Thursday, October 28, 2010

Liberal disillusionment with President Obama has been greatly exaggerated

I’m convinced that the media narrative that liberals are disillusioned with President Obama is a gross exaggeration.

Last summer when my husband and I were traveling in New England, I conducted my own unscientific poll of friends and relatives. My friends are not media folks—neither main stream media nor the blogosphere. They’re not blogging and tweeting their political opinions.

I asked them, have you become disillusioned with the president? In every case, I heard something like: “Hell no. He’s doing the best possible job in horrible circumstances. When you inherit a mess like this, it takes time to dig out of the hole.” This is exactly what my Philly friends (with a few left wing exceptions) have been saying.

I have a little bit of sympathy for Robert Gibbs and his denunciation of what he called “the professional left.” It was a poor choice of words, but he had a point.

I’m not saying that liberals should not criticize Obama nor try to pressure him to support progressive polices. But there is a way to criticize that acknowledges the real achievements and doesn’t buy into the right wing narrative that President Obama has done nothing right.

The Obama administration has an impressive record of achievement and I’m convinced there is a silent Democratic majority which knows this. Although the president is not on the ballot this November, the election has been nationalized and the outcome will be seen as referendum on the Obama administration. I expect the Democratic base will come out to register their support for what the president has accomplished.

To cite just some of these accomplishments: The consensus of most economists is that the stimulus program brought the economy back from the brink of real disaster. It probably should have been larger, but was arguably the best that could be done given this dysfunctional congress.

And in this economic climate, President Obama (with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi) still managed to pass a healthcare bill establishing access to heath care as a right of all citizens. Sure, it’s an imperfect bill but just as with other programs (such as social security) which started as deeply flawed, we now have the opportunity to improve the bill. We’re no longer debating the basic right to health care; the debate can now move to making the existing program more inclusive, more affordable.

The overhaul of the college loan program will save significant money for students, their families and the taxpayers. And then there is the passage of meaningful—again not as much as we need—regulatory reform. We have a long way to go before we have real recovery, but the dismantling of regulatory agencies at the root of the current economic crisis dates back to the Clinton years. This crisis was many years in the making. Reasonable people understand this.

I could go on and on, but it would be much better for folks to read the first rate analysis of the achievements of the Obama administration by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone. Some excerpts from Dickinson’s well researched, must read article, “The Case for Obama”:

By any rational measure,Obama is the most
accomplished and progressive president in decades, yet
the only Americans fired up by the changes he has delivered
are Republicans and Tea Partiers hellbent on reversing them.

This president has delivered more sweeping, progressive
change in 20 months than the previous two Democratic
administrations did in 12 years. "When you look at what
will last in history,"historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells
Rolling Stone,"Obama has more notches on the presidential belt."

In fact, when the history of this administration is
written, Obama's opening act is likely to be judged as
more impressive than any president's - Democrat or
Republican - since the mid-1960s. "If you're looking at
the first-two-year legislative record," says Ornstein,
"you really don't have any rivals since Lyndon Johnson
- and that includes Ronald Reagan."

Taken together, Barack Obama's achievements are not
only historic in their sweep but unabashedly liberal.
By contrast, President Clinton's top legislative
victories - NAFTA and welfare reform - catered to the
right wing's faith in free markets and its loathing of
big government. "When you add them all together, it's
clear that Obama's accomplishments have been
underrated," says Brinkley. "Saving the auto industry,
health care, getting out of Iraq - these are big things
for the progressive movement." .

So why aren’t these undeniable accomplishments driving the narrative? The conventional wisdom is that the Obama administration could have done a better job communicating their achievements.

That may be, but I think the liberal Democratic base understands the argument Dickinson is making even if we’re not on top of all the specifics.

The liberal base gets it. We know this President has delivered. I’m not worried about middle aged and older liberal Democrats. The question of course is the young folks.

My only regret about retirement is that I’ve lost my connection to young voters. This week I spoke to a class at Community College of Philadelphia where I taught for 35 years. I was heartened by these students' awareness of what is at stake. They intend to come out. Of course, Philly is one of the deepest blue patches in the country, so the interest in voting I picked up in this group of students might not extend beyond Philly. We’ll see.


  1. We disagree on a fair amount, Karen, and so I'll sidestep the issue of how much criticism of Obama is "acceptable" without one's being seen as somehow blaming him for the catastrophic legacy of the last administration. We're in entire agreement about the need for those who vote progressively to vote Tuesday rather than sitting out this election. Nothing will get the least bit better if the Republicans win, and nearly everything legislatively will get a great deal worse. Thanks and take care, Reni

  2. I’ve been out doing door to door all week-end and for what it’s worth, Mt. Airy is all fired up and ready to go!

  3. Thanks for all of your work this weekend! Mt. Airy may carry us home (we live in hope).