‘Grown-up’ pains

President Obama’s strategy of being “the grown-up in the room” simply isn’t working.

It’s been a rough several years for progressives, watching the president they worked so hard to elect punt away issue after issue in endless bids for compromises the GOP simply won’t make. The question isn’t the validity of compromising as a path toward solutions, but the notion that compromise has value in and of itself — particularly against a GOP that overtly set out from day one to destroy Obama’s presidency. And in the three years since, they’ve also made clear they’re willing to destroy the nation’s economy to improve their 2012 electoral chances.

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Republicans have obstructed at every step, aided and abetted in the early days of Democratic supermajorities by a small group of corporatist Democrats. Republican filibusters quickly surpassed all previous records. They openly question Obama’s patriotism, his citizenship, his legitimacy.

Yet through it all, Obama kept to the high ground, continuing his fruitless search for reasonable partners with whom to work. The president was so quick to surrender on each battle that Republicans often ended up with better deals than their opening gambits. It was hilarious watching the Heritage Foundation scrub its website of glowing praise for healthcare mandates — a key GOP position until Obama adopted it. 

The administration’s defenders were quick to explain his rationale — that the American “center” would reward Obama for being the “grown-up” in a room full of bickering, uncompromising children. Witness the debt-limit fight, when Republicans took the U.S. and world economies to the brink of disaster in a bid to score political points. Rather than focus on the No. 1 issue among voters — jobs — Obama spent months engaging Republicans in a fight over how many jobs to destroy and how much of the nation’s social net to gut via government cuts. These calls for austerity were a stunning display of tone-deafness as the nation’s anemic economic recovery sputtered to a standstill.

But Obama insisted on being the grown-up, even as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) stormed out of meetings and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) let the Tea Party Caucus take over the negotiations. Republicans had reason to be confident in their hostage taking — they knew Obama would surrender. And he did, as Boehner said, giving Republicans 98 percent of what they wanted.

Now, all this “grown-up” business might be justifiable if Obama was surging in the polls. But the exact opposite has happened. In Gallup’s early July polling, Obama stood at 46 percent approval, 45 percent disapproval. Last week, he hit all-time lows of 40 percent approval, 53 percent disapproval. Among precious independents, his approval rating was a woeful 27 percent. Furthermore, his support among the key base groups of Latinos, post-graduates, 18- to 29-year-olds and low-income Americans is now below 50 percent. No one cares whether Obama is the grown-up. They want results. 

Of course, Republicans aren’t faring much better. Congress is also notching record-high disapproval ratings, and Boehner and company are far less popular than Obama. As an Associated Press/GfK poll found last week, 65 percent of Americans want to throw their own bum out of Congress. Historically, people have wanted to throw everyone else’s bum out. 

But Boehner and company aren’t running for president. Obama is. And he’d do himself a favor if he gave people a reason to vote for him, rather than against whatever the GOP’s Tea Party primary electorate vomits up.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)