Peter Berger writes about the politics of betrayal:

Once re-elected, though, there would be no need to seek compromises with the Republican opposition or to curry favor with middle-of-the-road voters. In other words, Obama is really a man of the left at heart, but after the election, he will be able to betray those who voted for him as a man of the middle.

As I’ve said before, I don’t find this “Obama unleashed” idea at all persuasive. Once Obama no longer has to face the electorate again, he can much more safely ignore progressive members of his own party. Berger is right that there will be cases of Obama’s betraying some supporters if he wins in the fall, but they are likely to be the same supporters who already feel let down by Obama’s incrementalism, corporatism, and accommodations. After all, the people who would feel the most betrayed in an Obama second term are those strong partisans who supported Obama in the mistaken belief that re-electing him would provide him with a “mandate” to advance their preferred agenda, and Obama is unlikely to suffer political harm if he is seen to be distancing himself even more from the left. Before the election, Obama’s personal political interests and the interests of progressives may be aligned, but after he is re-elected they will diverge quickly.

Obama’s political incentives after re-election direct him to satisfy “centrist” pundits and journalists by being even more mind-numbingly bipartisan and “centrist” than he has been. Until the election happens, members of both parties will have their own incentives to pretend that this is not the case. Democrats will not want to demoralize their core constituencies by broadcasting that Obama’s re-election won’t deliver what they want from it. Republicans want to keep their core constituencies as motivated as possible by ignoring that re-election will free Obama from having to heed the left, which he has already been quite effective at ignoring for most of his time in office. Put another way, Republicans will point to a phantom left-wing fanatic to scare their voters into turning out, and Democrats will point to the mirage of a progressive second term for the same purpose.

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