For 34-year-old Adam Green, the midterm elections were not a repudiation of liberalism but a rejection of Barack Obama’s accommodating style. “The only way to get the Republicans to the table,” he says, “is to punch them in the face real hard on one issue.”
So when he read this month about White House aides conceding that they would likely support a tax-cut extension for the richest 2% of Americans — in violation of a core campaign pledge — Green took to his e-mail. “President Obama, ARE YOU KIDDING?” he wrote to the 600,000-strong e-mail list of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which he helped found. “Fight the Republicans already!” (See how the White House is grappling with a new reality.)
Within days, more than 143,000 people signed the petition calling for Obama to “fight, don’t cave” on the tax cuts. Those who supported the effort were told to contact their member of Congress to demand a single vote to force Republicans and conservative Democrats to choose between extending tax cuts for everyone but the rich and letting all the tax cuts expire. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka began pushing the same message among the Democratic leadership, and liberal blogs started ruminating on the White House waffling, saying Democrats looked weak, among other things.
Green’s analysis falls outside the received wisdom in Washington, where the midterm elections have been interpreted more as a rebellion of the middle against the left. The White House is now plotting a shift to win back the middle before 2012. Legislative compromise, arduous negotiations and complex procedural maneuvering await.