With reports out that Obama is negotiating a compromise with the Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, some of his fellow Democrats can no longer hide their frustration. Obama has already received criticism from his left from defeated Democratic Governor Ted Strickland. Today it was Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. According to Harkin, if Obama caves on letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, “He would then just be hoping and praying that Sarah Palin gets the nomination.” Harkin is implicitly implying that Sarah Palin is a loser with no shot of beating Obama, but that if Obama sells out on the Bush tax cuts he will hurt himself politically and be more vulnerable to other Republican challengers in 2012. While Harkin is correct that Obama should be hoping Palin is the nominee in 2012, I disagree with his other point.
Tom Harkin is one of the most passionate progressive Senators in Congress right now. He looks at politics and policy from that perspective and is clearly projecting his own passion onto voters. The idea that capitulating on the Bush tax cuts will hurt Obama politically is simply ridiculous. The vast majority of voters do not care about specific policy issues very much, especially something as benign as extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. And the country is actually very divided on the issue with some polls showing a majority of Americans actually favoring extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone.
If Obama extends the tax cuts for the wealthy, there will not be much lingering voter anger outside of the tiny percentage of liberal activists and talk show hosts out there. Meanwhile, Obama will probably net himself an enormous sum in additional campaign contributions for his 2012 re-election campaign. If the 2010 elections taught us anything, it is that in this post-Citizens United political landscape, money now buys more votes than ever before.
Barack Obama is a very savvy politician. Critics will point to the enormous losses Democrats suffered under his leadership during this year’s midterm elections, but that is irrelevant. Those Congressional losses did not hurt Obama’s own political future, and might even work to his benefit like they did for Bill Clinton in 1996. When Obama’s own political future is on the line he will do whatever it takes to win. Unless voters actually indicate that Obama will personally pay a heavy political price for extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone and giving the wealthy and the corporate lobbyists exactly what they want, he will happily compromise on policy for political gain.
He is a politician after all.