David Usborne: How many more promises will Mr Obama ditch?


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The Independent Online

It is a given that as the 2012 election looms, those large numbers of Americans who cannot abide President Barack Obama will continue to smear him as a socialist ideologue bent on turning America into a fantasy European welfare state. He has become quite the traitor to his own platform then, hasn’t he?

By any measure, what he has agreed to over these hours of high panic in Washington DC to avoid a default by his government is not a manifesto for looking after the poor or working class. Or even the middle class. He called it a compromise deal. Liberals in his own party consider it a huge and ill-played capitulation. It’s a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich,” griped Democrat congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.

They will rationalise in the White House of course. At least the deal envisions raising the debt ceiling, in two stages, sufficiently to keep the fight from resuming in the midst of the presidential race. And drawing America back from default was crucial; no occupant Oval Office occupant would want to go down in history for allowing that kind of shock So Mr Obama did have to give a little.

And his advisors will attempt to persuade us that he can still make lemonade from this. He has surely by now demonstrated that he is not a traditional tax-and-spend liberal which should make him more palatable to those crucial independents next year. The Obamacare push seemed to put his leftist credentials in neon, this will help neutralise that. It was by moving to the centre that Bill Clinton won his second term in 1996.

Probably he will also argue that this was always part of his grand strategy to dedicate the first half of his term to Keynsian-style spending to avoid a depression while shifting to austerity policies later.

But there are reasons his liberal base are steaming. Day in day out, he demanded a solution that was “balanced” and that meant including a mechanism to boost tax revenues alongside stripping down of government programmes. The Republican said no and can surely now laugh at him behind their hands. They got away with it. Yet again. “The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down”, House Speaker crowed on Capitol Hill after the deal emerged.

How many more promises will Mr Obama ditch? Liberals elected him to stop wars. He has pushed the Afghan war to new boundaries. They expected him to close Guantanamo Bay. It is still there. They demanded that he end the Bush tax cuts on the rich. It hasn’t happened yet. Immigration, gay marriage are other issues he has struggled to deliver on.

Yesterday, the White House was straining to insist that on the tax issue the game still isn’t over because the agreement will set up a super-committee of six Democrats and six Republicans to find ways of cutting the deficit still further beginning next year with more cuts and perhaps some tax code reform. Mr Obama will now campaign for tax hikes in whatever they agree. Good luck with that, even if most polls suggest that a majority of Americans accept that some rate increases on the wealthy would be wise.

Not surprisingly, questions are being asked in the liberal wing about the president’s negotiating skills. What will gall them above all is the memory that an early grand package that Mr Obama almost banged out with Speaker Boehner actually did include a revenue-raising element. But in an extraordinary snub to the presidency, Mr Boehner walked out on those talks one Friday afternoon and that was that.

How far Mr Obama has ingratiated himself to the great middle of America remains to be seen. Winning it next year will be vital, of course. His acolytes meanwhile will tell you he has nothing to worry about when it comes to the left of his party because who else are they going to vote for next year? But that ignores the concern that they just won’t vote at all and they won’t organise for him like they did in 2008.

Perhaps the best Mr Obama can hope for is that he will emerge as the closest thing to a sane person in Washington. Compromising is grown-up, he will say. And it is true that in their hour of triumph, the Republicans may wonder what longer-term damage has been done to their party given the fact that those Tea Party “hobbits”, as Senator John McCain called them, seem now to have completed their take-over.