Trick question time.
As it turns out, the initial polling on the spending deal favored Barack Obama and the Democrats. It's one poll, and wording can matter a lot in these things, but suppose that it holds up. Suppose further that one of the main reasons that Obama is polling well on this is because of his conciliatory remarks on Friday night after the deal was struck, remarks which mostly infuriated liberals because Obama accepted the idea that government should cut spending during hard times. Here's the trick question: if all that is true (and again, I'm not saying it is; I don't know), then should liberals accept that it's necessary for Democratic politicians to sometimes say things they don't like in order for Democrats to actually win elections sometimes?
Why is it a trick question? Because even if you accept the premise (people approve of Obama's handling of the showdown because of the tone of his comments), the implications are all phony.
On the one hand, it's highly unlikely that the immediate fallout from this deal will have any effect at all on public opinion down the road. Had there been a shutdown, sure, it's possible (although see John Sides), but for a nonevent such as avoiding a shutdown that no one (in the general public) was worried about? No way.
On the other hand, far too much is made of the immediate importance of presidential rhetoric. Republicans are going to do what they're going to do on the debt ceiling and the FY 2012 budget regardless of what Barack Obama said Friday night. Public opinion to "government spending" in the abstract isn't going to change. Ezra Klein says that "By celebrating spending cuts, [Obama and Harry Reid have] opened the door to further austerity measures." I disagree! That door is open because a party preaching austerity won a major landslide in November.
Obama and the Democrats are perfectly able to say yea or nay to the next austerity measures that show up regardless of what they said Friday night. They're even perfectly able to reverse themselves and argue that austerity is a bad thing after all -- or, more likely that we've now had enough austerity, or that this is the wrong kind, or whatever (after all, John Boehner isn't going to surrender his new position on the debt ceiling just because he said something different last year). But there's nothing at all the Democrats can say that will stop Republicans from advocating large cuts in government spending. That door is not closing.
So it's a trick question because it really doesn't matter very much how Barack Obama framed the spending deal on Friday night. Given that, I can understand an argument that Obama should have given a statement that would have made liberal bloggers happier...but I can also understand an argument that claiming victory and, with any luck, getting a short-term approval boost is worth doing. Either way, the stakes are just very low.