Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Swinging from the Left

As a Democratic President going up against a Republican party firmly rooted in political obstructionism, Barack Obama undoubtedly expected to face a tough fight coming from the ideological right. I doubt, however, that he saw or expected as tough a fight coming from his left. As anyone who has ever been in a fight will tell you, it's the punch that you do NOT see that will lay you flat on your backside. President Obama is facing an increasingly combative and feisty opposition coming from the very far left of his own Democratic party that could prove to be very destructive to the party in future elections.

For a President that ran as a left-leaning ideological moderate and pragmatist rather than a stubbornly ideological far-left partisan, Obama finds himself in the unenviable position of being too liberal for the right-wing and too centrist for the left-wing. For far-left uncompromising ideologues such as Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, anything short of the most liberal stance on all policy issues seems to be viewed as complete and utter failure, caving, and capitulating. Tune in to any 5-minute appearance by Adam as a guest analyst on any of the cable shows, and you  are likely to hear the word "FIGHT" repeated at least 25 times. Mr. Green has even gone so far as to produce and broadcast a campaign-style "attack ad" against President Obama for not holding on to liberal positions. For many liberals such as Adam, it seems as if a staunch and stubbornly ideological "fight" is the ultimate prize regardless of whether "compromise" on ideological positions brings forth a much more desirable result for the nation as a whole.

Being a pragmatist who is willing to compromise on most issues to move his agenda forward is precisely why Obama faces increasingly harsh opposition from the far left. In a desire to checkoff policy objectives and move on to the next battle, he often chooses negotiation, deal-making and compromise over fierce partisan battles which further infuriates the left. Rightly or wrongly, Obama seems to operate on the notion that "if I have the votes for my position in Congress, then I'll fight for it. If I don't have the votes, then I'll compromise to get it done". In the healthcare debate and most recently in the Bush Tax Cut debate, Obama made the politically unpopular decision to compromise on the favored position of the left in order to search for a middle ground that could secure the necessary congressional votes. The question is, however, "At what cost ?".

President Obama has a historic number of legislative accomplishments thus far in his presidency but his willingness to compromise on positions held near and dear to the far-left has put him at odds with this very important component of his political base. Liberal talk show hosts such as Ed Schultz routinely throw around terms such as "spineless" and "weak" in describing the President and seem to swing as hard as the most rabid right-wing lunatics when things don't go precisely their way. What Obama has to bank on is that his manner of governing will gain him more independents and moderates than the left swinging ideologues that he undoubtedly loses with each compromise. A risky political calculation indeed that I certainly hope works out.


  1. Check any polling, and you'll find that Mr. Obama's support among Democrats is as strong as ever. It's hard to imagine any Republican defeating him in 2012 when his core constituencies - blacks, Hispanics, young and educated voters - are staunchly by his side. Only what Robert Gibbs termed the 'professional left', i.e., cable talk show hosts, liberal bloggers, etc., show this animosity towards the President. By the time the elections come, these same folks will have no choice but to return, as they can't be so foolish as to let the right take they Senate and White House over the failures of the 111th Senate....can they?

  2. A very balanced and well reasoned article and @Cecil is dead on in his analysis. The professional left should realize that fighting is not an objective in and of itself, even if you are a boxer. Achieving a desired result is. Thank God Barack has the wisdom to see this.