deal.
Before ending the press conference, Obama spoke to progressives' disappointment over the lack of public option in the health-care reform bill, reminding them that Social Security didn't begin as a program for everybody: it was introduced as a program solely for widows and orphans, because that's what FDR could get. He mentioned that Medicare began as a small program. He called progressives' dismay at this latest tax deal "the public option all over again."
This is how he winded up the presser, answering a question from Jonathan Wiseman (transcript via TPM):
This country was founded on compromise. I couldn't go through the front door [points toward the front door of the White House] at this country's founding. And you know if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn't have a Union.
And so, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there: What is helping the American people live out of their lives? You know, what is giving them more opportunity, what is growing the economy, what is making us more competitive? And at any given juncture there're gonna be times where my preferred option, what I'm absolutely positive is right, I can't get done. And so then my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way, or tack a little bit that way, because I'm keeping my eye on the long term, and the long fight, not my day to day news cycle, but where am I going over the long term?
And I don't think there's a single Democrat out there, who if they looked at where we started when I came into office and look at where we are now, would say that somehow we have not moved in the direction that I promised. Take a tally, look at what I promised during the campaign. There's not a single thing that I said that I would do that I have not either done or tried to do. And if I have not gotten it done yet, I'm still trying to do it.
And so, to my Democratic friends, what I'd suggest is, let's make sure that we understand this is a long game, this is not a short game.
If the president's demeanor had been more like this on the day after Election Day, he might have gotten a better deal on the tax cuts. Even if his words sting a bit, I hope he stays this cranky going forward.