Conservative commentators and liberal independents alike slammed President Obama’s attempt to rally the support of the American people Monday night for raising taxes on the rich, with critics charging that Obama did more 2012 campaigning than leading the nation through a debt crisis.
In a rare nationally televised Monday night speech, critics asserted President Obama seemed to be jockeying more for the support of independent voters than working on a debt solution.
Picking up on themes that pollsters say resonate with independents and rankle liberals, Obama used the term “balanced approach” directly or in like fashion over a half-dozen times. In addition, Obama continued to take sharp jabs at the Bush administration for spending “trillions of dollars in new tax cuts” and referencing “two wars and an expensive prescription drug program,” two more items that resonate with independents, and even invoking the “class warfare” weapon of reminding voters his administration had to spend money on “tax cuts for middle-class families.” He also tried to identify with Ronald Reagan, who enjoyed strong independent support.
Critics say Obama seems oblivious to the fact that there is little chance a major tax hike will be approved by Congress.
“It was a speech entirely divorced from reality,” said Jennifer Rubin, in her “Right Turn” column in Monday’s Washington Post. “The Senate Democrats can’t pass tax hikes. The grand bargain can’t get through the Congress with jumbo tax hikes.” Rubin asserted that “you have to wonder” why the President would continue the tax hike argument when it has been off the table for weeks.
“He’ll face the flood of ‘President Capitulates!’ headlines when it doesn’t come about,” Rubin asserted. “But the answer lies in the sole and consuming passion of this White House: reelection. Hence, the class warfare and the excuse-mongering.”
Charles Krauthammer, political columnist for The Post, saw it the same way, saying, “It’s his Campaign. 2012. He warned, I think it was Eric Cantor in one of these meetings, ‘I will take it to the country.’ That’s what he’s doing. This is campaigning.”
John Podhoretz, writing for Commentary, expected Obama’s speech to presage a budget deal.
“It wasn’t a bad speech. It was a glaringly ineffectual speech,” wrote Podhoretz. “And it adds to the growing impression of the Obama White House that threatens the president’s reelection chances now more than anything else: The impression that he simply doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Possibly the most surprising comment came from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who leans further left than many Democrats. After hearing the speech, Sanders stunned many by suggesting, "I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition."
After budget discussions reached an impasse last Friday, congressional leaders, for the most part, took the issue upon themselves and began hammering out various plans without Obama, albeit in separate rooms. As a result, Monday saw a flurry of activity, as the nation was able to pour over the finer details in each one. That did not sit well with the White House and most likely played a large role in the president’s request for airtime.
Rubin asserted, “President Obama’s decision to give a speech tonight was proof that things have not gone well for him. He threw [another] tantrum in the Friday news conference, he turned down a bipartisan deal presented to him Sunday and thereby took himself out of the limelight.”
“Tonight’s speech was not intended to ‘solve’ the impasse but to make sure Obama would get credit if a deal is struck and avoid blame if it is not,” Rubin added.
Critics say pulling independent voters aboard again is an even more difficult challenge than keeping the few remaining with him. These voters began abandoning Obama’s ship in 2009 when the president talked more about healthcare than the more relevant issue of jobs and the economy.
Because of that pressure from the left, the White House has been reluctant to agree to any concrete plan that reduces spending by encroaching on the “Big 3” entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, though these issues are of interest to independents.