Obama Approval, Progressive Politics and Democratic Unity

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on November 25, 2009, at care2.com

. . .

Pundits have focused recently on President Obama’s declining public opinion polls.  As the President drops to fifty percent approval ratings, the talk speculates on whether the poor economy will sink Democratic prospects in the 2010 midterm elections.  The economy is important and the administration’s policies will not cure recession blues before the election, but of greater concern is the question of Democratic political unity.

Republicans have criticized the President’s leadership and policies from the get go, but with Progressives attacking the administration and fracturing the President’s base, some of the moderates who elected him are beginning to wonder.  Have the progressives gone off in search of Ralph Nader?

Neither the left nor the right have a majority in national American politics.  The candidate that convinces the pragmatic middle to join the ideological left or right wins both in electing candidates and in charting policy.  President Bush succeeded in maintaining the right-middle coalition between 2000 and 2008.  He used the power he was given to lower taxes on the wealthy, promote hands-off financial oversight, conduct aggressive foreign and military policy and tilt the delicate balance between rights and security not so delicately in favor of security.

President Obama won back moderates in 2008, promising to shift economic policy towards the middle class, embracing government regulation in finance, the environment and health care, and seeking new strategic solutions in international relations.  His is not, in fact, a liberal vision, despite Republican characterizations, but it is a more moderate one than what came before, and one that aims to learn from the experiences of prior administrations.As long as his coalition continues, the President’s approach to taxes and budget, justice and rights, and foreign policy and war will prevail.

However, after nine months in office, it seems the President can no longer count on the Progressive wing for support.  In the guise of influencing the President to move to the left, Progressive critics attack the President and his administration.  Calls for Treasury Secretary Geithner to resign by Rep. Peter DeFazio D-Or are but the most recent example.  The left is also troubled by economic decision-making and the potential increase in troops headed for Afghanistan.  Of course, any coalition will contain different viewpoints.  A goal of our democratic process is for hearty debate to distinguish the best ideas from all others.  But Progressives fail to grasp that the President needs the full support of those that elected him in order to achieve his agenda and present a successful Democratic party to the electorate in 2010 and 2012.  If the party is not unified, the President will not succeed and the power will shift back to the Republicans.

It is only because President Obama joined, at least temporarily, the moderate center of the electorate with the traditional Democratic party that he succeeded in bringing his moderate voice to the fore.

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