To those who agonized through Obama's Jackie Robinson summer in 2011 and thrilled to his renewed combativeness this fall, I would remind that we've been here before -- and not only when it all worked out in 2008. "I think it's safe to say that President Obama has given up on bipartisanship, at least for the foreseeable future," wrote Jonathan Cohn -- on September 8, 2010. The occasion was an economic speech to the City Club of Cleveland. As Cohn noted with satisfaction, Obama wasn't mincing words As he did a year later, he called out Republicans for opposing forms of stimulus they'd supported in the past:
In fact, if the Republican leadership in Congress really wants to help small businesses, they’ll stop using legislative maneuvers to block an up or down vote on a small business jobs bill that’s before the Senate right now. Right now. (Applause.) This is a bill that would do two things. It would cut taxes for small businesses and make loans more available for small businesses. (Applause.) It is fully paid for, won't add to the deficit. And it was written by Democrats and Republicans. And yet, the other party continues to block this jobs bill -– a delay that small business owners have said is actually leading them to put off hiring.I got pretty excited myself, hoping, as I have hoped since, that Obama's default "mildness may have positioned him now to more effectively attack Republicans" for protecting the interests of what we later learned to call the 1%: (or as framed in Cleveland, the 2-3%). Attack he did:
Look, I recognize that most of the Republicans in Congress have said no to just about every policy I’ve proposed since taking office. I realize in some cases that there are genuine philosophical differences. But on issues like this one -- a tax cut for small businesses supported by the Chamber of Commerce -- the only reason they’re holding this up is politics, pure and simple. (Applause.) They’re making the same calculation they made just before my inauguration: If I fail, they win. Well, they might think that this will get them to where they want to go in November, but it won’t get our country going where it needs to go in the long run. (Applause.) It won’t get us there. (Applause.) It won’t get us there. (Applause.) It won't get us there. (Applause.)
With all the other budgetary pressures we have -– with all the Republicans’ talk about wanting to shrink the deficit -- they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next 10 years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 each to folks who are already millionaires. And keep in mind wealthy Americans are just about the only folks who saw their incomes rise when Republicans were in charge. And these are the folks who are less likely to spend the money -- which is why economists don’t think tax breaks for the wealthy would do much to boost the economy.Which is simply to say that the message is about as effective as the economy allows it to be. If in future years, we remember Obama as a more effective "fighter" in 2012 than he was in 2010, it will be in large part because he got a Reagan roll of receding unemployment. If the economy swings the other way, we'll read that Obama stepped out of character as a fierce populist and so lost his audience, or conversely, that he lost his mojo and let the Republicans write all over him. We'll receive the messaging, in real-time and retrospect, as the economic dice condition us to hear it.
So let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everybody else: We should not hold middle-class tax cuts hostage any longer. (Applause.) We are ready, this week, if they want, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less. (Applause.) That's 98-97 percent of Americans. Now, for any income over this amount, the tax rates would just go back to what they were under President Clinton.
This isn’t to punish folks who are better off –- God bless them. It’s because we can’t afford the $700 billion price tag. (Applause.) And for those who claim that our approach would somehow be bad for growth and bad for small businesses, let me remind you that with those tax rates in place, under President Clinton, this country created 22 million jobs and raised incomes and had the largest surplus in our history. (Applause.)