I think the fundamental displeasure comes from not understanding true toughness. Being tough isn't about delivering verbal beatdowns and pounding the podium. It's about the courage to get things done, make transformational if imperfect changes and moving this country forward. Many of the same people who accuse the President of being tougher on Democrats contend that he simply rolls over for Republican and right wing demands. This of course does not jive with the facts of the record.
It wasn't over unanimous Democratic opposition that President Obama passed historic health reform - something presidents have been talking about but not doing since at least Harry Truman. And let's be clear about something: this law, while imperfect, was a major progressive and Democratic victory. As was Wall Street Reform including tough consumer protections - passed also over near unanimous Republican opposition, student loan reform, a massive investment in American infrastructure and the to-date largest economic stimulus package that included an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and a Making Work Pay refundable tax credit.
All of these things were passed over overwhelming, if not unanimous, Republican opposition. It also took President Obama's leadership to pass credit card reform, not George Bush's, even though the bill passed with relative ease. And these were all progressive measures, by any standards. Because each of these asserted the rightful role of government to protect its people and setting some rules of the road. These are complete anathema to right wing laissez-faire economics. It took a tough, progressive president to get all these things done in just two short years. It took a progressive president who is tough as nail, but knows that looking tough and being tough are two different things.
The pouting of the Left puritans is mostly based on some alleged rhetoric they go to extreme pains to take offense in. Take the super bru-ha-ha about Rahm Emanuel calling liberals "retarded," for example. Never mind that it never happened the way the poutrage artists tell you it did. Never mind that Emanuel actually called an idea - derailing health reform if the public option wasn't in there - "retarded" - not any one person. Another example: the ideological Left old and new media establishment went into what looked like apoplectic shock when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs chided the "Professional Left." Oh, no, the line, again, was "Gibbs called liberals the 'professional left.' " No, he didn't. In that very statement Gibbs took pain to distinguish between the professional left and the progressive grassroots that worked hard to get the President elected. But hey, why pay attention to the truth when you have a straight line to poutrage?
The latest accusations are flying, of course, over the tax deal. That and the fact that the White House has been actively engaged in pushing back on the ideological attacks from the Left. Similar accusations have been made throughout all the other legislative processes also. The truth of the matter is that as we have explained here over and over, President Obama negotiated brilliantly on our side, and forced the Republicans to accept a host of things they have blocked over and over, including extending middle class and small business tax breaks, aid to students, and a big extension of unemployment benefits - a government stimulus package bigger than the last one while the Republicans have been railing against the last.
One last point. All White Houses want to keep their sides in line, so that they require the fewest votes possible from the other side. It's rather funny that those who think the President is too tough on liberals don't seem to recognize that without a united Democratic front, all of these achievements would have been much harder and much weaker. What's even funnier is that those who are accusing the President of being tough in style on Democrats seem particularly fond of the negotiating and tactical style followed by President Bush and the Republican Congress of this past decade. Did these people just forget that Tom Delay used to hold votes open for hours so he could twist the arms of members of his own party? That was the Republican tactic. The ideological Left worships at the alter of that style. So criticizing the President for trying to keep his party in line is not just disregarding history, but also hypocritical on their part.
If your idea of being tough is "barnstorming" and "bully-pulpitting" and simple rhetorical takedowns of the other party as opposed to the toughness of making transformational changes happen, then you might indeed be disappointed in the President. Of course, you also forgot about the beatdown President Obama delivered to House Republicans at their own retreat earlier in the year, but you can be forgiven for that. But if rhetorical devices are your idea of being tough, then I suggest you get re-educated on being tough really means. It doesn't mean what you think it means. It means the courage of one's conviction to do what's right, to make transformational changes happen, to make progress in the most difficult of circumstances. By those standards, Barack Obama is the toughest President in recent memory, and he's toughest on the right wing. And that, by the way is why liberal Democrats support this tax deal by a 2 to 1 margin, and liberals approve of the President by a whopping 87%.