Thursday, September 19, 2013

Democrats Still Love Obama-- When He Sticks To His Knitting


When Obama sticks to Democratic Party values and grassroots principles, he engenders tremendous affection and support from the huge coalition that elected him twice. When he strays off into corporate Republican territory-- whether in regard to Austerity (like Chained CPI), atrocious anti-worker trade policies, or bombing Syria-- his support drops. That simple. But his fiercest opponents within the Democratic Party-- whether Raul Grijalva on Chained CPI or Alan Grayson on blowing shit up in small nasty countries-- are also his fiercest supporters when he's doing what the American people elected him to do. I don't think Peter Baker and Jeremy Peters got that in their NY Times piece yesterday about how Obama is losing support of congressional Democrats.

They're so apocalyptic in their perspective! "For four years, President Obama counted on fellow Democrats to rally to his side in a series of epic battles with Republicans over the direction of the country. But now, deep in his fifth year in office, Mr. Obama finds himself frustrated by members of his own party weary of his leadership and increasingly willing to defy him." Their piece blames "liberals," not the Blue Dogs, New Dems and self-proclaimed "centrists" (the Republican-wing of the Democratic Party) for undermining Obama-- for saving him from a catastrophe in Syria and a catastrophe at the Fed (Larry Summers). Yes, Members of Congress are bitching that the White House doesn't consult them enough but, when has that ever not been the case? Not in my lifetime. Not to say that there isn't a valid critique of Obama from the left; it is, at least in part, what this blog has been about for nearly six years.
They say Mr. Obama has been too passive and ceded momentum to Republicans. Their grievances are sometimes contradictory; some grouse that he takes on causes he cannot win, while others say he does not fight hard enough for principled positions. The failure to enact tightened gun control laws and the Republican hold on immigration legislation have left liberals little to celebrate this year.

“If you read the papers, you almost think the Republicans are in control,” said Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and vigorously opposed Mr. Summers until he withdrew from consideration. “They’re constantly on the offensive. Democrats are on the defensive.”

...The internecine tension presents a challenge to Mr. Obama as he heads into renewed budget wars with Congress. “It makes a political life for him that’s already hard even harder,” said Jared Bernstein, a former Obama White House economist. “The gridlock he faces from Republicans, especially in the House, is extremely obstructionist to his agenda, so when he runs into Democrats who are blocking him, it becomes insurmountable.”

The White House discounted suggestions of trouble with Congressional Democrats and produced voting statistics showing that, with the exception of Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama had more support from his own party in his first four years than any president through Dwight D. Eisenhower. Democrats stood behind him on health care, Wall Street regulation and budget battles.

...Howard Dean, the former Democratic Party chairman and Vermont governor, said discord was unsurprising. “You don’t see a lot of lock step among Democrats under any circumstances, so I don’t find it at all surprising that they would disagree with him about N.S.A. or Syria,” he said. But he predicted the looming fiscal clash would consolidate support again. “I can guarantee you the Democrats are going to unite around the president when the Republicans try to shut the government down.”

Phil Schiliro, Mr. Obama’s legislative director in his first term, said Democrats were still willing to take tough votes when they believed in the issue. “But if they genuinely believe the substance is wrong and the politics are bad, the president’s going to have a tougher time,” he said. “And that’s what’s going on.”

It does not help that the president’s approval rating stands at 46 percent in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, compared with 42 percent for Mr. Bush at the same point. Mr. Clinton, at 58 percent, and Reagan, at 62 percent, were stronger.

Some Democrats said Mr. Obama’s troubles with liberals extended beyond Congress. “Always the challenge a president has is to continue to have strong relations with all the electorate,” said Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, a critic of Mr. Obama’s N.S.A. policies. “But your base and your loyal supporters, I think you owe them a little more attention, a little more time.”

A former senior administration official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said the White House had inspired no fear among lawmakers since it was run by Rahm Emanuel, a knuckle-rapping former congressman from Illinois.

“Back when Rahm was chief of staff, Democrats on the Hill knew they’d get an earful from him if they even thought about opposing the president,” he said. “The White House has to do a better job with the care and feeding of members of Congress. The Democrats I talk to are annoyed that their phone calls and meeting requests are routinely ignored.”

Others, however, said it had more to do with Mr. Obama’s positions than personal relations. “It’s not that he’s not having enough lunches with members of Congress,” said Barney Frank, a former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts. “I just think there’s a real cultural lag on the national security stuff. And that resistance finally broke through.”

For all the strains, Democrats said the president benefited from a residual desire that he succeed. “Despite the frustrations that people have,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, “when they look in their hearts, they say, ‘We want him to be strong.’"
Yes, strong in raising the minimum wage, but not strong on passing Chained CPI or another crappy trade bill that ships American jobs overseas, the way the two Bushs and Clinton did. As Greg Sargent followed up in his Washington Post column, "[t]he divisions between Dems and Obama are real, but they are focused on some policy areas and not on others. There’s serious disagreement on Syria, NSA surveillance overreach, and who should run the Fed. These are important policy disputes and it’s good Dems spoke out rather than protecting the president."
[on the need to keep funding the government and raise the debt limit without giving an inch on Obamacare, there are no signs of any serious disunity-- and this is what will likely shape the party’s stance in coming fights.

Congressional Dems understand the GOP is deeply riven by differences over how aggressively to confront Obamacare that may prove unbridgeable. There are no signs Dems are breaking from the position that Obamacare is non-negotiable-- i.e., that anything that undermines the law is a non-starter, period, full stop. Dems have already staked a huge amount on Obamacare and understand making it work is crucial to a longer-term ideological battle that will reverberate for many years. As Jonathan Chait details, this is at bottom a “political and cultural war” over “the role of government deeper than any since the New Deal.”

Given this understanding, the pressure on any potentially wavering Dems to hold the line on Obamacare will be very intense. Given that Obamacare’s fate is equally important to conservatives, the prize they seek-- the substantial undermining or destruction of the health law-- means anything short of that will constitute unacceptable defeat and surrender. This will ultimately ensure that this fall will not be about Dem divisions, but about divisions within the GOP.

For this is what really matters here. The storyline this fall will be shaped largely by whether Republicans can reconcile their divisions over whether to accept the GOP’s limitations in combating the reality of Obamacare. The storyline will be shaped largely by the question of whether GOP leaders base their strategy on keeping alive the illusion that Obamacare can be stopped outside normal electoral channels, or whether they ultimately-- and publicly-- accept that it can’t. The former could lead to maximum albeit temporary chaos, but ultimately the latter is likely to assert control over the outcome, leading to an acceptance of the need to rely on a lot of Dems to keep the government open or raise the debt limit or both.

It is the very immovability of conservatives on Obamacare -- and the seemingly irreconcilable differences within the GOP that have resulted-- that makes this outcome the only currently feasible one. Everything will flow from this basic reality, making whatever divide among Dems that does exist-- along with Obama’s “standing” vis a vis the Hill-- largely irrelevant.



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