Their argument is that laying down markers on core liberal priorities has a way of expanding the field of what's politically possible. And even if expanding that field was never realistic, they argue, Obama would be in a better position anyway if he'd fought more visibly for those core priorities, because rank and file Dems would know what it is they should go out and vote for on Election Day. These critics are rejecting the ingrained Beltway notion that you should never fight for something when you might lose.Michael Moore:
Now, you may or may not agree with any one of these arguments. And obviously there's overlap between these categories. But the point is, it's entirely counterproductive for the White House to rail in some generalized way about the left's "whining." Far better to think clearly about what these arguments actually are, and to grapple with them head on.
If the Dem base is unenthusiastic, give Dems something to get excited about, or effectively tell them why they should be excited. If you disagree with Maddow or Greenwald on what's possible in terms of policy, or if you disagree with the Adam Greens of the world on politics, explain why they're wrong, rather than spewing epithets in all directions. Above all, don't vaguely question the right of these various parties to make those arguments. This is, after all, democracy, and as Obama himself has repeatedly said, democracy is a messy business. MORE...
OBAMA: They like us still... but they're mean to us!
BIDEN: And we're the opposite of mean! Like, we're so nice to the Republicans -- we don't even make them have to do a real filibuster and look all stupid trying to stop bills that do good things for kids and old people!
OBAMA: Bipartisanship, Joe, that was our plan.
BIDEN: And even when not one single Republican would join with us, we still watered down every single one of our bills so they wouldn't be upset with us!
OBAMA: We hate people being mad at us!
BIDEN: The Republicans didn't want a health care bill, so we made sure most of it wouldn’t go into effect until 2014!
OBAMA: I thought our liberal base was all about peace, love and understanding! So I held out the olive branch to Republicans when they were mad because I was going to spend stimulus money on creating jobs. So we made sure we created as few jobs as possible! We're nice to the other side! MORE...
Kevin Drum notes, "If you're, say, Glenn Greenwald, I wouldn't expect you to buy Obama's defense at all. All of us have multiple interests, but if your primary concern is with civil liberties and the national security state, then the problem isn't that Obama hasn't done enough, it's that his policies have been actively damaging. There's just no reason why you should be especially excited about either his administration or the continuation of the Democratic Party in power."
Right. Glenn not only has a legitimate beef, I honestly can't think of anyone who's offered a persuasive argument to counter Glenn's criticism. I don't know, however, how large a group of voters we're talking about that disapproves of the president based primarily (but not exclusively) on concerns over the national security state.
I'd argue that if Glenn's contingent represents one group of the disaffected, the other two general groups of center-left critics are (2) those who believe the president's accomplishments have been inadequate; and (3) those who are struggling badly in this economy, and expected conditions to be better than they are under Obama.
For those in the "inadequate" camp, the president's pitch may or may not be persuasive, but I think it should be. We talked recently about the accomplishments of the last 21 months, so I won't rehash the list again, but I continue to believe it's a record that's as impressive as anything we've seen in modern times. What's more, I'm not at all convinced it was within the president's power to make these milestone breakthroughs any stronger. The accomplishments can and should go further, but for the Democratic base, that should mean getting more engaged, not less.
Reaching that final group seems to be a tougher sell. The administration's economic policies have made a huge difference, but the status quo is still woefully unacceptable. It's not necessarily up to the president alone to grab hold of the economy and make it better, but there have been missteps and the frustration is understandable.
I suppose the pitch Democrats can make to these voters is: it can and will get worse if Republicans win, and would have been much worse had the GOP gotten its way. Obama has taken steps to get us on the right track, and conditions have slowly improved, but the surest way to stop the progress, the argument goes, is to hand the GOP power and encourage Republicans to pursue their discredited economic agenda.
Or, as Kevin concluded, "And the alternative? Well, if the prospect of ripping apart healthcare reform, shutting down the government, deep sixing START, slashing social spending, and reliving the glory days of investigations over Christmas card lists isn't enough to get you motivated, I guess I'm not sure what is." MORE..