Commentary Magazine


Betting on Criticism from the Left

As independent voters continue to flee the president they once sought, Obama’s reelection campaign plans to adopt a middle-of-the-road strategy in an pitch to win them back:

President Obama opened the week by calling on Democrats to embrace his re-election campaign. He closed it by praising Republicans for forging a compromise to cut spending this year and avert a government shutdown. The juxtaposition made clearer than ever the more centrist governing style Mr. Obama has adopted since his party’s big losses in November and his recapture-the-middle strategy for winning a second term.

Politically this is the safest bet. As the Republican candidates play to the conservative base, Obama will have months to recast himself as a centrist while his proxies paint the GOP field as “extreme” and “right-wing.” This gives him to ability to simultaneously court independents while keeping his left-wing base in line. Liberals may grumble that Obama is kowtowing to the center too, but as long as he manages to make Republicans look frightening, his campaign calculates that the left will still fall into line.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll do so quietly.

Irritated at being taken for granted, liberals have already begun lashing out at the president and calling for a “get tough” strategy. Cenk Uyger writes:

It’s time to stop playing nice with Democrats. Good cop-good cop doesn’t work. We need a bad cop. We need a strong progressive wing to keep shouting “no deal!” every time the White House wants to concede (which will be every time). You can ignore this, blame me and go hug the president one more time, but you won’t be doing your side any favors. If you actually care about policy and progressive priorities, you must get tough with the president right now. There is no next time.

At the New York Times, a less-brash Paul Krugman is obviously distressed by Obama’s plan as well:

[H]is political strategists seem to believe that [Obama] can win re-election by positioning himself as being conciliatory and reasonable, by always being willing to compromise. . . . But if you ask me, I’d say that the nation wants—and more important, the nation needs—a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that’s not what we’re seeing.

But this presents another problem for the left: their attacks may only play into his reelection strategy. Criticism from both GOP candidates and the liberal base may be the exactly what the president is betting on.