Why Obama Is Breaking Up With Democrats

Obama's not a progressive, Democrats are all talk and 2012 is right around the corner.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

2012 Starts Now

We’re either two years away from the start of Obama’s second term or two years from the start of a Romney/Christie/Pence/Daniels/Gingrich/Barbour/Pawlenty administration.

With polls showing a majority of Americans favor ending tax cuts for top earners, Obama is taking a risk by agreeing to a two-year extension, because it means that the issue comes back in 2012. But first he’s got to get to 2012, and that means grabbing the initiative before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives.

He’s going to have to veto something eventually, but he probably doesn’t want his first order of business in 2011 to be vetoing a tax cut that the GOP somehow sneaks past Senate Democrats.

What remains to be seen is whether the tax deal is a one-off or part of a concerted effort to put some space between himself and liberals in Congress and start doing his own thing. It wouldn’t exactly be a replay of Bill Clinton’s 1994 “triangulation” strategy because Clinton didn’t have wars and bank bailouts to deal with. And Clinton didn’t pass health care reform — he just talked about it a lot.

Many progressives would disagree, but Obama has taken the big-ticket progressive issues about as far as he can go. There’s still an opportunity to lead on matters of pure principle, like ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” But for now, a tax increase is DOA. Even billionaires like Warren Buffett who are OK with higher taxes probably wonder whether the government would spend the money wisely. 

If you knew what was on Obama’s iPod in the White House gym Wednesday morning after he announced the deal, you might be able to predict what his next move is going to be. Maybe it was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

Or maybe it was an old-school break-up song. Picture Obama: Too-high sweatpants, lip busted, face tight, head down, handcuffed by two years of hyperpartisanship, pushing play on Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road Jack” as he steps on the treadmill. Now the door is wide open, and to reset his agenda, he might want to make a run for it, go his own way, not look back and holler at progressives over his shoulder: “It’s not you. It’s me.”

David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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