Five million first-time voters turned out in 2008, many drawn by Obama’s promise of hope and overwhelmingly voting for Democrats. Now disappointed, or at least apathetic, they may not go to the polls this year. Obama’s support has dropped below 50 percent from nearly 70 percent after 15 months in office, Gallup opinion polls show. Gay rights supporters, anti-abortion activists, environmentalists and backers of immigration reform all have seen their agendas stalled, with watered-down healthcare the main accomplishment of Obama’s once-ambitious agenda.
At Monday’s rally in Los Angeles, protesters shouted at Obama to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy that allows gays to serve if they keep quiet about their sexual preference. Gays believe that makes them second-class citizens, and Obama has vowed to repeal the policy.
“Hey hold on a second. We are going to do that,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re hollering,” he added.
Supporters shouted “Yes we can,” his slogan from the 2008 election, and “Be quiet,” but the discontent lingers.
But didn’t health-care reform boost the Left’s spirits? Not really: “Many on the left who want more are fighting the president and one another. Others are abandoning politics. Both trends bode poorly for Democrats, who have controlled both houses of Congress in addition to the White House since January 2009.” Health-care reform seems to have aggravated as many as it pleased. (“A fight over whether federal funds could be used to pay for abortion tied up the bill and split the party, which has been a strong supporter of abortion rights but now has a significant wing opposed to abortion.”) And without the public option, many on the Left are as angry as those on the Right that Big Insurance now gets enriched as a result of a liberal president’s signature issue. Other liberal wish-list items — climate control, card check, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the closing Guantanamo – are not going anywhere.
The Left’s grumpiness is not simply a problem for presidential appearances. It was the new, younger, and largely liberal Democratic electorate that boosted Obama over Hillary Clinton and then John McCain and delivered huge majorities to the Democrats in the House and Senate. When that electorate doesn’t show up supportive in November, many Democrats are at risk: “Four of the 10 Senate races where Democrats may lose, including Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election bid in Nevada, are in states that had above-average increases in turnout between 2006 and 2008, Professor Tom Schaller of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, calculated. … Battles for governor that could be affected by the new 2008 voters include California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Georgia and Illinois, he calculated, noting that new governors will oversee redrawing federal voting districts after the 2010 census.”
It’s a rare president who doesn’t disappoint some starry-eyed supporters. But Obama’s problem is more acute, in large part because expectations were so high, and he consciously played into the cult of personality that worshipped him as the savior of the Left. He’s lost the Center, enraged the Right, and bummed out the Left. Not every president can do all that.