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updated: 12/13/2010 9:48 AM

For Obama's critics, grow up

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This is how bad things have gotten in Washington, and how broken our politics has become.

President Obama is being unmercifully and unfairly pummeled by congressional Democrats, labor union leaders and liberals in the media for brokering a deal with Republicans that gave up something and got something in return.

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What Obama gave up was his opposition to a reduction of the estate tax and continuation of tax cuts for individuals who make more than $200,000 and couples who make more than $250,000 annually. What he got in return were the boost in spending necessary to pay for 13 additional months of unemployment benefits, an extension of middle-class tax breaks that cover school tuition and other items, and a reduction of the payroll tax for working Americans.

That's a pretty good deal. Not just because of the relief it gives to a wide spectrum of Americans from the well-off to the unemployed but also because of the process by which that relief was achieved. This give-and-take is a welcome throwback to the way things used to work in Washington. For generations, members of both parties have haggled over pieces of legislation, knowing that they wouldn't get everything they wanted but willing to settle for less.

Journalists, political consultants and other observers of the process lament that those days are gone. But we don't understand just how far gone until something like this tax cut/spending compromise comes along and the firestorm begins.

Most Republicans like the compromise. But Democrats are accusing Obama of caving in to pressure from the other side and giving away too much. In the strongest language, they say he has betrayed the poor and middle class in embracing some of the very things he campaigned against.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the deal "unconscionable" and said it amounted to a "bonus for the super rich." The liberal activist group MoveOn.org accused Obama of "leaving principles behind."

There is even talk that all this anger and disappointment could spark an insurgency and produce a challenge to Obama in the Democratic primary in 2012.

The critics don't seem to care that Lawrence Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council, has predicted an increased risk of a "double dip" recession if Congress rejects the compromise. That's because those critics are not worried about what's best for the country, only what's best for their side of the political divide.

Obama has tried to fight back. In a 35-minute news conference, he scolded liberals for wanting to preserve ideological purity instead of looking for solutions. He is not happy with Republicans either, likening them to "hostage takers" intent on getting their demands met at any cost.

It's obvious that Obama isn't completely satisfied with his own compromise. That's how we know it's a good deal. What seems to frustrate him most is that so much of his own liberal base doesn't understand that this is how politics works. Or at least, the way it should.

There's nothing wrong with Obama being challenged by supporters. In fact, it should happen more often.

Immigration reform groups should rise up and challenge the White House for abandoning comprehensive immigration reform. Civil libertarians should be complaining loudly over the fact that Obama has preserved most, if not all, of George W. Bush's anti-terror policies. And the anti-war crowd should continue to voice its opposition to the United States maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan. The list goes on and on.

Whether these groups are right or wrong isn't the point. What matters is that, as often as possible, a president ought to hear criticism from his friends and not just his foes. It's good for the president, and it's good for the political process.

But, at the same time, those groups have to be careful not to go too far. They can't afford to come across like spoiled children throwing a tantrum because they want their way but refuse to modify their behavior to get it.

It's time to grow up. Congress should accept this compromise, and Obama's critics on the left should accept reality.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

2010, The Washington Post Writers Group

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