The Democratic base can go ahead and scream that Obama caved on the Bush tax cut extension, but the fact is that the Republicans were going to go to the mat on this one, and the President knew it.
Making sure that corporations and the rich pay as little in taxes as possible is the core reason for the Republican Party’s existence. For Republican members of Congress to give an inch on this matter would be tantamount to throwing up their hands and admitting that they are just being obstructionist because it’s fun.
If progressives think that they can shame Republicans by staging populist votes of principle that highlight their allegiance to the wealthy over average, unemployed Americans, then they are being naïve. When it comes to this issue, there is no shame. This is existential. As Deep Throat once said, “Follow the money.”
Besides, the GOP has an ace in the hole. There's all that other stuff⎯the social issues like prayer in the schools, the death penalty, abortion, gun rights, gay bashing⎯that’s just cotton candy the GOP picked up along the way to entice the rubes in the hinterland to vote against their own economic self-interest.
It’s been working, too. Wave the prospect of, say, gays getting married in front of some God-fearing, churchgoing taxpayer, and he won’t see that behind the curtain, his earnest, sincere vote to “take America back” is being twisted to empower cynical plutocrats who are happily picking his pockets.
Barack Obama’s greatest handicap is that, as President, he must be concerned with the welfare of all Americans, not just the ones who can buy influence. The Republicans, not being burdened with that responsibility (and moreover, not caring if everybody knows it), will always hold the strongest hand in negotiations.