One of the problems I've always feared is that should we elect a Democratic president in this country, he or she might face a domestic handicap among that most unlikely of sources: liberals. Sadly, I'm turning out to be right, and today's collective pants-wetting on both liberal blogs and on Twitter has been a sight to behold.
Let's go back to the beginning. Every viable candidate for the Democratic nomination came down on the center-left of the American political spectrum. Especially when it came down to Clinton and Obama. On the Republican side (at least perception wise) the candidates that were viable were seen by most to be on the center-right. Why? Because when it comes down to it the American people are not overwhelmingly of any consistent ideology. The same people who would riot in the streets if you touched Social Security or Medicare are the same people who think they should get a tax cut and that the government "spends too much" (just don't cut the government money that *their* member of congress brings home, the problem is with the *other* 434 districts and 49 *other* states, naturally).
What happens in the Democratic party is that the center left candidate makes his positions on the issues pretty clear, and the progressive base of the party assumes that like the Republican candidate, he or she is secretly one of them and upon election day will bust out with some Howard Zinn on everyone's ass. On the Republican side, they don't win unless they cover up their zealotry with "compassionate conservative" pixie dust, they largely stay the hell away from clerics like Pat Robertson and Grover Norquist come election time.
As we saw with Bill Clinton's presidency, the reaction to this not happening can get pretty loud pretty quickly.
Personally I'm not as liberal as a lot of the Democratic base, but I'm not nearly as conservative as others inevitably accuse me of being. I'm pretty liberal on social issues but a caveman on national defense and criminal justice. I think that's pragmatic, but one man's pragmatism is another's Mao or another's DLC. Whatever. Either way, I tend to think Democratic presidents don't do enough of what the base wants -- for example Clinton's NAFTA mistake or Obama's inexplicable foot dragging on Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal and fruitless concessions to the GOP and conservadems on the size and impact of the stimulus.
That said, the liberal attacks on Obama, just short of calling him The Black Hitler, don't accomplish anything other than sending a signal to Democratic presidents that their base really does want to find the quickest most expeditious path to knife them in the back.
I'm not saying liberals should keep themselves quiet and rubber stamp the president -- people who make this argument are simply making a down payment on the straw to run their farms. But what I am saying is that liberals too often treat Democratic presidents like Maury Povich just told them that he has in fact failed the lie detector test.
We saw that on Monday with the leaked story that the Obama administration planned some spending freezes. What we know about the proposal:
* It exists
* Defense spending is exempt
* If/when there's a second stimulus or jobs bill it is exempt
* Health care reform would be exempt
* It is targeting redundancies, waste, excess, etc.
* The details of what will be targeted have not been released yet
That halfway story seemed to be all liberals needed in order to issue their own Fox News Alerts about the betrayal and then began the parade of frankly embarrassing hysteria.
I don't personally like the framing of these issues in one that favors conservatives, that is a fight versus government spending. Not at all, and in an ideal situation a Democratic president should laugh at the idea, knowing that everyone with common sense understands the long term value of government investment in the American economy and social safety net.
We do not live in this ideal world. We live in a world where, as I noted above, the people across the spectrum hold contradictory ideas within their own minds about what constitutes rational public policy. If some are concerned with spending, it seems the least harmful way to do this is to have a bone thrown their way that will actually lower *some* spending without harming the president's domestic agenda.
Is it less perfect than a pony? Sure. Would President Jed Bartlett do it? Probably not, but real life isn't a pitch-perfect Aaron Sorkin script and a fade out after 60 minutes of plot.
How does one correct someone who is on your side but has bouts of straying like President Obama? Offer constructive criticism, rather than throwing his clothes on the lawn, for one. You've got a perfectly good right to bitch as well as moan about things, but the equivalent of crying "fire" in a crowded theater just makes for a crappy moviegoing experience.
Barack Obama is the center-left, charismatic politician he has been for most of his life in the public. There are numerous issues on which he should be much more progressive, not just for the overall fortunes of the progressive movement, but for the future strength of the country. But we won't get there if every perceived misstep (especially one based on a less than clear story that is slowly being filled in) is greeted as if he kicked a puppy in the teeth. We shouldn't help a media environment that already favors Democratic politicians wagging their finger at the base, nor should we allow Democratic pols to get away with conservative nonsense.
Measure pols like Obama on their words and hold them to high standards, but don't profess anger at them for not holding up to a caricature you dreamily doodled in your Trapper Keeper.
Oliver Willis blogs daily at OliverWillis.com