Why Obama’s “Sanctimonious” Comments Matter

I secretly write for the Atlantic now, in case you were wondering about the style of the headline. Ok, fine — I just couldn’t think of any snarkily shitheaded version of the same thing.


Before President Obama’s Tuesday news conference, it was clear that his willingness to compromise with Republicans on extending George W. Bush-era tax cuts had left many liberal Democrats angry and dismayed. By the time the president stepped away from the White House podium 32 minutes later, it was equally clear the feeling was mutual.

Obama’s tone was alternately defensive and fiery. He dismissed his Democratic critics as “sanctimonious” and obsessed with staking out a “purist position.” He said they hold views so unrealistic that, by their measure of success, “we will never get anything done.”

“I don’t think there’s a single Democrat out there who, if they look 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,” he said.

“Take a tally,” the president challenged members of his party, seeming more riled by their criticism than by the opposition’s. “Look at what I promised during the campaign. There’s not a single thing that I’ve said that I would do that I have not either done or tried to do. And if I haven’t gotten it done yet, I’m still trying to do it.”

via Obama calls liberal critics ‘sanctimonious’.

So the POTUS has had his latest little fit of lashing out at people who’d at least like to support him, and amazingly enough Dem/liberal commentators can’t decide whether this is a big deal*. I think it is, and it’s really pretty simple: it’s yet another example of Obama — inadvertently or not, and increasingly I lean toward the latter — laying rhetorical cover conservative ideas. What happens when a Republican criticizes or disagrees with Obama? They’re reasonable, well-intentioned, have ideas worth discussing, etc. You know where this is going but what happens when a liberal criticizes or disagrees with Obama, specifically for what is viewed as insufficient devotion to things Obama himself claims to believe in?

Well, it turns out that person doesn’t actually care about policy. They’re “sanctimonious” — excessively self-righteous to the degree of hypocrisy — and all they care about is ideological purity. To hear the President tell it not only are Obama’s most rabid opponents thoughtful, well-reasoned people with good intentions but his supporters are shortsighted assholes who could not care less about anything but shoring up their own ideological purity.

I guess in this case busting a bigger hole in the budget and setting up for a complete derailing of 2012’s legislative season (when the high-end cuts will come up for renewal and we go through this whole thing all over again) is the smart and reasonable thing to do. Reinforcing the idea that pushing for more-progressive ideas — like say the Democratic Party Platform, or Obama’s own campaign promises regarding taxes — is evidence of foolish “purity police” behavior at best is the smart and reasonable thing to do. Of course as we know, Obama is kind and decent and tries very hard and we can tell that this is the  best we could’ve ever gotten by the fact that this is what we’re going to get**. Of course — again — there’s that whole thing where candidate Obama promised he’d do better than this, and earlier this year even President Obama thought more was possible. But those were Just Campaign Promises(tm), situations are fluid, the Senate are all obstructionists, have you ever actually worked in Washington and watched how difficult it is to make the sausage? etc. etc. etc. The truly wise among us know that nothing a politician says matters in any way shape or form — up until the point where the bill is passed and the politician says they tried their best, at which point their word is sacrosanct.

This guy is like the reverse Goldwater: willing to cave at the drop of the hat, but only as long as it allows him a chance to shit on his own party’s platform in the process. I saw a comment somewhere today that likened it to a football coach who immediately kicks a field goal every time he crosses midfield, because trying to get it into the end zone is difficult and runs the risk of upsetting the other team’s fans. Then the coach holds a press conference where he berates his fans for being so upholden to ideological purity that they actually expect he’d try and score a touchdown. I think that’s pretty accurate, minus the part where I’m (gag) “a fan of Obama’s team” anyway. I’ll keep voting for Dems in general until there’s a better option but we’re approaching two years in now with this President. I’ve seen how he operates and I have a pretty well-formed idea of what I think he’s about. He’d have to do something that would be shockingly outt’ve character from what he’s established thus far to get my vote a second time. Forget everything else, I’m supposed to vote for some cocksucker who has now made multiple gestures toward longterm cuts to my social security? And he’s the Democrat? And if I can’t stomach a vote for him that just shows how selfish I am for caring about myself and others in my situation rather than making sure the Democrats are rewarded at all costs because the GOP is marginally worse on most issues and BOOGABOOGASARAHPALIN?

Well then I suppose checking the box for the Greens in ’12 makes me sanctimonious. You hold onto that if it makes you feel good, Mr. President. Sorry to have failed you so. … And speaking of campaigning, isn’t that last bit of Obama’s quote such a rousing defense? I remember in ’08 when he promised to “either close or try to close Guantanamo,” “end or try to end warantless wiretaps and other abuses of presidential power,” “eliminate or try to eliminate the Bush tax cuts on upper incomes,” etc. It’s revealing that he “[hasn’t] gotten done yet,” his idea of a pep talk is to say that he’ll keep trying. Obama ’12: Because he’s really, really trying. Obama ’12: Presidenting is hard.

Call him the goalpost-mover in chief I guess.

*And while we’re at it, notice WH Common Wisdom Sponge Ezra Klein labelling the $120 billion payroll tax holiday / Social Security benefit reduction end-around as a win for Dems.

**At least until it becomes necessary to toss the unemployment extension to make sure we keep the Bush (aka “Dem messaging fail”) tax cuts for the middle class, at which point the Pragmatic Dems who’re currently pretending that anyone who’s uncomfortable with this deal hates the unemployed will suddenly realize that the actual Progressive Principle That Must Not Be Compromised is the importance of stimulating the economy through tax cuts.


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