In the Crossfire

You get the sense Obama is in quite a fix. Politico runs two stories headlined: “Dems grouse as Obama tacks to center” and “Big bang takes toll on moderates.” So on one hand, liberals are annoyed with Obama’s promising a spending freeze (albeit, an itty-bitty one). And they are also peeved about Obama’s proposal to give businesses tax credits. But then the moderates are freaking out:

If the first year of Obama’s term was dominated by the so-called Big Bang push for enormous, politically risky initiatives — the stimulus, cap and trade and health care — Year Two is fast shaping up to be year of small ball, retrenchment and backlash.

Democrats are realizing that they have angered a great many voters with scary big-government proposals but have little to show for it. And Blue Dog Rep. Dennis Cardoza would like to turn back the clock: “Everyone was talking about spending capital — now I think we wish we had some of that capital back. You build confidence by passing legislation that people understand and work that way. I still believe in the president, but you can’t be everything to all folks.” It seems suddenly Obama isn’t offering much of anything to anyone within his party.

Part of the problem stems from the lack of direction given to Congress. Al Franken finds nothing funny in the Obami’s meandering. He was reported to have ripped into David Axelrod “for the administration’s failure to provide clarity or direction on health care and other big bills.” Perhaps if Democrats’ own congressional leaders were more effective, the lack of direction from the White House would not be so disconcerting. But Democrats have seen what happens when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are left to their own devices. You can understand why they are miffed that the White House hasn’t left a legislative road map for them to follow.

And part of the issue is fear that the leader of their party is playing into a destructive and familiar narrative, namely that the Democrats are the “tax-and-spend” and “weak on national security” party. On both, you see nervous Democrats are beginning to push back on everything from anti-terror policies to the new budget.

Obama and his congressional allies may well get their act together. But they’d better hurry. There are not that many months left to legislate and come up with something that incumbents can credibly tout to voters. And worse, persistent infighting and dissention will only depress their base further and convince ordinary voters these people simply aren’t up to the task of governing.