Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Disgruntled and Marginalized Base

As President Obama grumbles on the sidelines of the debt ceiling debate, the growing chorus of dissent from liberals who are disgruntled with the White House is starting to be heard. While Monday’s night’s speech proved the president is still playing to his base with class warfare rhetoric aimed at the Republicans, many on the left are unhappy with the cuts to entitlements that Obama has appeared to accept. But an even bigger problem is the president’s supporters have come to realize how ineffectual his efforts have been in this crisis.

Though the president has acted as if all the political stars were aligning to favor his positions on the issue and ultimately his re-election, the impact of recent events on the enthusiasm level of his base must be extremely troubling.

Just a couple of months ago, Democrats were convinced they would spend the next year and a half raking the GOP over the coals for Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposals as they cruised to victory in 2012. They believed Mediscare tactics would be their ticket to retaking the House of Representatives next year as well as dooming Republican presidential hopes.

But the last month of negotiations have not only made it clear to the general public that restoring a semblance of national solvency required cutbacks in entitlements, but many Democrats understand it, too. Though the president has been acting as if a default was in his political interest, it has not escaped the notice of liberals that even his desultory attempts at negotiations have countenanced such cuts.

This has demoralized the left wing of his party in Congress. It is also having an impact on the very same young and liberal voters who elected Barack Obama in 2008. While Obama’s fundraising doesn’t seem to be greatly affected, the president’s bad polling numbers reflect not only the unhappy independents who regret putting him into office but also disillusioned liberals.

While the story that has received the most attention during the course of the debt debate has been the influence of the Tea Party, the marginalization of the political left during the negotiations is far more important. It should be noted that for all of the efforts by Democrats and their allies in the media to demonize the right wing of the GOP as out-of-touch extremists, the left is clearly far more removed from mainstream American political thinking these days than even the most hard-core Tea Partiers. Many Americans may like Obama’s talk of a “balanced approach” to solving the problem, but increasingly fewer are willing to oppose the reforms of entitlements Republicans have proposed.

The president has infuriated his base while doing nothing to convince Americans he can run the country effectively.  Though Obama may still believe he can outmaneuver Republicans on the debt ceiling, all this bodes ill for the president’s hopes in 2012.