At President Barack Obama's first press conference after winning reelection, CNN's Jessica Yellin posed a saucy question: "Mr. President, on the fiscal cliff, two years ago, sir, you said that you wouldn't extend the Bush-era tax cuts, but at the end of the day, you did. So, respectfully, sir, why should the American people and the Republicans believe that you won't cave again this time?"
With this pointed query, Yellin was reviving a notion that took root within the mainstream media and progressive circles: Obama surrendered in the lame duck session of late 2010, when he and the Republicans tussled over continuing George W. Bush's tax breaks for the well-heeled. In this view, weeks after the president's party was trounced in the midterm congressional elections and weeks before the tea party-ized GOPers were to take control of the House, Obama, who had vowed during the 2008 campaign to kill those tax cuts, acceded to Republican demands for continuing tax relief for those pocketing over $250,000 a year. The establishment media reported that Obama had lost the showdown; liberal House Democrats and progressives off Capitol Hill complained Obama had turned his back on his promise and blinked. There was grousing that Obama either had no taste for a political battle or no spine (or both) and that he had sold out a fundamental principle.
The ghost of that narrative haunts the current moment, for as Obama heads into a similar dust-up—those Bush tax cuts are again set to expire at the end of the year, just as automatic across-the-board budget cuts are scheduled to kick in, and another debt-ceiling fight looms—members of the politirati (such as Yellin) are suggesting that Obama might once more turn tail and betray his promise to say no to another extension of these tax breaks for the rich.
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