Disillusioned Democrats Turning on Obama
Disillusioned Democrats Turning on Obama
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 6:54 PM
After just 10 months in office, President Barack Obama is facing a rebellion on several fronts from his natural base of liberal Democrats. And while it’s too early to measure the political cost, what is striking is how rapidly disaffection is growing.
The most recent example of this fallout is the war in Afghanistan, which has alienated liberals who believed that Obama would quickly pull out from Iraq and close the terrorist detention facilities in Guantanamo. Instead, they are now looking at their once cherished candidate poised to announce that he is sending some 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.
But the liberal critique of Obama is much broader. His supporters now feel betrayed on issues ranging from climate change, offshore oil drilling, gay marriage and government-run healthcare. On issue after issue, they’ve watched him backtrack from the lofty promises of the campaign trail. Even more worrisome for Obama, many are having doubts about his intelligence and decisiveness.
The criticisms are not only coming from policy wonks but Hollywood, the nation’s urban elites and even grassroots groups who had gone gaga over America’s first African-American president. Some recent examples:
On Tuesday, Florida's Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson blasted Obama’s handling of the economic crisis and his tepid handling of the offshore oil drilling issues.
On Monday, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said that if President Obama does approve an increase in troop levels, the war should financed by a surtax on the rich.
On Saturday, “Saturday Night Live” offered a scathing skit in which Obama was depicted as a dolt who is increasing the debt exponentially, backed by his bogus accounting. The skit followed another earlier in the season in which Obama was depicted as a “do-nothing” president.
Maureen Dowd, The New York Time’s liberal columnist who lambasted conservatives during 8 years of the Bush administration, has turned her venom on Obama, slamming him this week for his treatment of Greg Craig, the adviser charged with pushing Obama’s now broken promise of closing Guantanamo by the end of the year. “Many donors and passionate supporters are let down by Obama’s detachment, puzzled at his failure to make them feel invested when he’s certain to come back to tap their well soon enough,” Dowd wrote.
In an analysis Wednesday, Washington Post staff writer Joel Achenbach quoted liberal historians who seem to already be writing Obama off for his lack of strength and political saavy.
“Some of his supporters would like to see him show more fire in the belly and recapture the energy that propelled him to victory last year,” Achenbach wrote.
"I think the Obama we've seen as president is a very different Obama than we saw during the campaign. He doesn't seem to be connected, he doesn't seem to have the passion, he doesn't seem to be conveying the grand and inspiring vision," progressive historian Allan Lichtman of American University told Achenbach. "If you want to be a transformational president, you've got to take the risks."
Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton, told the Post that Obama has suffered from unrealistic expectations among those who put him in office. "They kind of were sold Utopia, and they bought it, and it didn't happen," he says. "People were comparing the candidate to Abraham Lincoln before he served a day of his presidency. Nobody can live up to that."
What is striking is how vocal even normally staid Democrats like Florida’s Nelson have become in their criticism of Obama.
Speaking for almost an hour to the Chamber of Southwest Florida at Edison State College this week, Nelson said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner "has not done a very good job in leading our banking system to recovery."
The administration's response to the real estate crisis "was a tepid loan modification" that helped little, "and their response to commercial real estate has been absent altogether," Nelson said. He voted "no" on the TARP program, which he called "a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street banks that had zero accountability for executives and no meaningful reform."
Other former fans of the president have focused on the administration’s handling of healthcare. Many of his supporters thought that Obama would embrace a European single-payer socialist model when the debate began. Instead, he has consistently waffled, sometimes supporting the notion, but more recently giving up on it altogether.
While much attention has been focused on the war between the White House and Fox News, liberal network MSNBC has amped up its criticism of Obama. The New York Times recently noted that host Rachel Maddow has been particularly angry with Obama on the subject of healthcare.
On a recent show, Maddow pretended to celebrate the passage of a health care overhaul bill in the House, calling it “potentially a huge generational win for the Democratic Party.” But then the triumphant music halted and she pulled out the daggers.
The healthcare bill was nothing more than “electoral defeat,” she said, focusing on the provisions in the bill to prevent government-funded abortion.
They represented “the biggest restriction on abortion rights in a generation.” Then Maddow wondered aloud about the consequences for Democrats “if they don’t get women or anybody who’s pro-choice to ever vote for them again.” She returned to the subject the next four evenings in a row, according to the Times.
Maddow has also taken Obama on for his halting policies on gays serving openly in the military, gay marriage, and Guantanamo.
Representatives for two gay members of the military, Dan Choi and Victor Fehrenbach, approached Maddow’s producers about coming out on her show, in March and May respectively. Introducing Fehrenbach, Maddow intoned that he was about to be fired “in the shadow of these political promises left unfulfilled.”
Other MSNBC hosts have also objected to some of the president’s policy decisions. In April, Keith Olbermann, the channel’s best-known voice, urged Obama to hold members of the Bush administration accountable for what he called the “torture of prisoners.”
“Prosecute, Mr. President,” he said. “Even if you get not one conviction, you will still have accomplished good for generations unborn.”
And host Chris Matthews, who offered during the campaign that an Obama speech sent a thrill up his leg, and that he would do anything he could to help Obama succeed, has also found his hero wanting. Matthews questions the decision to try 9/11 terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York, and has used former Vice President Dick Cheney’s line that Obama has been 'dithering' on Afghanistan.
Matthews hasn’t compared Obama to Jimmy Carter, as some like Don Imus have, but goes all the way back to the feckless Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat famous for pontificating who lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“It does look like, because we have our president in the White House, we’re giving him a little bit more room. But that wasn’t intended,” said Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, speaking to Roll Call this week on the subject Afghanistan.