US Politics correspondent Lee Haddigan writes:
Back in June, I noted that progressives were becoming increasingly frustrated with the Presidency of Barack Obama for its failure to deliver on the promise of hope and change. That disappointment has now turned into anger, with President Obama experiencing a "shellacking", not just from voters in the midterms, but from the progressive movement that helped secure his election in 2008.
The past two weeks have brought trenchant criticism of Obama for conciliatory proposals like a two-year pay freeze for federal workers. The once unthinkable prospect of the President facing a serious primary challenge from the Left has now become a distinct possibility.
Obama's proposal of the pay freeze provoked an astonishing attack by two leading progressives in the pages of the New York Times. Last Thursday, Paul Krugman's "Freezing Out Hope" opened with the assertion that the pay freeze “was transparently cynical; it was trivial in scale, but misguided in direction”. Obama was allaying Republican fears that he was not as concerned with the deficit problem as them with the trivial saving, compared to the Federal Government's budget deficit, of $5 billion.
Krugman continued that this “peace gesture” to the GOP, issued the day before bi-partisan talks, did nothing to foster the impression that Obama was a serious deficit hawk. Instead, it confirmed the suspicion among progressives that “Mr. Obama almost seems as if he’s trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake".
Two days later, Frank Rich wrote "All The President's Captors". Comparing the President’s recent actions to those of a hostage suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, Rich presented the invitation to GOP Congressional leaders to talks at the White House as “President Obama’s latest and perhaps most humiliating attempt to placate his Republican captors in Washington". Rich continued that the pay freeze was an “unexpected gift” for Republicans by inflating the importance of the deficit reduction issue, and it “made as little sense intellectually as it did politically.” As a consequence, Rich maintained, “Obama has seemingly surrendered his once-considerable abilities to act, decide or thin,,” disappointing those progressives who “have waited in vain for him to stand firm on what matters to him and to the country rather than forever attempting to turn non-argumentative reasonableness into its own virtuous reward".
The website banner of MoveOn, the largest movement representing the progressive cause, promotes their video advertisement "WE WANT OBAMA BACK": "MoveOn members have a message for President Obama: Say no to millionaire bailouts and bring back the Obama of 2008 --- the smart, tough progressive who inspired millions." MoveOn solicited $200,000 in donations on Monday for the "Millionaire Bailout Accountability Fund", promising to “use the money for rallies and hard-hitting ads targeted at members of Congress who vote for more millionaire tax breaks while doing nothing to help struggling families”.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) has also released an ad urging ‘President Obama: FIGHT, don’t cave on Bush tax cuts for millionaires!". The video shows Obama in Iowa in 2007 promising to end tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
PCCC’s website is remarkably void of any commentary on breaking events, relying instead on advocacy of participation in long-term policy. The Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), by contrast, concentrates on issues that immediately affect the liberal cause. The recent Deficit Commission report, and Obama’s attempts to co-opt an image almost akin to a conservative on that, provoked a close-to-incandescent rage among contributors to the site.
On Friday, Dave Johnson reminded Obama’s administration of the unemployment rate: “9.8%! It’s still all about jobs. It's still an emergency. And the DC elite still don’t get it -- or don't care. They give us a 'deficit commission' not a jobs commission.” Johnson recounted his recent experiences driving around Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where “so many of the older small towns (are) crumbling, the money sucked out by the Wall Street elite. The factories sold off, closed.” He lambasted the Washington elite because “Congress clearly doesn't see what the rest of us see. If they did, how could they possibly do the things they are doing? There is an absolute emergency going on in the country and Congress refuses to even see it.”
In his article "Democratic Seppuku: Too Horrible Too Watch", Robert Borosage took a similar approach, claiming Obama’s flirtation with a deficit reduction plan that would slash Social Security benefits, raise the retirement age, and push for deep cuts in federal spending, ultimately costing millions of jobs. Borosage asked, “What can explain this behavior?” by a supposedly progressive president. The answer: “Perhaps mysterious potions do work. Democrats are enthralled by an alluring establishment seduction, oblivious to the ruin outside the beltway, enticing them to parade the manly virtues of fiscal austerity.”
Where Borosage sees Democrats as fools for being enticed by the lure of being part of the political ‘establishment’ in approving the principle behind the deficit reduction plan, Richard Eskow in "Obama's Deficit Frankenstein" warns the President that “Like Dr. Frankenstein in the Mary Shelley novel, he built a creature from discarded parts and it took on a life of its own. And like its fictional counterpart, this creature is threatening to destroy its creator.” Eskow delcares that if Obama does not “confront this proposal head-on” and assuage the fears of progressives that he has lost his liberal soul, then he will only “ensure great losses for himself and his party for years to come. It will be hard to find any other way forward.”
And as if President Obama is not facing enough dissent from his (former) progressive base outside Washington, he may be threatened by a revolt from his Democrat allies within the Beltway. At a Monday night conference, he announced the details of a compromise on tax cuts reached by the executive and congressional leaders. The proposals included a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for all, while continuing the provision of unemployment benefits for a further 13 months. Other measures include a 2% cut in payroll taxes next year from 6.2% to 4.2%, and a 35% tax on inheritances over $5 million for the next two years.
Despite Obama’s recognition, “It’s not perfect,” he called for Democrats vehemently opposed to tax cuts for wealthier Americans to recognise, “We cannot play politics at a time when the American people are looking for us to solve problems.” But Obama’s plea went unheeded by some liberals, including Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont who usually caucuses with the Democrats,. Denouncing the tax cut deal as an absolute disaster, Sanders vowed that he would “do whatever he can to derail this disastrous deal President Obama has made with the GOP”, including filibustering the compromise if it came before the Senate in its current form.
More ominously for Obama’s compromise position, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House who is vital to any chances of a tax cut deal, sent a tweet on Tuesday, “GOP provisions in tax proposal help only wealthiest 3%, don't create jobs & add tens of billions to deficit”. Pelosi’s misgivings were echoed on Tuesday by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), who warned that there was “no consensus or agreement reached by House leaders” on the issue.
And on Tuesday The Hill reported that, before a meeting of Democrats, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), the assistant to the Speaker, said, “I have some serious reservations about parts of this deal. I understand the importance of getting to an understanding, but there are certain elements that I think will cause a great concern to members of our caucus,”
This tax cut deal is sure to see more twists and turns before a compromise is finally reached. But whatever the outcome --- short of an absolute end to tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans --- it is certain that Obama has irrevocably lost the allegiance of progressives. His attempts to placate Republican, following what progressives see as the debacle of his support of the Deficit Commission report and the pay freeze for federal workers, has dispelled the "hope and change’"aura that so excited the Left in 2008.
No matter some might say, but the President has lost the support of his most committed and enthusiastic activists. And they are not about to sit idly by while Obama cruises to the Democrat nomination for President in 2012. I think it was Shakespeare who once wrote that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.
It will be interesting to see over the next few months whether Hillary Clinton tries to remake herself surreptitiously as the new voice of progressivism. Two days ago, in an interview in New Zealand Clinton reiterated her repeated denials that she would run for the Presidency in 2012. But the greatest dream of all politicians, since the example of George Washington, is to be called to serve their country by the voice of the people. Campaigning for a position, especially the Presidency, can be a gruelling and soul destroying process. But when MoveOn, and PCCC, and CAF, and her Democrat friends in Congress come a-knockin on her log cabin door to come save the US from the Republicans in 2012, will Clinton be able to resist the wishes of the people?