Is The Left Losing Patience With Obama?

Some on the left are upset with the President, but does it really matter?

A recurring theme over the past two years has been the sometimes apparently tense relationship between the Obama Administration and self-identified progressives who look at Barack Obama and see a President who’s done more to compromise with the GOP than advance the goals that, they believed, he had campaigned on. We saw it during the debate over health care reform when the Administration didn’t get behind the calls for a single-payer plan and instead went with a reform package that, in the end, amounts to a huge subsidy to the health insurance industry. We saw it in the growing frustration last year among those trying to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell who felt the Administration was moving too slowly. We saw it  again last December when the President undercut House and Senate Democrats and cut a deal with the GOP over the Bush tax cuts, and we are seeing it now in the debt ceiling negotiations which some on the left seem to think is becoming a total capitulation on the President’s part.

Is it a real problem for Obama, or just a flash in the pan?

Well, according to a new CNN poll, the President’s job approval is taking a dip right now thanks mostly to a drop in support from the left:

President Barack Obama’s approval rating is down to 45 percent, driven in part by growing dissatisfaction on the left with the president’s track record in office, according to a new national survey.

(…)

According to the poll, the president’s 45 percent approval rating is down three points from June. Fifty-four percent of people questioned disapprove of how Obama’s handling his duties, up six points from last month. His 54 percent disapproval rating ties the all-time high in CNN polling that the president initially reached just before last year’s midterm elections.

“But drill down into that number and you’ll see signs of a stirring discontent on the left,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Thirty-eight percent say they disapprove because President Obama has been too liberal, but 13 percent say they disapprove of Obama because he has not been liberal enough – nearly double what it was in May, when the question was last asked, and the first time that number has hit double digits in Obama’s presidency.”

Looking at that figure another way, roughly one in four Americans who disapprove of the president say they feel that way because he’s not been liberal enough.

Added to that is the news, coming via Jazz Shaw at Hot Air, that Bernie Sanders thinks that someone on the left needs to primary the President:

Today, while appearing on Thom Hartmann’s radio show, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — who, while being an independent, caucuses with the Democrats — said that one way progressives can make sure Obama does not enact huge cuts to major social programs is to run a primary challenger against him. Sanders told a listener who called in to protest a debt ceiling deal that cuts Social Security that such a challenge would be a “good idea”:

SANDERS: Brian, believe me, I wish I had the answer to your question. Let me just suggest this. I think there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president; who believe that, with regard to Social Security and a number of other issues, he said one thing as a candidate and is doing something very much else as a president; who cannot believe how weak he has been, for whatever reason, in negotiating with Republicans and there’s deep disappointment. So my suggestion is, I think one of the reasons the president has been able to move so far to the right is that there is no primary opposition to him and I think it would do this country a good deal of service if people started thinking about candidates out there to begin contrasting what is a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama is doing. […] So I would say to Ryan [sic] discouragement is not an option. I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition.

Of course, Bernie Sanders does not exactly represent the centers of power in the Democratic Party, or on the left generally. The criticisms he makes of Obama are similar to those you hear from the left, however, and he did become something of a folk hero for many on that side of  the political divide when he spent nine hours on the Senate floor in December railing against the idea of extending the Bush tax cuts for “the rich.”

Sanders’ message may resonate with some on the left, but I honestly don’t see this as a serious proposal, or as a sign of a real break between Obama and his most ardent supporters on the left. As I noted back in December, the history of primary challenges to sitting Presidents shows that all they tend to do is weaken the incumbent for the General Election, not teach them a lesson:

In modern times, of course, primary or nomination challenges to incumbent Presidents have rarely been successful. The last time it happened was in 1884 when Chester Alan Arthur was denied the Republican nomination in favor of James G. Blaine. More recently, though, such challenges have manged to cause lasting damages even when they weren’t successful. Lyndon Johnson faced such vehement challenges from the left over the Vietnam War in 1968 that he decided not to run for re-election, Ted Kennedy’s challenge to Carter proved to be the beginning of the end of Carter’s Presidency, and Pat Buchanan’s challenge to George H.W. Bush in 1992, which included a surprisingly strong showing in the New Hampshire primary, weakened Bush significantly heading into that year’s General Election campaign. Something similar could happen to Obama in 2012, especially if the economy has not recovered or if he continues down his current road of doing everything he can to anger progressives. A challenge from the left may not matter in the end, or it could be the final blow for a President who by then may have taken four long years of blows.

Why the left would want to damage Obama and help the Republicans is beyond me. Additionally, there really isn’t anyone on the left with the stature to take on the President. Of the names most frequently mentioned, only Russ Feingold has significant national name recognition. Others, like Alan Grayson, would be little more than the left’s version of Pat Buchanan. Nowhere is there a modern equivalent of the stature inside the Democratic Party of a Ted Kennedy. So the idea of a primary challenge this late in the game seems to me to be nothing more than grousing on the part of the left over the fact that they haven’t gotten everything they wanted.

More importantly, though, it really doesn’t seem like Obama has much to worry about from the likes of Bernie Sanders or Jane Hamsher when you look at numbers like this:

This number has been remarkably steady over the past two and a half years, and it seems unlikely to change.  If Democrats as a whole aren’t upset with Obama, and they clearly aren’t then I don’t think the President really needs to worry about what a few bloggers and pundits on the left are saying.

 

 

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. MBunge says:

    There’s been a lot of focus on the Tea Party and the ridiculous state of Republican and conservative intellectuals. The truth is that Democrats and liberal intellectuals have their own problems. Primarily, it’s that after debasing themselves during the Clinton years and being impotently humiliated during the Bush II years, a great many on the Left can only conceive of politics as a never ending dick-measuring contest. Secondarily, much like the rise of the talk radio right, the left is currently awash in “intellectuals” who really don’t know jack about politics or governing. I mean, Paul Krugman knows more about economics than I know about anything and everything else. I’d defintely think twice before disputing his economic analysis of a situation. However, what Krugman is to me on economics, Barack Obama is to Krugman on politics. Yet Krugman, who has no more political experience than I do and is only slightly better informed at best, does not hesitate to imagine himself as a vastly better politician than the black guy with a funny name who got himself elected President.

    Mike

  2. Chad S says:

    Hamshear pretends to be a lefty, but she’s been caught funding tea party groups and secretly runs a consulting company that works with GOP candidates.

  3. lunaticllama says:

    @Chad S: Hamsher’s just a standard Washington grifter. Actual leftists who support politicians like Bernie Sanders want nothing to do with her. Bernie Sanders also has a great deal of standing with the very small group of politically-active socialists that exist in the U.S. He is, after all, the only European-style social democrat in national politics.

  4. ponce says:

    These pols are cyclical.

    Posting about them only when Obama’s approval is at a low is rather unscientific.

    It’s like posting at midnight each day that there is no sun.

  5. Nightrider says:

    One of the dynamics I find most interesting about the current situation is how little Obama has to show for trying to be more centrist and compromising, which is what he has done from the start. The Fox/GOP machine has consistently characterized him as a far left socialist, as a political strategy which did win them the 2010 election. But eventually a downright actual liberal will be elected President with a Democratic Congress, and the lessons of 1994 and 2010 now look this way to me: in 1994, I thought Clinton caused the downfall by pushing health care and DADT that the country wasn’t ready for. Perhaps Obama 2009-2009 governed fearing repeating this mistake. But I don’t think he did repeat it. Instead, the new lesson might be to get done as much as you can while you can, because the Fox/Republican sound machine will assail you as much as they can anyway no matter what policies you adopt, and ultimately the pendulum will swing their way. So as a moderate, I’m kind of disappointed that this appears to be the lesson-plan the next all-Democratic government will be learning from.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    If I were a fighter (and of course, I’m a lover not a fighter) I’d be a brawler or a boxer. So this Obama Aikido style puts me off. But the effectiveness of any political tactic is in the results. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

    I think Obama is a moderate all the way, deep down inside. He thinks and acts like a moderate. The Left sometimes rates him a failure because he didn’t get what they wanted, and they assume that he’s compromised. In fact, I think he’s just a man of the center and it’s not a compromise for him to get what the Left sees as half a loaf. He was going for half a loaf.

    It’s as if the Left is buying into the Fox news lie machine and actually imagining that this president is a secret socialist. He’s not. He’s a not-at-all secret centrist, and in fact, center-right on foreign policy, economics and even a lot of social issues.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    seems to me to be nothing more than grousing on the part of the left over the fact that they haven’t gotten everything they wanted.

    Pretty much

    So as a moderate, I’m kind of disappointed that this appears to be the lesson-plan the next all-Democratic government will be learning from. .

    this is exactly what the Republicans are doing in WI and OH and there is significant backlash in each. Scott Walker will in all likelihood face a recall fight and is already in considerable danger of losing his Senate majority. They know it and are doubling down by trying to cram thru as much as they can before the elections next month. I think Dems will be paying very close attention to the lessons of over-reach too.

  8. Ben says:

    seems to me to be nothing more than grousing on the part of the left over the fact that they haven’t gotten everything they wanted.

    Everything they wanted? Other than DADT repeal, what has the left gotten out of Obama at all? The healthcare reform bill is basically a Republican bill, with almost nothing the left wanted in it.

  9. Guthrum says:

    Successful presidents have always governed from the center, with some revolutionary ideas. One idea would be to declare the LBJ “War” on Poverty a lost war (millions more on the dole)
    and phase out the giveaways that have led to abuse and fraud: food stamps, subsidized housing, “free” lunches, “Head” Start, etc. This would get a whole segment of the population once again thinking about getting a job and get the deficit reduced.

  10. lunaticllama says:

    @Guthrum: Exactly, because jobs are very easy to come by these days!

  11. Ben says:

    He gave in on the Bush tax cuts.

    He’s basically about to give in on the current fight over spending cuts vs tax increases.

    He gave in on closing Gitmo.

    We’re still in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now we’re in Libya.

    He claims the power to assassinate American civilians with no oversight

    He continues to fight for extension of the Patriot Act, and law enforcement continues to use it to obtain information for cases that have nothing to do with terrorism.

    He continues to raid marijuana dispensaries, even when they’re in compliance with state law (which is a direct repudiation of Holder’s memo when he first took office)

  12. Liberty60 says:

    It’s as if the Left is buying into the Fox news lie machine and actually imagining that this president is a secret socialist. He’s not. He’s a not-at-all secret centrist

    I agree- I do think that many liberals just assume that a black Democrat must be a radical leftist, and think obama is compromising his core beliefs.

    Everything that I have seen of the man convinces me that most of what he has gotten ARE his core beliefs.

  13. Murray says:

    I think those who are losing patience are basically those who had too many expectations and fell for the “second coming of Christ” atmosphere surrounding his candidacy.

    Although I had no such illusions (yes I voted for him because no way was I going to be complicit of a Palin vice-presidency), I can sympathize with the disappointment because his “pragmatism” often looks like a complete lack of conviction in anything whatsoever. (That’s why I don’t consider him a “moderate”. Even moderates have convictions.)

    I also think he is neither a genius Jedi master playing at a level we mortals can’t understand nor a weakling being bullied around, but a smarter than average (although not as smart as he thinks he is) guy who tries to realistically navigate through the mess he has been handed.

    In other words, I am not enthralled, but I don’t see anyone amongst the candidates who would do better.

  14. steve says:

    Obama is a centrist who ends up not being able to please either party. That is fine with me, as I dont want any extremist positions being taken, for the most part.

    Steve

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    At this point I can’t imagine a serioius primary challenge emerging for the president. However, the history of such challenges does not suggest that it would be good either for the president or the Democratic Party. Off-hand I can’t think of an instance in which an incumbent president has faced a serious primary challenge and gone on to be re-elected.

  16. Tano says:

    I’d be a brawler or a boxer. So this Obama Aikido style puts me off.

    But an aikido master can beat a brawler every time. Its all about focus, maintaining your control, and helping your opponents make all the necessary mistakes.
    Its exactly what I like the most about Obama.

    I think Obama is a moderate all the way, deep down inside

    yes, I agree.

    He’s a not-at-all secret centrist,

    No, I disagree. He is moderate by temperament – and I think that is because he basically respects people even when they disagree with him (a function perhaps of his diverse identity and experiences) – but being a moderate is not the same as being a centrist.

    I think he is clearly and unambiguously on the left, the center-left perhaps, but certainly left of center. Perhaps the confusion on this point arises from the fact that he also is someone who is very committed to actually accomplishing something – and doing so in the context of the realities of our political climate.

    I think that on every issue that he has faced as president, he has fought for and achieved what could fairly be judged to be the most leftist outcome possible, given where the votes in Congress, or the will of the people were. The peanut gallery always seems, oddly enough, to prefer glorious failure to the limited success that comes with necessary compromises.

    We see this so many times on both sides. When we are in the midst of the struggles, the partisans must argue forcefully for the extreme positions. It is only with the distance that time offers that these people seem to be able to see what all was accomplished and to give due credit.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    One idea would be to declare the LBJ “War” on Poverty a lost war (millions more on the dole) and phase out the giveaways that have led to abuse and fraud: food stamps, subsidized housing, “free” lunches, “Head” Start, etc. This would get a whole segment of the population once again thinking about getting a job and get the deficit reduced.

    With all due respect, this really is quite pathetic…where is the evidence that these particular programs contribute significantly to the deficit and that by getting rid of them, “a whole segment of the population will once again think about getting a job”? As if only people who do not work use these programs…

  18. Ben says:

    @Tano:

    I think that on every issue that he has faced as president, he has fought for and achieved what could fairly be judged to be the most leftist outcome possible, given where the votes in Congress, or the will of the people were. The peanut gallery always seems, oddly enough, to prefer glorious failure to the limited success that comes with necessary compromises.

    I assume that you’re mostly talking about healthcare reform here. I don’t consider the result to be “left” in the slightest, but even if I grant you that one, can you give me another example of a “left” outcome that he has accomplished other than the end of DADT?

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Tano:
    I don’t see any evidence he’s on the left. His policy vis a vis the banks for example has been a copy of Mr. Bush’s policy. His foreign policy is likewise a continuation except in places where it’s more aggressive — Pakistan and Libya. On gay rights he lags the population as a whole. On health care he passed Rpmney care. Where is the evidence that he’s left on anything?

  20. Eric Florack says:

    They’re not upset with Obama? Gee… someone’s spinning, here.

    But when has Obama given progressives any reason to believe they can trust him?

    Paul Krugman, New York Times.

  21. Eric Florack says:

    One of the dynamics I find most interesting about the current situation is how little Obama has to show for trying to be more centrist and compromising, which is what he has done from the start

    Was that before or after he excluded the Republicans altogether from any meaningful iput into his plans for the government take-over of healthcare?

  22. Eric Florack says:

    I don’t see any evidence he’s on the left. His policy vis a vis the banks for example has been a copy of Mr. Bush’s policy.

    You seem stuck on this illusion that Bush… either one… was of the right.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack: I don’t think you’re a judge of what is Right or Left.

  24. Eric Florack says:

    where is the evidence that these particular programs contribute significantly to the deficit

    Oh, please….

    It is not possible to calculate the true cost of LBJ’s Great Society programs. Considering just one such program, MediCare, the unfunded mandate measures in the tens of trillions of dollars. MedicAid, another Johnson brainchild, is just as bad off. Social Security, Johnson’s model, has been bankrupt almost since its founding in 1935; only “creative” accounting by Congress has maintained its flimsy reputation as some sort of ‘trust fund,’ funded of course with worthless federal paper.

    Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_much_did_Johnson's_Great_Society_programs_cost#ixzz1T55ZQ9G5

    Tens of trillions of dollars. That’s only one of the many programs in question. Do you suppose that would make a dent in the federal budget?

    And more, where, by the same light, is the evidence that there is any federal program, other roads and the military… and not in that order… that actually solved the problem it was created to solve?

    And finally, successful or no, can you name a program other than the military that was actually cut by Democrats?

  25. Eric Florack says:

    I don’t think you’re a judge of what is Right or Left.

    Since anything to the right of Castro is a conceptual problem, for you, I don’t consider that a major issue, frankly.

  26. An Interested Party says:

    @Eric Florack: Guthrum wrote about food stamps, subsidized housing, free lunches, and Head Start as if they were the big impediments to getting the deficit under control…he/she wrote nothing about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, so better luck next time with your imagined “gotcha”…

    “Since anything to the right of Castro is a conceptual problem, for you…”

    That’s rich coming from someone who has a conceptual problem with anything to the left of Thatcher…

  27. Nightrider says:

    @Eric Florack: On health care, Obama vastly compromised to try to bridge to the GOP. The problem was, the GOP had no agenda on health care, except as aptly expressed by the Mitch McConnell actor on SNL, so the compromise didn’t lead to any better policy: Obama: “Senator, why do you want health care reform to fail?” McConnell: “We don’t want health reform to fail., Mr. President. We want you to fail.” I suspect Obama thinks single-payer would be better. And the Republicans got nothing more than protection for insurance companies — nothing to help small businesses unload the destructive, anti-job creation status quo that relies on employer subsidies of insurance and bloated medical costs. If the Republican leadership tried to actually improve health care rather than tar Obama for politics, we could have had something much better.

  28. Nightrider says:

    Many argue that Obama is fundamentally moderate and so this isn’t just politics. But one place from the left in which I am disappointed in Obama is gay rights and marriage. I just don’t believe for a second his stated policies don’t eat him inside because he knows they are wrong. Gitmo, so maybe we need. Torture might work. Tax increase on rich might hurt feeble economy. But gay marriage, there is no excuse except politics. For goodness sake, leave it to the states? His own parents couldn’t get legally married in some US states at the time he was born.

  29. Eric Florack says:

    @An Interested Party: The subject broached was LBJ’s “Great Society”.

    On health care, Obama vastly compromised to try to bridge to the GOP.

    Specifics.

    “Senator, why do you want health care reform to fail?” McConnell: “We don’t want health reform to fail., Mr. President. We want you to fail.”

    LOL. HAd it occurred to you taht the mess Obama created was such a mess that there was no amending it? It’s called fundamental , foundational flaws. Example:
    ]

    And the Republicans got nothing more than protection for insurance companies — nothing to help small businesses unload the destructive, anti-job creation status quo that relies on employer subsidies of insurance and bloated medical costs

    The best way to deal with those issues is to get government out of the way. THe more government gets involved the more costs go up, and the less actual healthcare people get. Look at the timeline on government involvement in healthcare, particularly since the great society, and compare that to healthcare costs.

  30. Eric Florack says:

    I don’t see any evidence he’s on the left. His policy vis a vis the banks for example has been a copy of Mr. Bush’s policy. His foreign policy is likewise a continuation except in places where it’s more aggressive — Pakistan and Libya. On gay rights he lags the population as a whole. On health care he passed Rpmney care. Where is the evidence that he’s left on anything?

    Look back to the week he got elected, and you’ll see I predicted exactly this. I even said why:

    I make this assessment based on the proposition that President Obama is a pragmatist at heart. He goes with what works to keep himself in power. One cannot, after all, be such an astute manager of his own spectacle without being in large part a pragmatist.

    If we accept the lessons of history, in this case the Clinton administration, Democrats have learned how to change political reality. They have learned how to alter the perception they are on the run from an unruly mob, into one that suggests what is really going on is that there is a parade — one that they are leading. Finding in their pragmatism something that works and that someone else has offered, and then getting out in front of it as if it was their plan to begin with. This has been their big talent for the last 20 years or so.

    Indeed, it is Obama who apparently is doing the most in terms of recognizing (the far left’s bleeding anti-Bush vitriol notwithstanding) that Mr. Bush didn’t do that bad of a job after all. He’s adopting the vast majority of his anti-terrorism and economic policies (i.e., the bailout plans).

    Of course, Obama took the moderate Bush’s bailout plans and pumped them up to degrees only a leftist would. But as to the war on terror, Obama adopted such plans because they work.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    The subject broached was LBJ’s “Great Society”.

    Wrong again…actually the subject that Guthrum brought up that I responded to was the War on Poverty…

  32. MBunge says:

    @Eric Florack: “Specifics.”

    The individual mandate was a Republican idea which was originally promoted by the Heritage Foundation. Then Obama embraced it and many Republicans and conservatives immediately turned on the idea with no other explanation than that Obama now supported it.

    Mike

  33. Rob in CT says:

    It’s par for the course. They’ve been doing this for a while: feign support for something that sounds reasonable, right up until the moment when that thing might actually become policy. Then fight it tooth and nail.

    See also: Wyden-Bennett.

    Hardly anyone was talking about W-B – the focus was on what became the ACA. During that time, various GOPers/conservative pundits made some noise about W-B being a better option the Dems weren’t looking at (because they hate the free market, mom, apple pie…). When some Dems & liberal pundits got interested in W-B, the Conservatives dropped it like a radioactive hot potato. And Bennett got primaried.

  34. Nightrider says:

    I did give my specifics already, above. I wasn’t intending to debate the actual merits of health care here. I don’t think that is really possible in small, quick comments on a blog. My point was that Obama clearly didn’t push the generally preferred Democratic plan of single-payer. I am pretty small-r republican conservative about health care and highly skeptical of government-managed anything. But the status quo is a disaster and the GOP had no plan whatsoever to improve it — all they cared about was using the issue for partisan political gain. So relief for small business and meaningful tort reform and reducing Medicare costs, all important conservative objectives achievable with a compromising Democratic President so intent on bipartisan health care reform — were lost. Hence the McConnell SNL quote, which was dead on.

  35. Eric Florack says:

    AIP: So, the ‘war on poverty’ wasn’t a “great society” initiative? Interesting attempt to slip the trap, but it doesn’t work.

    Nightrider: Sinlge payer got dropped because of the recognition that it ddin’t get past the American voter under Clinton. regardless of affiliation. If the Status quo was seen as such a disaster…. and I agree it is, then the true compromise would be the removal of the government from the healthcare equation, outright.

    MBunge: Saying Obama “embraced” anything in that area is much akin to saying Clinton adopted Welfare reform, and for the reasons I mention in my Pajamas Media piece.

  36. An Interested Party says:

    @Eric Florack: I never wrote that it wasn’t…my comment that you dismissed by bringing up Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security was based on Guthrum’s comments, which had nothing to do with Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security…try harder next time…

  37. Eric Florack says:

    It does, indeed have much to do with it since we’re talking about the fiscal problems, and huge taxpayer funded outlays.

    Guthrum disqualifies himself with his first line:

    Successful presidents have always governed from the center, with some revolutionary ideas.

    ….Ignoring Reagan, outright.