Obama’s Netroots Problem

Chris Matthews has angered the Angry Left by saying they, not the Republicans, are going to be the main obstacles to a successful early start to the Obama administration.

But those kinds of issues that brought really bad news to a lot of, we had the Clinton administration with all the brain power they had and they had a lot of brain power, they were stymied. Right, David? All of the sudden they got the gays in the military hit them right between the eyes. They didn’t want to bring it up and it came up as the first issue.


If we try to put up the trade walls, are we going to have a fight on labor issues like this card check thing, about being able to organize individual decision making rather than a big voting election kind of thing. Those kind of issues can really, as you say, could divide the Democrats, right?


Who’s going to break it to the blogosphere? They don’t like anything that looks like a give to the right. Where are they doing to be on this thing? Are they going to give him a break if he doesn’t go hard left and doesn’t do what they want?

Nicole Belle is not amused.

Let’s face it, you and I and the rest of the liberal blogosphere have been right more often than not and certainly exponentially over the Villagers that populate The Chris Matthews Show. But they’re not ready to give up their coveted place at the table, and certainly not to upstart bloggers who don’t have the decency to take them at their word any longer.

So to those oh-so-wise Beltway bobbleheads, we will be the “angry left” that Obama must marginalize in order to have a successful presidency. It won’t be the Republicans with their bag of obstructionist tricks, ones of which WaPo’s Ceci Connolly doesn’t even have memory, that give Obama a hard time, it will be us, the “angry left.” We are the ones to not give Obama a “honeymoon period” and we will be the ones fighting him as he attempts to execute his agenda.

Matthews and Connolly, though, are saying something much more banal. The Republicans have very little leverage right now. Obama won a decisive victory and Democrats picked up seats in the House and the Senate. The GOP will have a very hard time, indeed, mounting a filibuster and they’re not going to be stupid enough (well, probably) to try unless the Democrats push something that can be painted as radical.

That leaves the left wing of Obama’s own party. They’ve been out in the cold for the eight years of the Bush administration and, one could argue, much of the Clinton administration since, post-1994 election, he was triangulating against the hard left and hard right in order to bolster his own agenda.

Obama appears exceedingly unlikely to repeat Clinton’s early mistakes. While Clinton came with vastly more governing experience, he never had a fraction of Obama’s discipline. (Or, for that matter, the discipline of a hungry dog let loose in a butcher shop.) Obama’s going to cherry pick policy ideas that he thinks will work and be popular, to the consternation of Republicans and the left wing of his own party alike. To the extent he has a problem, then, it’ll be disaffected progressives who are greatly disappointed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    They didn’t want to bring it up and it came up as the first issue

    ??? President-Elect Clinton brought it up in the very first press conference he held after he was elected. That strikes me as a very strange sort of reluctance.

  2. just me says:

    I am not a Matthews fan but I think he is right. The GOP will certainly stomp their feet over some proposals at times, but they pretty much have no power.

    The reality for Obama is that if he screws up it will be the democrats that are to blame, and as the guy in the white house he takes the hit. Obama proved he has no qualms when it comes to tossing people under the bus, and I don’t think he will have any problems tossing the left wing of his party under the bus if he thinks it will help him stay in the white house and his party stay in power.

    I think Obama will play it safe for the next two years and won’t take on much of anything controversial unless he has to.

  3. odograph says:

    Does the left wing have that kind of issue, are they making that kind of demand, right now?

    Or is this yet another blog/media argument in anticipation of a situation which has not actually occurred?

    A lot of bits and ink are being spilled on things that might happen 😉

    (I like Matthews, but he’s a bit hit and miss. Or maybe he changes stripes and is inflammatory enough to please different audiences in turn. I mean maybe there is some inside the beltway vibe he’s channeling here … or maybe he’s shaking things up the way he likes to do.)

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    To the extent he has a problem, then, it’ll be disaffected progressives who are greatly disappointed.

    I’m pretty sure there are more Republicans in Congress than members who fit the above criteria.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Obama’s going to cherry pick policy ideas that he thinks will work and be popular, to the consternation of Republicans and the left wing of his own party alike.

    I think the first clause of that is right but I’d construe the second clause as predicting the likelihood that President Obama might well be indifferent either to the discomfiture of Republicans or progressives within his own party. I think that’s about right.

    However, preferences and fleeting popularity don’t necessarily mean that the issues he’ll pick will be the issues that most need addressing or that the approaches he’ll favor will actually resolve. The facts on the ground have a way of reducing all presidents.

  6. Bithead says:

    I’m pretty sure there are more Republicans in Congress than members who fit the above criteria.

    Then again, the Republicans in Congress have been all too willing to go along with the congressional Democrats… moreso, in fact than the Nutroots, as a rule.

  7. Ottovbvs says:

    To start with let’s get a little perspective here. The netroots of left or right are nowhere near as important as they think they are. That said, while all the comments about Obama cherry picking and being disciplined are entirely correct, I have little doubt that in terms we can recognize Obama is going to move the country in a decisively leftward direction. This will in general terms leave his netroots much happier than the GOP’s. None of this is really surprising surely, since this is what he was elected to do. Furthermore, it will all be done with considerable skill and competence by Mr No Drama himself, and a cadre of politicians and technocrats of left and moderate right that he has appointed to his administration. There will be a few slips but nothing of significance and the country will be dazzled by the contrast with his predecessor. At the end of the day most of the right are going to acquiesce in this as they have acquiesced in every other leftward shift of the past 100 years. Despite all the huffing and puffing, no one serious on the right suggests eliminating Social Security and Medicare; the EPA, the Pentagon and the alphabet soup of other federal agencies; or regulation of financial markets. To do so would be political suicide. The far left netroots are only important in their own minds and are a none issue in real terms

  8. Stephanie says:

    The Clinton administration, including the Clintons themselves, came in with hopes of a far more lefty agenda– and they got screwed for trying.

    I get really tired of people on the far left blaming Clinton for the loss of Congress in 1994 and for being too centrist. It was the leftist part of his agenda that cost us Congress in 1994 in the first place- so as far as I am concerned, you can only blame him for one of those things. You cannot legitimately blame him for both.

    And you better believe Obama won’t try to be anything but a centrist over the next few years- maybe the next four. Get over it.

  9. ew says:

    the liberal illuminati are the ones who have the most power right now. It will be interesting to see how long and how much they’re going to argue about amongst themselves. Nothing will probably be PC enough for a while.