I admit to being a bit puzzled by this piece in Politico. Not by its theme: “For many liberals, this is the summer of their discontent,” Abby Phillip writes about the feelings of disillusionment some progressives have about President Obama. No, I’m confused about the reasons they’re upset. I thought perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that the man who seemed one of the most popular new presidents in history at his inauguration continues to face more and more voters angry with his handling of the economy and healthcare reform. A poll released yesterday finds the majority of voters disapprove of the job he’s doing; a majority also disapproves of ObamaCare. Progressives might also be upset, I thought, that Obama has doubled down on Afghanistan. But, in fact, some of them don’t blame him for anything at all:
In a 17,000-plus-word piece published in The Nation on Thursday, journalist Eric Alterman calls the Obama presidency “a big disappointment” for progressives and blames a broken system in Washington that he says allows the minority party to rule with impunity — and special interests and big money to dictate legislative policy.
“Face it,” he concludes, “the system is rigged, and it’s rigged against us.” His essay is subtitled: “Why a progressive presidency is impossible for now.”
Ah, it’s the Republicans that sparked the Tea Party protests by voters angered by huge bailouts and an expensive healthcare reform package. Yes, Republican presidents have increased spending too, but not nearly to the extent of this Democratic president and Congress.
This argument seems particularly rich, given the numbers on public support for ObamaCare:
“Whatever the motivation, it has become easier and easier for a determined minority to throw sand in the gears of the legislative process,” Alterman writes. “It is therefore no coincidence that the 40 Republican senators with the ability to bottle up almost anything in the Senate represent barely a third of the U.S. population.”
Still, you might think some progressives would be happy that, despite most Americans being against it, the Obama administration went ahead and passed healthcare reform anyway. You’d be wrong:
“It simply took too long to pass health care,” says Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. “What should have been seen as an important progressive victory didn’t feel like it was as much of a victory because it just took so damn long.”
One of the few real insights in the piece comes from Bob Borosage, president of the Institute for America’s Future:
Borosage says that over the past 18 months, progressives have learned the hard way that they need to be more independent of the White House to realize the change they are seeking.
The remedy for the problems progressives face, Borosage says, lies in creating an equal and opposite force that can rival the enthusiasm of the tea party movement.
Might Republicans and Democrats alike spawn rival movements that keep not only the opposition, but also their own parties, in check?