What he should have done – and what he ought to do from now on – is simple. Instead of blessing leftist solutions, then retreating feebly to more centrist positions under pressure, he should have identified the centrist policies the country could accept and advocated those policies. ~Clive Crook
So Obama needs to keep doing the same things he’s doing, but be more forthright in his gutless centrism? He should keep compromising and watering things down, but do so more boldly? Instead of paying lip service to his supporters’ concerns, he should cut to the chase and ignore them entirely? If a key Democratic problem in this election is its disenchanted, unmotivated base, doubling down on the Creigh Deeds style of politics seems a guaranteed way to maximize Democratic losses.
I can imagine a progressive columnist taking this sort of thinking in a very different direction: if Obama is going to be denounced as a leftist even when he endorses centrist policies, he may as well embrace leftist policies and at least satisfy his core constituencies. As political strategies go, there are worse strategies than base mobilization. If Obama is going to be faulted for starting out at a left-liberal position, the progressive could argue, he may as well just stay there and not make concessions for which he will get no credit anyway. That probably would have produced fewer legislative victories, but it might have worked better as a political strategy. I’m obviously not a Democratic partisan or a progressive, but anyone can see that following something straight out of the Doug Schoen/Mark Penn playbook is a recipe for Democratic disaster.
Crook’s thesis rests on the shaky assumption that the public has soured on policies that were “less than perfect but vastly better than nothing” because of the way the policies were pitched. Never mind that it is progressives and Democratic activists who feel neglected, slighted, insulted and used over the last two years. According to Crook, they needed to be dismissed and marginalized completely for the sake of maintaining Obama’s centrist reputation, despite the fact that it is his centrist policies and reputation that have discouraged and dispirited so many of the people who got Obama elected. Perhaps many Obama voters had unreasonable expectations, as activists and ideological voters often do, and perhaps they don’t appreciate how good they have had it. Regardless, Obama’s political problem is clearly the problem of having a Democratic base that is disaffected, and that problem would have only been made worse had he prostrated himself before the Washington establishment consensus even more quickly than he did.