Obama’s recent conversion to the old-time Democratic religion of class conflict — preached at Occupy Wall Street tent meetings — has rallied American liberalism. This approach has its limits. A message that shores up support from the left may complicate Obama’s appeal to independents. The construction of a 43 percent floor may also involve the construction of a ceiling not far above it. But Obama’s appeal to the political middle was no longer working. A base strategy was his only credible strategy, and it seems to have prevented a polling collapse.Obama's current strategy -- highlighting his policy contrasts with Republicans, hammering them for resisting new taxes on the wealthy, pushing popular stimulus measures (by other names), and "balanced" deficit reduction -- is aimed as much at "independents" -- or rather, at majorities much broader than the Democratic base -- as it is on shoring up that base. As Greg Sargent says, Gerson is "just wrong about the Dems’ new populism being a “base” strategy."
Obama now is exploiting broad-based support for the basic thrust of his policies: infrastructure investment, continued tax relief for the middle class, tax increases for the wealthiest, and "balanced" deficit reduction that combines such taxes with back-loaded long-term cuts in projected spending. All of these measures are popular. Americans want action on jobs; and by now the message that in recent decades the top 1% has creamed off most of the benefits of economic growth has penetrated deep. Majorities of Republicans, let alone independents, support additional taxes for the rich, the payroll tax cut extension, and some infrastructure investment.
Moreover, the notion that Obama could broaden his support by being less confrontational or continuing in his prior mode of soft-pedaling his differences with the GOP while seeking compromise is an obvious fallacy. In the wake of the last-minute, revenue-free budget deal struck on August 1 Obama's poll numbers took an across-the-board dive, not because voters disapproved of his advocacy for new taxes in any deficit reduction deal, but because he failed to get what he had argued persuasively was essential. He was punished for perceived weakness and ineffectuality, not for advocating "socialist" policies.
Short of good economic luck or policy moves that actually make such luck, the best thing Obama can do for himself politically is to win a pitched battle with Republicans (which might even help make such luck). Even the payroll tax cut may serve to a degree, simply because he's said it must be done, and after apparent resistance Republicans will probably let it happen, if only because they can't let their alleged aversion to all taxes be exposed as aversion to taxes for the wealthy only. A government shutdown, triggered by some poison pill social provisions inserted by the House Tea Party into the 2012 budget bills, might do the trick more dramatically. Ultimately, Obama may even get some kind of long-term tax/budget agreement, if Republicans are convinced that he'd both let all the Bush tax cuts expire and let the sequestered defense cuts mandated by the supercommittee failure take place rather than give away the store on new revenue and non-defense spending.