These are the times that try liberals’ souls.
On Sunday President Barack Obama announced he had reached a deal with congressional leaders to raise the federal debt limit and prevent a possible government default. The deal will cut spending $2.4 trillion over the next decade and it will not include any tax increases. $917 billion of spending cuts will take place over the next decade. A special congressional committee will find an additional $1.5 trillion in savings.
Vice President Joe Biden worked feverishly throughout the weekend with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner to reach this agreement. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised the deal, saying: “the American people demanded compromise, and today they got it.”
But it was no compromise for liberals. It was an unconditional surrender. The balanced approach President Obama advocated never materialized. For weeks the president and congressional Democrats demanded revenue increases (tax hikes) to accompany spending cuts.
Congressional Republicans balked at the suggestion. They insisted Washington had a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
Au contraire responded Democrats. Their talking point highlighted that tax rates were at its lowest level since the Eisenhower years. A 2010 USA Today study confirmed this view: tax bills in 2009 were at the lowest level since 1950.
Polling showed the public supported the president’s balanced approach. Last Monday Rassmussen showed 56% of the public favored the balanced approach. Reuters also had 56% approval in its July 25 poll. The Pew Center had 60% supporting the balanced approach in their July 24 poll.
Yet Harry Reid came out with his plan last week that dashed liberals’ hopes. It cut $2.7 trillion in federal spending over ten years and included no tax increases. It didn’t touch entitlements, either. But that was little comfort to liberals, who saw Reid taking a chainsaw to discretionary spending (which disproportionately hurts the poor and middle class) while doing nothing to the plutocrats on Wall Street responsible for the September 2008 financial collapse.
Liberals urged the president to invoke the 14th amendment and unilaterally raise the debt limit. Part four of the 14th amendment says: “the validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.”
The president didn’t do that. Instead he became the invisible man. He made brief public appearances on Monday and Friday, but appeared to be a minor player as John Boehner and Harry Reid became the leading figures in the affair.
While the president ceded the spotlight, his political fortunes soured. Last week was the worst week on Wall Street this year as investors worried about the debt crisis in Washington. A stagnant economy continued. First quarter GDP growth was revised down to 0.4%. Second quarter GDP growth was hardly better, a paltry 1.3%. On Friday, the president’s job approval rating dropped to 40%, a new low for him, according to the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll.
With fading support, it’s no wonder why the president positioned himself as a deficit reducer and began rhetorically supporting entitlement reform. But negotiations with congressional Republicans show him as a leader throwing his base overboard.
Mr. Obama is desperate to solidify independents’ support as he prepares his re-election efforts. In so doing, he’s alienating himself from Congressional Democrats (a far more liberal caucus now that so many of their Blue Dog brethren were wiped out in the 2010 election) and his base.
Liberals are still furious with the president’s inability to close Guantanimo Bay and his refusal to push for a single-payer plan during the 2009-2010 health care debate. Big Labor is upset that the president hasn’t gotten card-check through Congress. Hispanics wonder why the president hasn’t supported comprehensive immigration reform. Doves are incredulous at the president’s surge in Afghanistan and his actions in Libya. The ACLU cannot believe Obama has continued the Bush/Cheney policies in the War on Terror.
ACLU executive director Anthony Romero expressed what many liberals must feel, when he told a conference of liberal activists last week: “I’m disgusted by this president.”
Bernie Sanders, the socialist Vermont senator, made news last week when he suggested someone challenge Mr. Obama in a primary. The senator thinks a primary will hold Obama’s feet to the fire and will force him extol his liberal bona fides.
But there’s no chance of that happening. Liberals remember the last time a Democrat challenged a sitting president from the Left (when liberal lion Ted Kennedy ran against Jimmy Carter) it led to the election of Ronald Reagan.
Democratic pollsters don’t seem to notice, or don’t seem to care about the base’s eroding support for Mr. Obama. They’re carrying water for the administration and preparing to re-elect the president next November. They’re taking the base for granted. Mark Mellman has publicly said he’s not concerned about a solid, energetic base.
Glenn Greenwald, the civil libertarian journalist for Salon, is furious with the latest political calculation and has highlighted the hubris of the Democratic establishment. The establishment has taken a Machiavellian calculation and believes their base will suck it up on Election Day, horrified by a conservative alternative, and pull the lever for the incumbent.
That’s no way to win hearts and minds.
The president’s actions have disillusioned many liberals. This is the winter of their discontent. The charismatic candidate who promised hope, change, and a fundamentally different America has turned into just another politician.
Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist, created a stir last week when she said she’d lost that loving feeling for Mr. Obama and called him a “loser.” Liberals concur.